It had been 14 months since I’d been to Las Vegas, and I was really feeling it. I hadn’t gone that long between Vegas trips since I went for the first time about 8 years ago. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally visit Las Vegas - I was 25 years old on my first trip, which is probably older than the norm. I’ve tried to make up for lost time though, going at least once each year since that first trip. I play a competitive fantasy-themed card game called Magic: The Gathering, and there was a large public tournament happening at the LV Convention Centre on the last weekend of May. I knew about 50 people from my home province of Alberta that were planning on going, including most of my close friends. I tried to organize my trip with a few of them, but it seemed impossible to make travel plans with anyone since they were all so disorganized. By the beginning of January I had decided to just book my own trip and try to hang out with everyone once we were all there. It was exciting to plan and book my own solo trip. Almost every time I’ve come to the shimmering desert I’ve been with my girlfriend (and usually some of her family or friends too) and it’s been lots of fun. I had also gone with a good friend of mine during March Madness a few years ago, and the two of us had a great time too. This was going to be a very different experience though; I could make my travel arrangements without having to consult or compromise with anyone else, and I was looking forward to setting my own schedule every day. Since the card tournament would be eating up four days of the trip, and since there were so many things I wanted to do while in Paradise, I booked for a total of 12 nights (arriving Monday, May 25 and leaving Saturday, June 5). My girlfriend wasn’t necessarily thrilled when she heard about my plan to be gone for nearly two weeks, but she was cool about it. She planned a weekend getaway trip to Vancouver with one of her friends for the weekend in the middle of my trip, and since she always seems to get some really nice gifts when I go to Vegas she was fine with everything. I took a cab from my apartment to the airport. I had already ordered my US money from my bank, but I brought a $50 bill with me to pay my cab fare. Already a bad beat! I flew with WestJet, direct from Edmonton to Vegas. They are definitely my airline of choice – no strange fees, polite and dependable service, plane leaves immediately once everyone is on board, etc. I booked early enough to get their lower rates, and ended up paying roughly $450 Canadian (roughly $550 USD). I get envious when I read the other trip reports that talk about sub-$200 round-trip flights from all over the States, but our flight options are more limited in Western Canada and I guess the flights just use up more fuel (it’s about 1200 miles from my home city to Vegas). My flight left at 10:30am, and with the one hour time change we landed in Vegas at half past noon. I sat on the right side of the plane, so I got the sweet view of the whole Strip as we were landing. As soon as those wheels touch down I get a rush every time – it’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip (just so much anticipation of what’s to come, and also feeling that entire bankroll in your pocket for perhaps the final time). Baggage collection and the taxi line weren’t too bad, and my driver took a quiet side-street route downtown instead of the freeway (but it still just cost the normal $40 with tip). I had decided to stay at Four Queens on this trip, for a few reasons. First off, the price just couldn’t be beat. I managed to book on their website during a sale period, and the stay averaged about to $40 per night. No internet in the room was rough sometimes, but no resort fee made it all worthwhile. There are a few other disadvantages, such as no swimming pool, but I was going there alone so I didn’t much care about the pool. I had previously stayed at The D, so I was already familiar with staying on Freemont and how to approach the challenges it presents. It was a great choice, and although I’ve noticed their prices have increased a little since my trip, I’m sure I’ll stay there again in the future. The lady at the check-in desk at my hotel was Hawaiian, which gave me a little something to chat with her about since I had just taken my girlfriend to Kona for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I had booked a normal room with a King bed, but she didn’t have one immediately available. She said if I didn’t mind having two Queens instead she could get me in right away. I asked if they actually had any rooms with four Queens, which made her laugh. She said I was getting a really good room, and it was – clean, decently-new paint and furnishings, right by the elevators, and high enough that the Freemont Experience noise wouldn’t be so intense. I didn’t bother trying a $20 sandwich at check-in, since I knew it would be hard to get an upgrade when staying for 12 nights. I hung out in my room for about an hour, cracking open my bottle of duty-free Glenfiddich and looking through all the coupon books I had been given. I was hungry after travelling, so I looked at my carefully-researched list of new restaurants to visit and decided to try DuPar’s first. I was surprised that it was recommended so highly, considering I had passed it on many occasions on my previous Vegas trips and thought it was just a run-of-the-mill casino house restaurant. I followed the internet’s instructions and ordered a shrimp cocktail and a slice of coconut pie, and they were both great! I’d been in Vegas for about 3 hours, so it was high time to start gambling! I hate slot machines and don’t love video poker either, and blackjack and all the other casino games aren’t much better as far as I’m concerned. I’d much rather make informed (albeit usually still wrong) decisions, which is why I stick to playing poker and betting on sports. That does mean I don’t get the comps or points that all you slots and table game players do, but I don’t just lose all my money every time I’m in Vegas like my slots-loving friends seem to. My beloved Toronto Blue Jays were starting to heat up, so my first bet was $50 on their run line. Poker downtown is quite limited, with only two real options (since I don’t count the automated tables at Plaza as a real option). Binion’s is usually a quiet room, with one table each of Limit and No-Limit Hold’Em. They’ve tried to attract players recently with a few perks, and I knew they had Wi-Fi and charging ports in their poker tables so I stopped by to see if they had a game. They surprised me by having three nearly-full tables of No-Limit. The WSOP was opening their doors the next day, so the critical mass of poker players in town had all the poker rooms much more full than usual. I played for only about an hour before a very solid player trapped me hard and got my stack. Instead of buying back in, I decided to pace myself and just watched the rest of the Blue Jays game in the Plaza sports book. I had made my bet at Four Queens, but their setup is basically a betting counter and a kiosk and zero comfortable seating. The book at Plaza is much nicer, still small but a good row of comfy chairs to watch your game. My Jays won, so I was up $65 on sports (but down $200 on poker). I headed back to my room to shower and get ready for my first planned event – a 51’s ball game. I took the bus to Cashman Field, but I got off at the wrong stop. I could see the ball diamond and it seemed very close, but I was on the wrong side of the compound and had to walk a fair way before I could find a door to get inside. I was probably on foot for only about ten