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Well, I got back in town yesterday from my trip to Vegas. This was much more of a fun trip than a business trip, if you catch my meaning, although of course I had planned to play some Poker there as well. One of my goals had been to measure the level of competition at the $10-$20 limit in Vegas on a weekday night, since on any given weekday night you can generally expect to find more serious players than tourists. The rest of the trip was purely for fun.

My roommate and I arrived on Monday around 2:30 PM, flying Southwest Airlines. I had purchased our tickets at a fantastic price - $83.50 round-trip per person. I luv Southwest. Our reservations were at Excalibur. I had never before stayed at Excalibur, and so I was looking forward to something new. The rooms at Excalibur were the most reasonable: $79.99 for Monday night, and $49.99 a night for Tuesday and Wednesday. I also liked Excalibur for its proximity to the Luxor, which is one of my favorite casinos in Vegas.

We took a cab to Excalibur, and on the way we learned that there was a convention in town, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). We would be asked a couple of times throughout our stay by various cab drivers if we were attending the convention. We also learned that there was a porn industry convention in town as well, at The Venetian. I guess we looked more like CES attendees than porn stars, as no-one asked us if we were attending the porn convention.

We found accomodations at Excalibur to be adequate, very much the standard hotel room. That was perfectly fine by us, as we didn't plan on spending much time in the room anyway. Upon checking in, we received a coupon book full of coupons for various places in Excalibur. We were both hungry, so we evaluated our options. Room service was pretty steep, so we checked out the menus of the various restaurants. We passed on both Sir Galahad's Steakhouse and the prime rib place (I don't recall the name), as they were both pricey and fancy, and we were dressed like slobs. We decided to go eat at Regale, the Italian restaurant in Excalibur, but that didn't open until 5 PM - we still had an hour to kill. So what do two Phoenix Poker players do upon first arriving in Vegas, with a full hour to kill? Why, play Poker, of course. :-) It just so happens that one of the coupons was for a "free souvenir" after playing one hour in the Poker room.

Excalibur has a fairly new Poker room. It's moderately sized (12 tables), and intended for low-limit games. They were spreading $1-$5 Seven-Card Stud and $2-$6 Texas Hold'em, both spread-limit games. That may be all they ever spread; we never saw any other games being dropped. Then again, we didn't spend that much time there, either. We both took a seat in the $2-$6 spread-limit Texas Hold'em game.

Spread-limit games differ from the typical structured game, and are usually only played at low limits. The most common spread-limit games by far are $1-$3 and $1-$5 Seven-Card Stud, where the bets and raises on any betting round can be in any amount from $1 to $3 or $1 to $5, as the case may be. This is in contrast to a typical "structured" game (or "fixed-limit"), where the bets and raises are in fixed amounts. Texas Hold'em is almost always spread as a structured game; for example, $10-$20 Hold'em has all bets and raises in amounts of $10 on the first two betting rounds, and $20 on the second two. Because of the different betting structure, correct tactics for spread-limit games differ than correct tactics for structured games. For example, it becomes correct to limp in in early position for only $2 with hands that would be considered marginal in a typical structured game, and then fold if there is a raise for the maximum behind you. In a similar structured game, limping in in early position with a marginal holding for a full bet is not a good idea, and folding for a raise behind you for only one more bet is unheard of.

The Excalibur $2-$6 Hold'em game has only one $2 blind. They offer a bad-beat jackpot, which is hit if any Aces-Full is beaten by Four-of-a-Kind or better (with both cards in both players' hands playing). The jackpot was about $1,800 when we sat down. They also offer another promotion, which is a wheel similar to the Big Wheel. This wheel has a number of different payouts, ranging from $10 to $100 on it. If a player shows down pocket Kings or Aces on the River and loses, then he or she gets to take a spin on the wheel. With the minimum payout $10, it eases some of the agony of losing with Kings or Aces (both premium hands). The dealer drops $0.50 for the jackpot when the pot reaches $10, and then another $0.50 when the pot reaches $20, for a maximum drop of $1. The rake is 10% of the pot, to a maximum of $3.

