Polar range: the spectrum of Las Vegas poker in a day

Lee Jones
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Posted on: August 25, 2023 3:03 pm EDT

I’ve written before about the smorgasbord of poker that’s available in Las Vegas. From the smallest stakes dealt in casinos, to the nosebleed games in semi-private rooms with names, you can find the game that’s right for you.

But like most people, I usually “stay in my lane” – I have a comfort zone of stakes I like to play, so I just head toward those games. Also like many people, I have preferred places to play, so I almost always end up in the same 2-3 places, despite all the options. But hey, we’re creatures of habit – Baskin-Robbins offers 31 flavors of ice cream – can you honestly say you’ve had more than four or five of them?

Thus it was a growth edge for me to experience four different stakes poker games in four different Las Vegas poker rooms, all in one day. Why? Well, it wasn’t like I had planned to do that (though that would have been a great idea), the day just fell out that way. And honestly, that’s one of the charms of Las Vegas poker – without even planning to, you can get a lovely poker meal from the buffet.

Good morning, Bellagio

I had my second cup of coffee while cards were being dealt to me. Perfect.

I had met a friend for breakfast at Gäbi, which is a hop-skip-jump from the Bellagio. Also, I like to ease into my poker day, and there’s no better way in Vegas to do that than at the Bellagio. The Bellagio $2/5 NL Hold’em game has a $500 cap, so you don’t usually find yourself in $2,000 pots while you’re still digesting your quiche. As my friend Ben Adler notes, the Bellagio is where many people first dip their toes into the $2/5 waters. I’m an old hand at those stakes, but it’s just good sense to have a warm-up session before you start battling over the most serious pots of the day.

Furthermore, the Bellagio is “comfortable.” It certainly is a little cozy compared to the Wynn or Resorts World, but at 11:00am on a post-WSOP Tuesday, it’s not Grand Central Station. You can stretch out, titrate the caffeine, and loosen your poker muscles.

I had my stack up to $600ish when the most interesting pot of the session broke out. There was an older guy across the table from me (I say that as somebody who’s on Medicare) who was actually reading a newspaper while he was sipping his coffee and playing poker. It was, honestly, charming. It put me in mind of the good old days at Garden City in San Jose, where the $20/40 limit hold’em regulars would gather around 9:00am. They’d eat bacon and eggs, read the sports section of the San Jose Mercury News, watch the stock market on the TVs, and only put in a third bet with KK or better.

Anyway, News Guy looked at his cards, put his paper down, and raised to $20. The action folded over to me in the cutoff, and I looked at my cards only as a formality – they were going in the muck. I mean, recall all those hours I spent at Garden City. Oh dear, two black sevens – we’ll have to see a flop. I put in my $20, and the big blind came along too. With $60 in the pot, the flop was a glorious T♦️-7❤️-4♣️. The big blind checked, Newspaper bet $35, and I just called. I was counting on the big blind to fold (they did), and I didn’t want to spook News Guy quite yet.

With $130 in the pot, the turn was the 9♦️, making the board pretty wet. News Guy bet $75, and it was time to build a pot – I raised to $180. He looked at me, paused for a moment, harrumphed, and threw pocket queens toward the dealer, face-up. Then he went back to his reading. Not his first newspaper, for sure.

Moving on up… to the Wynn

That was my cue to bounce. If I couldn’t get a stack from queens with my set, I needed to find greener pastures. After another half an hour (with one nicely profitable pot) I walked – yes, walked – up the Strip, entering on the south side of the Wynn to reach the air-conditioning that much sooner. Then somehow navigated my way through the complex to the Encore and the poker room.

See the orange and white shoes? At the Bellagio, they take out a cocktail waitress.

While the Bellagio trades in brocade, gold, and red, the Wynn is light and airy. Notably, if you look at the space between any two adjacent tables at the Wynn, the Bellagio would have a table there.

The Wynn has a reputation as the finest poker room in Las Vegas. It also has the reputation for having some of the toughest games in town. My 30-minute walk had taken me from one end of the “easy game” spectrum to the other.

I put my name on the $3/5 list, but then saw that they had a $5/10 game running, with a couple of seats open. I watched for a few minutes, and saw some hands play out that made me think I wouldn’t be the worst player at the table. And, importantly, there were six crisp $100 bills in my pocket that hadn’t been there this morning, thanks to the Bellagio $2/5 crew. I bought $1500 in chips – 150 big blinds, that would still be 75 BB with the straddle on. That’s only half the maximum buy-in, but I have no pride in that respect – they could deal with my $1500 as they saw fit.

It couldn’t have been a full orbit after I sat down that I found myself in the small blind. There was a $20 straddle, and the cut-off player opened to $70. Folded to me, and – two pretty aces. I guess it was time to play big kid poker. I 3-bet to $280, and just the cut-off called. Recall that with the $20 straddle, I had started with just 75 “straddles” – the cut-off covered me by a lot.

With $580 in the pot, the flop came Q❤️-4♣️-2♠️. Not that there were many universes where I was exiting this hand before a showdown, but this was about as pretty a flop as I could hope for. I bet $200, which the cut-off quickly called. If I could have picked a turn card, the 2♦️ might have been it, and that’s what we got. I now had the best possible two-pair, no flush was going to happen, and if my opponent had a deuce, well, my morning was going to descend quickly into the red.

There was $980 in the pot, and I had exactly $1k behind. It wouldn’t be hard to get the rest. I checked. With my age and appearance, I look an awful lot like ol’ News Guy back at the Bellagio. My opponent could easily believe I had bet one-and-done with AK, and he might take a stab. Or maybe he had a queen – with the board already paired little, even two pair wouldn’t help a queen.

The cut-off bet $500. Perfect. I paused only an appropriate period, then announced that I was all-in.

The most exciting three seconds in a poker game come when you’ve announced that you’re all-in, holding a good, but not nutty, hand. If your opponent immediately calls, you’re likely toast. But if you “fade the snap call,” then your hand is comfortably best.

The most exciting three seconds in a no-limit hold’em game come when you’ve announced that you’re all-in, holding a good, but not nutty, hand. If your opponent immediately calls, you’re likely toast. But if you “fade the snap call,” then your hand is comfortably best.

I faded the snap call.

“How much?” he asked.

“$1k almost to the penny.”

“Sh*t. Okay, I call.”

I don’t play show-your-hand chicken. The rules say that if I go all-in and get called, I show first. And I do, whether it’s the nuts or nothing. The aces were instantly on their back. I didn’t pay much attention to the river card, and I couldn’t really see my opponent – he was in the #7 seat, and I was behind the dealer in the #1.

Aces hold up. Film at 11:00.

So if my opponent showed his hand, which I doubt, I didn’t see it. I did see a lovely pile of chips, including a canary-yellow $1k wagering disc, coming in my direction.

A few minutes later, they called down a $10/20/(40) game over in the high-limit section. I wasn’t even moderately tempted to sit down in it, but many of my table-mates left our game to go start the bigger one. As they did, I got a look at the #7 seat, and thought he looked familiar. Then as they called down the names for the new game, I put two and two together, and realized that I had just doubled through live-stream legend Boston Jimmy.

I thought that our game might actually get better, with the tougher players (including Boston Jimmy) moving to the $10/20/40 game. Sadly, the two guys who I was sure I could outplay immediately went to the new game (no, I still wasn’t sitting that game) – our table was suddenly a bunch of AirPod grinders strapping backpacks to their chairs. After watching them exchange light 3- and 4-bets for a dealer down, I decided I’d had enough – they could have their silly aggro games.

I cashed in a healthy profit, and headed to Urth for a salad, but my poker day was far from over. More in Part 2.