minutes, but my path led right through a scary-looking neighborhood so I kept my head up and walked briskly. I had one altercation with a sketchy dude while waiting for a light to change, but I made it to the ball park safely. I had bought my ticket online when they first went on sale, so for under $15 I was sitting five rows up right behind home plate. The game was all action at the beginning, and it took me until the fourth inning to realize I was surrounded by pro scouts. Here I was drinking beer and eating nachos and chirping both teams, while everyone else in the rows around me were pointing radar guns and videotaping at-bats and working multiple cell phones. The 51’s are an affiliate for the NY Mets, and a few guys I saw that night went on to help the Mets in their post-season run. It was a good game, even though the visiting team from Colorado Springs was no match for the home squad and got crushed 9-2. After the game I asked a parking attendant where the correct bus stop was to get back to Freemont Street. He said it would take longer to bus there than it would to walk. I was thinking about a cab at this point (since I’d had enough of the scary neighborhood), but just then a young couple came up to us with the same question so the three of us decided we could walk together. It really was a quick walk, maybe 20 minutes total, and they were a very nice couple. They had both lost their jobs recently, so they decided to liquidate their stuff and move to Vegas for a few years. They were living at Golden Gate, which apparently has very affordable negotiable monthly rates. We had a fun chat and walk, and arrived back at our hotels without incident. Although I was tired from the first exciting day of my trip, I wanted to get the bad taste of my first poker session out of my mouth. So I headed over to Golden Nugget and bought in. I’d played at the Nugget before, and the table felt similar to how I’d remembered – a good mix of locals and tourists and fish and grinders. I’d had a fair number of beers at the ball game already, but still ended up playing and drinking until about 3:00am. I had the perfect session with no really tough decisions or opportunities to punt away my money. Rounders was right; you only really need to win one big bet per hour to end up way ahead. I played fairly well, got all-in twice in five hours and won them both, and erased the Binion’s session with a solid $300 win. Day Two started perfectly, because I slept in until the late afternoon. Honestly, being able to sleep on your own schedule and for as long as you want is an excellent reason to travel alone. Other times when I’ve been in Vegas my sleep has never been very good (maybe they really do pump oxygen into the rooms on the Strip), but that first night’s sleep was truly wonderful. When I did finally get up, I headed over to Hash-House-A-Go-Go at Plaza for breakfast. I had been there before on previous Vegas trips, and thought it was really great. Their fare is all true comfort food, with lots of interesting choices on the menu. I opted for the smallest breakfast they had. I stopped by the sports book on the way to breakfast and made some picks as I ate. I wanted some action on my Blue Jays again, but I didn’t love their chances to win so I just bet the Over on their game. The Mets were big favorites (and I had just watched their farm team win) as were the Giants, so I parlayed them together. I also took the NY Rangers to win and extend their conference championship series to a 7th game. After making my bets (and collecting yesterday’s winnings) it was time for some more poker at the Nugget. I played a few pots that I should likely have folded pre-flop, which is one of the main disciplinary problems I sometimes see in my play. I didn’t get into too much trouble though, and after two hours I was up $45 plus several drinks. I cashed out my meager profit and went back to my hotel room to freshen up and get ready for the night’s scheduled event – a concert at Bunkhouse Saloon. I’m a huge fan of live music. Every time I travel anywhere, I take a peek on the internet for concerts that I might be able to attend. I stumbled across a listing for a band called Big Talk, playing at what was billed as the Best Dive Bar in Las Vegas. Not sure if that’s the exact category the venue wants to be celebrated in, but hey at least they were #1. The place was about six blocks past Container Park, down Freemont Street East. I headed over around 8:30, while the sidewalks were still full of tourists. There are coffee shops and noodle restaurants lining the street nearly the whole way, and the first legitimately-scary-looking alleyway I encountered was actually the entrance to the venue. There were also a few art installations along the way, including this unusual scene: And what a crazy venue it was! The main saloon building was surrounded with a spacious yard, with some assorted playground equipment and homemade swing sets set up for concert-goers to hang out on. The concert area wasn’t open when I arrived, so I sat at a little picnic table and had a few beers while waiting. The opening band was The Dirty Hooks, a 3-member group with a spitfire of a drummer/vocalist. She was definitely the highlight of their show. After their set I went back outside to grab another pint and wait for the main act. The bar had low-intensity lighting out in the yard, which made for a really chill atmosphere. I was struck by how beautiful the sky was that night, and by how many star formations I could see. Usually in Vegas the night sky is just washed out by the bright lights, but head down to the sketchy end of the East Freemont district and it’s damn beautiful. I didn’t know anything about the headlining band, other than one of the members was also in the local Vegas big-time rock act The Killers. Turns out the guy plays drums for The Killers, but this is his own party band so he sings and plays guitar instead. They had 6 members in the group, but their sound was clean and didn’t sound like a wall of noise like other large rock bands tend to. It was a really high-energy show, the crowd was into it right from the opening song, and they rocked heavily for a solid two hours. When the show was over I headed out into the dark alley and back toward Freemont Street. The guy taking tickets waved at me as I was leaving, and I told him the place was awesomely fun and that I’d be back next time I was in Vegas. A few weeks after my trip, I was very sad to learn that the saloon was closed down. It seemed like a really great indie-scene venue, and I had initially assumed it was owned by some local hipster or grunge fan (when actually it was part of the larger Downtown Project). It was a temporary closure though, and I can now happily report that it’s back open! I started heading back to my hotel, which looked much farther away than it seemed earlier that night. The coffee and noodle places were all closed now, replaced with people pushing shopping carts and drinking out of paper bags. As I passed by a little bar that was still open, another guy walking the same way as me started grooving to a song by Sublime they were playing on an outdoor speaker. He asked me if I knew the name of the song, which I did, and then started talking with me while we walked. There were some groups of shady-looking characters all over the place, so I was glad I unexpectedly had someone to walk with. It was quite dark, so I didn’t really get a good look at my new friend until we made it to a streetlight. I realized he was homeless at the same time he realized I was a tourist. Like any tourist that visits Las Vegas regularly, I’ve seen plenty of homelessness. Freemont