We played for an hour. The game was full of tourists, as could be expected for a low-limit game. I lost the first three pots I played, then won a couple of pots, and lost a net of $5 for the hour. My roommate lost about $60. He later said that he wasn't comfortable with the spread-limit format, and that he may have made some mistakes in trying to adjust his play. He's normally a fairly solid player who plays $6-$12 Hold'em, although he does have a tendency to go "on tilt" now and again. :-)

So after an hour of play, we left to collect the free souvenir. And it was (drum roll, please)...a pocket address book with the Excalibur logo! I "lost" it in the trash on the way out.

Regale was then open, so we went and ate. I must say that Regale was one of the finer highlights of my trip. It is an absolutely outstanding Italian restaurant, located on Level II of Excalibur. The entrees are moderately priced - my Lobster Diavolo was $18.45 - and the service was fantastic. The atmosphere is elegant, making me wish that I had shaved and worn some decent clothes to dinner. They offer a fine list of wines, and the food is terrific. I had a slice of tiramisu for dessert, and I can honestly say that it was the best tiramisu I have ever tasted. I will most certainly make it a point to eat there again on my next trip to Vegas, even if I'm staying somewhere else. The total bill for two (my roommate got the fettuccine alfredo), including two glasses of wine and tiramisu was just over $50.

After dinner, it was time to hit the Craps tables for the first time in my life. We decided to walk to the Luxor from Excalibur to play. On the way, we stopped at the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in Excalibur, which is conveniently open 24 hours. Yet another reason to stay at Excalibur. :-)

I had been reading up on Craps to refresh my memory, and in the interests of preserving my Craps bankroll for as long as possible, I had decided to utilize the system known as Oscar's Grind. The system is designed to produce a profit of exactly one betting unit for a "sequence" of plays. To play the system, you bet one unit to begin a sequence. If you win that bet, you have profited exactly one unit and the sequence is complete. If you lose your first bet, your next bet is exactly the same size. From that point on, your bet size is determined by whether or not you won the previous bet. If you lost the previous bet, your next bet is exactly the same size. If you won the previous bet, you increase the bet size by exactly one unit, unless winning the next bet would give you a profit of greater than one unit for the sequence. In that case, you reduce your bet size so that a win will produce a profit of exactly one unit for the sequence.

Although Craps is a negative-expectation game, systems like this that follow a progression similar to a Martingale progression offer the highest probability of walking away from any given session with a net positive result. Knowing that, I decided to give it a go at the $5 minimum tables at the Luxor, betting $5 on the pass line and backing up the bet with maximum odds. The odds offered at the Luxor are 3x-4x-5x, meaning that they allow a maximum of 3x odds on Points 4 and 10, 4x odds on Points 5 and 9, and 5x odds on Points 6 and 8. I'd soon learn that this was pretty much standard for the casinos on the Strip.

After losing $440, I decided to walk away from the game. Looking back, I realize that I had underestimated the amount of money I could have on the table with a unit bet size of $5, and I had only earmarked $1,000 for Craps for the trip. Losing half of that in one night was not an enjoyable introduction to the game. :-( My roommate also took a beating at Craps, to the tune of about $300. We decided to go play Poker (some REAL Poker) at The Mirage.

Before walking out of the Luxor, I did play a short session of 21, netting a small profit of $15 with correct basic strategy and a Martingale progression. It was my only 21 session for the whole trip.

The Mirage is another of my favorite places to play. I am always amazed at the interior of The Mirage, with its rainforest decor. The Mirage is also one of the two best places to play Poker on the Strip, with the other being Bellagio. The Mirage used to be THE place to play until Bellagio opened. Now, The Mirage spreads more low- and middle-limit games, usually up to the $20-$40 limit. My roomate took a seat in the $6-$12 Hold'em game, and I sat down in the $10-$20 game going.

The game was pretty typical. Although it was relatively tight, the players were generally not very good, and a couple of them were stereotypical tourists. I ended up sitting next to a player from Phoenix, of all places, who was also there on vacation. I played for 3 1/2 hours, and netted a profit of $130.50. I called it quits around midnight and took a cab back to Excalibur.

Day 2 to follow...

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