and the Strip are both swamped with panhandlers, and my bus routes ran through some vacant areas that sometimes looked like refugee camps. It always makes my heart heavy when I consider the struggles these poor souls face every day; exploitation and violence, hunger, mental and physical illness, addiction. I don’t normally hand out money to anyone, since I feel that donating to social programs is a better choice and there are just so many people on the streets asking for money. My walking buddy had been there when I needed him though, so when he realized I wasn’t a local and asked for some help I gave him $20. He said ‘brother, you just saved my life!’ when I gave it to him. I hope he’s doing ok out there somewhere. I was tired and drunk, so I just went back to my room and went to sleep. My friends were going to start arriving the next day, so I wanted to be rested. As I drifted off I thought to myself that the trip was going perfectly, I’d already had so much fun and my buddies weren’t even here yet! It was a great feeling, knowing that if these last two days were any indication, the next ten would be a blast. Wednesday started earlier than the day before. I got up around 10:00, feeling slightly hung over. Since my no-frills room didn’t have a coffee maker, I struggled through a shower and shave and then headed downstairs and straight back to Hash House. All the delicious Lagunitas IPA from the night before was still hanging around in my stomach, so I couldn’t eat right away. I sat at the counter and watched sports highlights from the day before, drinking a coffee and a big glass of orange juice. I was pleased to see that all of my bets had won, for a total profit of $65. After nearly an hour I ordered some breakfast. I’d had enough giant pancake the day before, so I made myself a meal from the side dishes menu; bacon and eggs and toast, and a house-baked biscuit that came with some delicious house-made strawberry jam. As an added bonus, someone at another table had ordered a big Bloody Mary (garnished with enough pickles and bacon to be a meal by itself) but then had to abruptly leave, so the waitress gave it to me for free. Great start to the day! I headed to the sports book, cashed in all my winning tickets, and made my bets for that day. I picked another few baseball games, as well as the Chicago Blackhawks in their conference finals series. My friends sent me a text while I was making my picks, they had arrived and were all planning on watching the NBA game that night at Westgate. I wanted to have a ticket to cheer for when I’d meet up with them, so I took the Rockets and the points. I had a few items to shop for (shoes being the main one), so I bought a 3-day transit pass and took a bus to the Strip. If you time the purchase right, the $20 3-day pass is a really good deal. I bought some shoes at a Miracle Mile shop, and then went into the Planet Hollywood casino to play poker. PH used to be my go-to poker room on the Strip. It always seemed to have a softer mix of players than Bellagio, which I attributed to husbands and boyfriends heading to the casino while their ladies went shopping in the surrounding mall. The room was also quite comfortable, being in the back corner of the casino with easy access to the washrooms. The poker room had moved since I’d been there last though, and it was now in a seemingly-temporary place outside of the PH sports book. It just didn’t have the same feel now; way more foot traffic walking past the tables, cramped seating arrangements, less dependable drink service. I played for about two hours and left exactly even. I hopped back on the bus and headed to Westgate. The whole placed seemed more chaotic than I had remembered, mostly due to their recent ownership change. My friend and I had spent lots of time at LVH during the past year’s March Madness, and we enjoyed their liberal drinks policy and comfortable seating. They also had the best sports book in town for prop and in-game bets, the buffet and other restaurants were all decent, and their poker room (while very small) always had one game going. Now that the big canvas Westgate sign was hanging outside, things were a little different. Renovations in the sports book had just started, which I was ok with because the space needed some modernization. The poker room was not being renovated, but just never had a game going when I was at the property. I heard some guests complaining about check-in and room servicing problems, but my friends who were staying there didn’t have any problems. I met my friends in the Fan Cave area of the sports book and watched the basketball game. The Rockets bet lost, and one by one my baseball bets all lost too. I was buoyed a little by my hockey bet winning, but it was disappointing to lose most of my bets after my great run the day before. My friends and I started talking sports bet strategy, and one thing a friend said made a lot of sense. His theory was that, not unlike most other casino games, the odds-makers are always set up to win. An average sports fan wouldn’t have the same access to historical computer models that are used to create the odds and point spreads, and making a ton of bets was going to inevitably be a losing strategy. His solution was to bet bigger amounts on the matchups that you’re more familiar with, and to limit yourself in quantity. Instead of five $10 bets, make one $50 bet on the game you’re most educated on. I decided I’d give it a try, even though I do enjoy monitoring multiple games while sitting in a bar or sports book. Once the basketball game was over we all headed back downtown. Some of my friends had never been to Freemont Street, so they wanted to see the sights. We walked around for a bit before sitting down for dinner at the BBQ restaurant in the rear of Binion’s. This was far and away the worst meal I ate on the entire trip. Where I come from (my home province of Alberta is widely known for high-quality beef) our BBQ brisket is served well-smoked, crispy and darkened on the outside of each piece but still juicy and flavorful. The brisket at Binion’s was rubbery and not well-trimmed, the gravy was salty and watery, and the side dishes were wholly uninspired. My friends didn’t mind their food, but I resolved that I wouldn’t waste another vacation meal at a place selling full roast beef dinners for $8. As I fully expected, one of my friends arrived in Vegas needing a place to stay. He had just returned from a long trip to Asia, and had booked his Vegas trip very last-minute. Since I had two beds in my room, it was no problem to put him up for the five nights he was in town. After playing the slots for a while, the rest of our friends caught their bus back to Westgate, while my new roommate and I went to the Nugget to play poker. We had fun for the first hour, without both of us getting involved in any of the same pots. That couldn’t last forever though, and eventually my roommate badly out-flopped me and took all my chips. I instinctively gave him a ‘what the heck’ look, since I don’t think I would have played the hand quite so ruthlessly if I was up against a friend. It definitely is bad form (and potentially illegal) to play anyone at the table softer than you normally would, but it still stung to get stacked by someone I just let move into my hotel room. He ended up giving $100 to me as payment for staying with me, so basically I paid him $100 to be my roommate for a few days! I don’t normally buy back in to a game once I lose my stack. Unless I have a good read on everyone at the table, I find it’s best to take a break, regroup, and find another game somewhere else. I wasn’t quite ready for bed yet though, and so I bought back in with the intention of taking my stacks back from my roommate. After another hour he was tired (since he’d had a long day of travelling already), but I was winning and playing well so I stuck around while he headed to bed. I lost two good-sized pots over the next hour, and then played my last hand poorly to allow my opponent to stay in the hand until the river and beat me. I left down $400. For the next hour until I fell asleep, I had a mental talk with myself about the poker session. Of course it was painful to lose two full buy-ins, but it had happened to me before and I knew the important thing was learning from the experience. I usually play quite tight and conservative, and tend to only get in trouble if I loosen up my play. I also have a tendency to play more aggressively than I should once I’m short-stacked, which is a really stupid move. Might as well stand up with that $75 and move on, instead of donating it by playing too strongly with a bad hand just to try to get back to even. As I drifted off to sleep, I resolved to get back to playing a disciplined game. The next morning we got up and went to Hash House for breakfast again. I tried to warn my roommate about their portion sizes, but he ignored me and ordered way too much food. He barely got through half of his chicken and waffles before giving up. We caught the bus to the Las Vegas Convention Centre, where the doors were just opening for the Magic tournament weekend. The main event didn’t start until Saturday, but there was already a flurry of activity all across the massive hall. A similar tournament two years prior had attracted around 6000 players, so the organizers of this event had planned for 10000 people to show up. The final numbers of main event entrants was 7551 players, which still resulted in a few logistical headaches. All things considered though, the event staff did a great job. Many smaller events end up having far worse delays and congestion problems that this event did. I won’t delve too deeply into the minutia of Magic, since this report is already approaching 5000 words and we’re only through four days! The basics are that you and your opponent are trying to kill each other, using decks of cards which represent mythical creatures, powerful spells, and available resources. The gameplay can range from fairly straight forward to extremely complicated (especially during high-level tournament play), and as an interactive strategy game it really is unparalleled. The main event of the weekend starts with 9 matches on the first day, a cut to the top ~15% of the field for the second day, and then a final cut to the top 8 players and a single-elimination bracket to determine the champion. For the first few days of big events like this, they run smaller tournaments so people can play some games and practice for the main event. I entered the first one they ran, played well and got lucky when I needed to, and ended up winning all 5 of my matches! I won about $100 in assorted prizes, plus the prize I coveted the most – two byes in the main event. While everyone else would have to be in attendance at 9:00 or earlier on Saturday morning, I could roll in at noon with two match wins already in the books! I looked around for my roommate for a while, but just couldn’t locate him in the mass of humanity. How big was the event? This picture is taken from the table in one of the very far corners of the hall. The tables were organized into groups under large colorful banners (the one for this section is bright red) hung from the ceiling. The banners were in the exact middle of their group of tables, so you can judge the size of each section from that: That is one section of the tournament floor, and there were six sections of that size for the main event by itself. There were two more sections of that size for side events and casual gaming, plus huge areas in between for vendors and artists and judges. Like I said, they were prepared for upwards of 10,000 people. I caught the bus back downtown, had a quick shower and a drink in the hotel room, and then got back on the bus to the Strip. After the great concert on Tuesday, I was extremely excited about the night’s event – Robert Plant live in concert at Brooklyn Bowl. I’ve been really fortunate with the timing of my Vegas trips over the last few years when it comes to live music. I’ve been able to see some of my favorite bands while in town; I saw Canadian rock heroes The Tragically Hip at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay one year, and an amazing Tool concert at Planet Hollywood’s Axis Theatre the following year. This trip was no different, with the Led Zeppelin front man being in town with his new unique multicultural band with him. There’s something surreal about watching people bang their heads to hard classic rock being played on traditional African tribal instruments. The ticket price was much higher than my concert downtown two nights ago, but it did include a copy of the band’s recent CD release. They played a mix of their new songs and old Zeppelin classics, all with their own individual folksy influences. Robert Plant himself was somewhat difficult to understand when speaking, being old and British as he is, but the music was fantastic and they played for quite a while. I hung around Brooklyn Bowl for a while after the show was over. The place isn’t set up poorly per se, but the main stairway becomes a choke point when the entire concert bowl is emptying out. I had a few more beers outside on their patio overlooking the Linq Promenade, before heading over to Flamingo to play poker. I used the five-minute walk to remind myself about the don’t-play-like-a-donkey talk I’d had with myself, and I sat down committed to playing tight and smart. For the first few hours, I really didn’t see many hands that were worth playing. When I did have a little something pre-flop, I would be in a bad position or the pot would already be raised, so I folded about 95% of the time. I won little pots here and there to keep my stack around my $200 buy-in mark, but eventually grew a little frustrated and thought about leaving. Right around then the houseman came to our table, and asked if one of us would like to move to the other table they had going. I volunteered, and moved to the other game hoping for a change of luck. Sometimes in NLHE you win one good hand per hour, and end up ahead. Sometimes you win six hands in a row and are suddenly WAY ahead. It started innocently enough, with a short-stacked player going all-in pre-flop and me calling with a pocket pair and winning. Then it was a smaller pocket pair for me, but no early raise let me flop the first set of my vacation. I had two players call my bets all the way to the end, which was great. Then a third pocket pair in a row for me, but I skipped making a set and just flopped quads. I didn’t bet too big, but everyone folded on the turn anyway. I flipped my hand over though, because the poker room had an incentive program that paid bonus money to high hands. I got a $50 bonus for my four tens. The next two hands were both great too, my cards were awful but I was in good position (and now had a ton of chips) so I was able to make smart bets and have everyone fold. For the sixth hand I flopped two pair, made a full house on the turn, and took the other largest stack at the table in the process. Of course I was ecstatic. I kept saying to myself ‘see, that’s what happens when you play smart’, because I surely had ample opportunity to lose my initial buy-in during that first few hours when I barely played a hand. Then after a 15-minute heater I had $750 in front of me. I don’t normally like to hit-and-run, since I think it’s a bit disrespectful, but nobody at my table had much more than $100 in front of them so I decided it was time to go (not to mention it was approaching 4:00am). I was thrilled at the $550 win, especially on the tails of my $400 loss the previous night. The SDX bus wasn’t running at the time, so I had extra time to reflect on my day while slowly riding the Deuce bus back to Freemont. I grabbed a few overnight sheets at the sports book in my hotel, and headed to bed. I slept in until noon on Friday, with no real plans for the day. I had originally planned on playing Magic at the event site, but I had already won my main event byes and Twitter told me the lines everywhere at the Convention Centre were much worse than the day before, so I didn’t bother. After four days of mainly eating breakfast food I decided to wait for dinner time and have a more solid meal. I went to the Nugget to play poker, but they were full and the wait list had over a dozen names on it. I crossed the street to Binion’s, and played there for a few hours. No real notable hands came up though, and when I was ready for dinner I was up about $40. Dinner was two blocks southeast of Freemont, at a sushi shop called Bocho. The place seems very small when you first go in, but they have an upstairs too and can probably seat about 60 diners comfortably. I ordered a delicious Japanese beer, a few small appetizers (some gyoza dumplings and a few salmon and tuna nigiri), and then finished with a tempura shrimp and avocado roll and an order of unagi sashimi. Everything was great, and you could tell the chefs paid attention to detail (though not uncommon with sushi chefs). The eel sashimi was perhaps the most delicious single item I had on my trip. I was really full after dinner, so I headed to Plaza and collapsed into a seat in the sports book. The big Eastern Conference Final game 7 hockey game was about to start, so I bet on the NY Rangers and got a beer. I also did a little research on the UFC Fight Night card that was happening the next day, and made a few bets on that too. A few hours later I had lost my hockey bet and was a few beers deep, so I just went back to my room and went to bed early. My roommate got back to the room a few hours later, and excitedly told me he had won his Magic event that day and now had two byes as well! The next morning we got up around 9:00 and went to DuPar’s for breakfast. We wanted to skip Hash House today, since we didn’t want a ton of heavy food that would make us sleepy – we had Magic games to win, and keeping your concentration in long events like this is a huge advantage. I got another signature shrimp cocktail (strange item for breakfast, I know), and a few house-baked pastries and coffee. We still had lots of time (and my bus pass was still valid), so we made some bets on the Western Conference Game 7 hockey game that night and then took the bus to the Convention Center. My roommate and I were in different sections of the tournament (each section had about 2000 players in it), so we wished each other luck and split up. I walked around chatting with other people from my home province as I ran into them, and soon it was time for my matches to start. Again, I won’t get into too detailed in the semantics of a game of Magic. The game has been around for over 20 years now, and has developed a fan-base of millions of dedicated and passionate players (which is why nearly 8000 of us were in the building that morning). Most games in tournaments are extremely close contests, with the difference between victory and heartbreak sometimes being one little decision in the middle of 100 other little decisions. So, to do well at a large event you need to be playing well, making good decisions, and having luck be on your side of the table. I was well-rested and really relaxed, which helped a lot. Some people had just arrived in town late on Friday night, and you could tell them were still getting over their jet-lag and welcome-to-Vegas cocktails from the night before. I had byes for the first two matches of the day, which left 7 to play. Each match takes about an hour to complete (there’s a 50-minute time limit, plus about ten minutes to get everyone’s results into the computer system). So, a large event like this can really take a lot of time and energy from everyone involved. My luck held fairly well, as I was able to win 5 of my 7 matches. I lost one match to a professional player from California, and the other to a very young boy (probably about 11 years old) who had his mother bringing him snacks and juice throughout our match. After he beat me I joked with his mom that I could have used a snack valet myself! By around 4:00 I was getting hungry, and the options at the Convention Center were very lackluster. There was a BBQ kiosk that ran out of food around noon, and there was a Starbucks that ran out of food almost immediately after they opened. That was it, two lousy food options for 8000+ people. As I was lamenting my choice of a small breakfast, my prayers were answered by a friend of mine who appeared like an angel through the throng of Magic players, carrying a full case of White Castle burgers. I had never been so happy to encounter a dude that smelled so strongly of meat and onions. My record at the end of the day was 7-2, which was good enough to make the top 15% of the field and qualify for Sunday’s Day 2. I thought I had done fairly well, but my roommate did even better - he didn’t lose a match all day! He was one of the very few remaining undefeated players, and had his picture and match coverage all over social media and the official tournament coverage website. We wanted to celebrate a bit, but our final matches didn’t finish until around 8:00. Since we needed to be back on site by 9:00 the next morning, we just went across the sidewalk to Westgate with our other friends and had their buffet. It was ok, but nothing really set it apart from any other random Vegas buffet. I had wanted to watch UFC if possible, but it wasn’t available anywhere at Westgate. I seem to remember a few years ago that every casino would be showing UFC events in their sports book, but recently it’s changed to only be at Station casinos and smaller pub venues that charge admission. We had a few drinks with our dinner and then jumped on the bus and headed home. I set our room alarm clock before going to bed, and we were asleep before midnight. The alarm clock was an older model, and the display had a reflection along the top of the numbers that made the top bar of the numbers looks illuminated even if it wasn’t. So some numbers looked a little different if you just quickly glanced at the clock – a 1 would look like a 7 for example, because the top bar would look lit up. So when my roommate woke up around 4:00 and sleepily looked over at the clock, he thought it said 9:00 (which is when we were due back at the Convention Center). I vaguely remember waking up in the middle of the night, hearing my roommate yell something and frantically dash out of the room. I looked over at the clock and saw it was only 4:00, so I went back to sleep and woke up at 7:00 to find my roommate long gone. I wasn’t very hungry, so I went to Hash House and just had some coffee and juice and an order of toast with their awesome homemade fruit jam. I took the bus to the Convention Center, found my weary-looking roommate, and laughed at him for a long time with some of our other friends. How could he have not noticed the total lack of partiers on Freemont when he ran outside to find a cab? Nor did he notice the lack of traffic on the roads, or the lack of bright morning sunshine? Also, what kind of cab driver drops a dude off at an obviously-closed Convention Center at 4:30am? And furthermore, thanks a lot roomy – you didn’t try very hard to wake me up when you thought we were late, you just frantically tried to take care of yourself! The mishap did take a toll on my roommate, and after his undefeated run on Saturday he never could quite gather his concentration and he lost nearly all of his Sunday matches. My matches were tough too, which isn’t really surprising since the level of competition goes up when only the best 15% of players are still in the event. I won 3 out of my 6 matches, which made for a decent finish (overall record of 12-5) but still short of the prizes. I was expecting my friends to want to party on Sunday night, but most people were pretty tired (especially my idiot roommate). We made some plans with our other friends for the following evening, and then my roommate and I took the bus back downtown and he went to bed. I was hungry, so I consulted my restaurant list once again and decided to try Pizza Rock. As soon as I walked in, I knew I had to come to the right place. The internet reviews of Pizza Rock all agreed that you probably shouldn’t order a pizza if you’re by yourself – they’re just too big and filling and there’s no chance you’ll eat it all. They had tons of delicious-sounding appetizers, so I had a beer and 3 meatballs, then another beer and a calabrese sausage dish and an order of garlic bread, then a third beer and 3 more meatballs. I was in meat-lovers heaven; the texture and flavor of all their ground meat was superb. I tend not to eat pizza very often, so I haven’t tried all the pizza joints in Vegas, but Pizza Rock is truly top quality. It’s not that I dislike pizza, but there are a few types of food and ingredients that I was trying to avoid (for the sake of stomach acidity and heartburn); tomato sauce, milk, citrus, grease, etc. I realize I just mentioned 6 wonderful tomato-sauce-slathered meatballs, but as long as I kept things in moderation I thought I’d be fine. After my meal I staggered back to the Plaza sports book and cashed in my winning hockey bets from the previous night. I didn’t have as much luck with my UFC bets, which surprised me because I can usually predict fight outcomes fairly well. Of course upsets happen, but I watch a lot of MMA and I can usually sense who is trending up or down leading up to a fight. I made one bet on the following days’ baseball games, and then headed to the Nugget to play poker. It ended up being a fun, if frustrating, session. My table was full of funny and chatty people, which makes grinding for many hours much more enjoyable. The hours flew by and I was playing well, and I had roughly doubled my stack by 3:00am. I lost it all in just two hands though. The first was to a slow-playing gentleman who had me beat right from the beginning of the hand. I had flopped top two pair to his set and didn’t improve at any point. He kept checking to me, and though I did bet the flop and turn I wasn’t betting large because I didn’t exactly know where I stood in the hand. He finally made a large bet on the river, and it seemed like a bluff to me so I called. The next hand was just as bad; I called the unraised pot and flopped an open-ended straight draw, and then got all excited when I hit my straight on the river. My opponent had made a bigger straight though, and after some positional raises I was all-in and toast. Monday morning came and went, and I woke up in the early afternoon ready for the day. My roommate was already gone, he needed to do some shopping for clothes and other things (he really did show up unprepared) and had gone to bed much earlier than I had. I skipped breakfast, because of the awesome dinner plans I had with my friends for later. I watched part of the baseball games I had action on, and then bought a fresh 3-day bus pass and headed south. The restaurant I was meeting my friends at was partway down West Sahara , which was perfect since I wanted to go Zia Record Exchange on the same road. I love going to bargain music stores and sifting through heaps of cheap junk to uncover the hidden gems. Zia is a really cool store, with large sections for movies and TV, music, vinyl, and all kinds of pop culture memorabilia. I spent nearly two hours in the store, and left with two bulging shopping bags of CDs and DVDs. I jumped back on the bus, and went back down West Sahara until I got to the restaurant and met my friends. The name of the place is Herbs & Rye, and is far and away #1 on my list of places to return to. It’s a dimly-lit bar and steakhouse, casual enough yet classy at the same time, with an old-Vegas vibe and seriously excellent food and drinks. Our waiter recommended a few standout options from their giant list of bourbon and gin cocktail menu, and we ordered a few baskets of the most-recommended appetizer according to reviews, the calamari. I’m actually not a huge fan of calamari and never order it myself, but this was definitely the best I’ve ever had; perfect texture to the squid, well-trimmed spicy peppers, light but crisp tempura batter, and a finishing dust of a house onion-based spice mix that brought all the flavors together. Lots of the other appys also sounded great – there were chorizo and veal meatballs with zesty goat cheese, and little chopped steak sliders with horseradish cream on the side. We didn’t go crazy on the appetizers though, since we had some serious meat on order. The best added perk of Herbs & Rye is their happy hour prices. Most of their dishes are on the expensive side (although you’re paying for quality so the price is certainly not unreasonable), but during their 4-hour happy period many items are half price. I ordered their gorgeous flagship filet mignon, and it was $35 instead of $70. Most of their steaks are included in the happy hour menu, so we all got some beautiful cuts. One of my friends got the Porterhouse which was chopped fairly thin and probably not the best choice if you prefer bloody rare beef, but it looked amazing cooked to medium and was the size of a steering wheel. My other friend ordered the second-largest T-bone on the menu, which he just barely finished after battling with it for a solid hour. I ordered a small duo of accompaniments with my filet; some fancy mac & cheese and some fancy broccoli & cauliflower, both of which were delectable if a bit basic. We hung out and chatted and had some more unique cocktails for a while after our meal, and then called a cab and went to the Strip. One of our friends had a ticket to the Beatles Cirque show that he claimed with MyVegas, so we took our cab to Mirage and walked around for a little while. My friends started disappearing one by one to play blackjack and slots, and eventually I made my way to the poker room. I like the room at Mirage, which has decent drink service and easy access to their sports book. I had an up-and-down session, but it was really fun because I was starting with far more good hands than normal. I was still determined to play tight and cautious, but I was involved in more pots during this session than in the two or three prior combined. The only real notable hand came when I was heads-up on the river, he very confidently called me all-in three-bet, and turned over some awful losing hand. He hadn’t checked his cards since pre-flop, and he said he mistakenly thought he was playing his hole cards from the previous hand. He laughed about it though, and he didn’t lose too much (maybe $80 total). After a few hours at Mirage I cashed out up $170, briefly searched for my friends, and then jumped on the bus downtown. I still had the two large bags from Zia, and too many people were walking into them and bumping them in the poker room (even though they were well out of the way on the floor along the wall). I dropped the bags off in my room and went back down to the small sports book in Four Queens, where I cashed my winning baseball ticket and bought a couple more. I went back to my room, expecting for my roommate to show up and go drinking with him, but he never did (he ended up going to Drai’s and paying a big cover charge and then leaving shortly thereafter because the club was dead). Since I had plans for the next day, I just had a few drinks in bed and watched sports highlights for a while and then fell asleep. Tuesday was one of the days I had planned out in advance. When I first started playing casino poker about 10 years ago I started a collection of $1 chips from each poker room I played in. Now that I have all the Strip and downtown casinos covered, I try to make it to one off-the-beaten-path casino each time I’m in town. I’d read some decent reviews about Eastside Cannery, and I noticed that they ran an Omaha H/L tournament with a low buy-in on Tuesdays, and was pleased that I could take the bus directly there from Freemont. The bus ride was fine, but Apple Maps failed me and mislabeled Sam’s Town as being Eastside Cannery (they’re basically across the boulevard from each other). Since I was already there I stopped into the Sam’s Town poker room, but the houseman was rude and gruff so I didn’t wait for a seat to come open. No big loss anyway, since they only had Limit Hold’Em and I would have been the only person under 75 years old in the place. I would have liked to get a chip there though, because I don’t think I’ll ever return. I eventually found the right door to go out of, and ran across the road and into Eastside Cannery. I was devastated to find their poker room totally empty, with just a small list of 4 people wanting to play Limit and zero interest for NL. I nearly headed right back outside to the bus stop, but I was hungry and thirsty so I put my name on the waiting list and headed to their buffet. The buffet was pretty good, which I actually wasn’t surprised about. The whole place reminded me a lot of The Orleans, in that their patrons don’t really have the option of going next door to a different casino like they would on the Strip or on Freemont. So if nobody likes the buffet or the other dining options (or the casino floor for that matter) they’ll just never stay there again. I took my time eating since I hadn’t heard them call the list of names for poker yet, and after an hour and a half I walked back to the poker area. There was a game happening! Not totally sure why I hadn’t been called (I guess I just must not have heard my name), but they had a full table and my name was still up on the list. I took one look at the players, and knew that it would be an eternity before I got a seat. They were all much older guys, and they all knew each other’s names and were all talking and joking like they were a big family. My suspicions were confirmed when an hour went by and nobody’s stack went up or down by more than maybe 20%. The game was Limit I suppose, but they were there to hang out and socialize and not actually to grind poker. I signed up for the Omaha tournament, and after another 45 minutes a seat in the cash game opened up and I sat down. I played about ten hands (and was up about $25) when the tournament started. I had a blast playing the tournament, because it was very different than the normal poker I play. I don’t think I’d ever played an Omaha or split pot tournament before this one, and I don’t play very many tournaments period (I much prefer cash games). The event seemed to be structured in the slowest and most excruciating way possible though, being Limit Omaha H/L. I didn’t really give any of the players at my initial table much respect, and I won a lot of pots just by betting on the river and having everyone fold. Even if there was a bunch of money already in the pot, they would always fold instead of putting in two more chips. I pushed the table around for about an hour, but then lost all my profit to a guy with four deuces. In this structure the bets are limited until the river, and then if you’re heads-up on the river you can bet an unlimited numbers of times. After he raised my nut full house five times I figured out he had the one hand that could beat me and avoided losing my whole stack. I started grinding my way back up, which was getting easier because the weaker players were all starting to be short-stacked. I did have some good luck and a few of my hands held on to win, but I was also playing well and made some good plays in hands where the other players didn’t fully consider the low hand split possibility as much as they should have. When the tables all amalgamated into one final table, I was one of the chip leaders. The pace of the action really slowed down when we were close to the money bubble. The blind structure was still quite forgiving even in the third hour, and people were pressured more by me and the other aggressive chip leader as opposed to by the blinds increasing. We finally got down to the final four – me and the one other guy who each had about a third of the chips, and two other guys who had about half as much. The other three started talking about golfing the week before, and I quickly realized they were three local guys who played (and likely chopped to win) this tournament every week. They all wanted to chop, and I could tell they wanted to head home because they probably all had day jobs and it was approaching midnight. I agreed to a 6-way chop; two shares for me and the other chip leader, and one share for the other two. Everyone was very happy with the idea and we all shook hands and ended the tournament. I profited $125, which was great considering I genuinely had fun along the way. It was after midnight when I went outside, and luckily caught the very last bus that would take me directly back to Freemont. I checked my baseball bets but they were both losers, and after making some bets on the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals starting the next day, I went to bed. Wednesday started early for me, since I was planning on shopping all day and I wanted to beat the crowds. I took the bus to the North Outlets, and poked around in shops for a few hours. By the early afternoon the crowds were getting thicker, so I got back on the bus and took my bags back to my room. I had planned on doing more shopping, including going to Fashion Show Mall, but the weather was hotter than it had been and I was feeling a bit drained. I wasn’t even feeling hungry because of the heat, so I played poker at Nugget for a while (and lost $100) before going back to Bocho Sushi for dinner. On weekdays they have an all-you-can-eat menu for around $30, so I opted for that even though I wasn’t starving. I had most of the same dishes that I’d had on my first visit; appetizers and lots of small pieces of fish and an avocado roll. I did try a few other items like the house-dressed edamame and a few different nigiri. Everything was delicious. I walked back under the Freemont canopy and was struck by how quiet it was. I had noticed on previous Vegas trips that Tuesdays and Wednesdays were noticeably less busy on the Strip, but Freemont was nearly deserted and I thought that was crazy for being 7:00 in the evening. I went to Binion’s and played poker for a few more hours, but was still quite sleepy so I called it a night after about two hours (and another $50 loss). My hockey bets all lost too, so the day was a total gambling failure. Thursday was yet another planned excursion, this time to South Point. I’d read online about how the management at South Point really value the old traditions of Vegas, so I wanted to give them a little patronage. I took the bus again, even though the ride was going to be much longer than previous trips. It did take nearly an hour to get there, but I met a lady at my bus stop that was also from my home province so I had someone to chat with for most of the ride. It’s amazing who you can meet in Las Vegas; this lady moved from a small aboriginal reserve in Alberta to Vegas, so that her husband could try to break into the entertainment industry. It didn’t really work out for him, and he now works as a busker on Freemont and her as a social worker of some kind. I walked around South Point for a while, mostly trying to see things associated with the original High Stakes Poker show that was filmed there. There were a few poker tables running, and I played for a few hours (and lost $75) before getting hungry. I got on the bus and headed to center Strip, thinking I could try going to Gordon Ramsay Burgr. It might have been quieter on Freemont for the last few days, but the Strip was still packed and I would have had an hour wait. I kept walking and decided I actually wasn’t that hungry now that I was back in the heat, so I got a big slush cocktail and watched some technicians work on the Bellagio fountains for a while. After a while I went back across the street and into Flamingo to play some more poker. After a few hours and quite a few cocktails I cashed out up $85 and walked over to the White Castle in Casino Royale. I was hungry and drunk so I enjoyed my meal a lot, but I also told myself on the bus ride home that I wouldn’t have any more fast food on the trip. There was nearly no sports on, just a few baseball games that I hadn’t bet on, so I called it a night pretty early. Friday started at about noon for me, but as soon as I got downstairs I could tell the tourist crowds were back in full force. I got a breakfast pint and walked around Freemont for a while, and then got on the bus. I got off at Fashion Show Mall, but the place was a giant construction zone at the time so it was really hard to walk around. I like the sushi place on street level there (called Ra), but instead of navigating the construction walkways I crossed the street and went into Venetian. I did a little bit of shopping in their mall, and then took the escalator downstairs and got a seat in the poker room. The Sheldon Adelson distaste had been all over my Twitter feed for many months, but if there was a boycott of any kind it sure didn’t seem to dent their player numbers. The entire room was packed, all 60 tables going. There were lots of huge games, probably because of WSOP overflow. Luckily I got a seat right away, and started enjoying the quality of their food and drinks. Venetian and Bellagio are probably tied for best table-side food and drinks, though now I hear that Venetian has gone the other way for some reason. People are reporting no free coffee any more, which sounds out of sorts for that place. The menu was so large it was somewhat hard to choose, but I settled on some tempura prawns with a spicy sauce and an order of a really decadent dessert that was recommended by the poker dealer. The guy who wheeled it out to me looked at me strangely when I told him both dishes were for me. What, nobody else orders the spicy shrimp and butter cake combination dinner?! I played for quite a while at Venetian, with the cocktails flowing well. The table was mostly very good players, so it was hard to put anyone in a tough spot. I did take advantage of the more aggressive players a few times, and though I didn’t play a ton of hand I did manage to win a few nice pots. I left up $125, not including the $75 for food and drinks that I paid for with chips. I went upstairs to the Thomas Sabo store in the mall, picked up my girlfriend’s she-let-me-to-Vegas-for-a-long-time gift, and headed back downtown. It was total craziness on Freemont when I got there. There was a free concert going on, the street was packed, and notably there were lots of protestors. I’ve seen 9/11 Truth people on Freemont in years past, but there were other big groups too. About 20 of them were protesting Boyd Gaming, projecting images on the façade of Freemont Hotel of failed health inspections and other violations. I sat at the bar on the side of Four Queens and had a beer, and then grabbed some sheets from the sportsbook and went up to my room. I went to sleep pretty early considering it was my last night in town, but I wanted to be up and packed early in the morning and I was too tired to play any more poker. I got up quite early, because I wanted to bet on and watch the Women’s World Cup soccer game that started at 7:00. It was Canada’s first tournament match, and the sports book at Plaza was totally empty when I got there. When the game was over I went back to my room for the last time, did a final check to make sure I wasn’t leaving any shopping bags full of stuff in my room, and went downstairs to check out. The front desk wasn’t busy at all and checking out and leaving my bags with the bell desk went smoothly. I still had all day to hang out, but I wanted to stay on Freemont (more specifically somewhere air conditioned, now that I didn’t have a room to go back to). I went for one last big breakfast at Hash House, including another giant Bloody Mary. After that I was in no mood for walking around, so I went to Golden Nugget for one last poker session. I ended up staying at the poker table for the rest of the afternoon, which made the 7-hour game the longest one I’d played since getting to Vegas. The time seemed to fly by though, like it usually does when I’m playing poker. I think a big part of that is having my iPhone with me and being able to surf the net and listen to music while playing. I really don’t know how people lived before smartphones. I had been away from home for quite a while, but with Facebook and Twitter and texting people, I wasn’t out of touch at all with my normal life. The table was full of funny guys that liked to argue, so it also showed how important smartphones can be when settling bets. I was playing ok poker for the most part, but I always seemed to make the wrong decision when it was a close call – I checked a few rivers when I was ahead, and I called some river value bets when I was narrowly beaten. I still did quite well, finally leaving at 6:00 up over $250. I was very happy to finish the gambling part of my trip with a nice win. I made my final trip across Freemont Street, back to Four Queens to pick up my bags. It felt like I should be saying goodbye to all the strange people I’d become accustomed to seeing over the last week and a half. The busker with the puppet and loudspeaker that trash-talks everyone that walks by, the assortment of barely-dressed street performers that were around no matter how late or early, the old guy behind the Four Queens sportsbook desk that always wants to chat, I was going to miss them all. I’d had a blast, that’s for sure. My gambling ended up at +$942 (and that doesn’t include food and drinks purchased with chips), which I was quite happy with. I had some great gifts for my girlfriend, and was as relaxed as you’d expect from someone who spent nearly two weeks mainly sleeping and drinking. My plane left Vegas at 8:30, which made for a really beautiful view the entire flight home. The route makes a few turns through the northern States so it seemed like the sun set very slowly, then brightened again, and then set for a final time. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.