I have probably been to Las Vegas over 20 times in my life and it is usually a lot of fun. But in 2016 I went for a singular purpose: to play poker for 5 days straight!
I play poker regularly in the fall and winter at the Orangeville Poker Tour (OPT) and at other games around Kitchener and some tournaments at the Brantford Casino. The competition at OPT is quite good and most of the players work to improve their game. In addition to the league games (12 – 15 over the winter) they have satellites to various tournaments, including Montreal WSOP and Las Vegas. I don’t usually play satellites but in early 2016 I said “what the heck” and drove out to Bolton and played in an event.
We paid $260 USD to enter and I also paid for a $100 “add on”. There were 10 of us playing and we raised enough to give away two entries into $1500 USD WSOP tournaments and I won one of them! This was an “equity” tournament and everyone signed an agreement so if either of the winners made money in a tournament they would take 15% of it and split it up amongst the other 9 players at the table.
This was a pretty exciting event because prior to winning the entry I had never thought about going to Vegas on my own just to play poker. Several of the people from Orangeville do it every year, but now it was something that was happening to me!
There are over 60 events in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas each year in June and July. I had to find the $1500 event that I wanted to play in. Complicating the issue was the fact my company was holding its user conference in Nashville in mid-July and I had over a week of work to perform in June in preparation for this. So I had to pick the event to play.
No Limit Hold ‘em is by far the most popular poker game being played but of the 60+ events many are other forms like Omaha, Omaha 8, 7 Deuce triple draw, limit hold ‘em etc. and they have buy ins at $1000, $1500, $2500, $5000 and the “main event” which is $10,000. But I was just looking for a No Limit event with a $1500 buy in. Even then, there was a “deep stack” option which had you starting with $15,000 in chips instead of the $7,500 you get at the regular event. The $1500 event normally lasts 3 days and has over 2000 entries. Occasionally the final table can take longer and it can reach a 4th day!
I thought about the deepstack option but it was a 5 day tournament. Even though the odds are good that you will get knocked out in the first day or two you must still prepare optimistically, and so 5 + 2 days of travel = at least 7 days total compared with the 3 day tournament and travel which = 5 minimum. The well known professional poker player and author/trainer Jonathan Little wrote a great article about how amateurs are better off playing shallower stacked tournaments where variance is higher. They stand a better chance of making money in one of those whereas the pros have a big advantage in the deep stacks.
Once I settled on playing in a $1500 3-day No Limit Hold ‘em tournament I found there were only three of these out of the more than 60 tournaments scheduled! I was surprised because this is the basic “everyman” entry level into the WSOP and fairly popular and I thought there would be more. There are also a couple of $1000 buy-in events but they start with even fewer chips and there is the $565 “Colossus” event but with more than 20,000 entries your chances of cashing are pretty slim.
I decided on playing the $1500 event #6 on June 6, 2016. It started on a Monday and I booked my flight and hotel from Sat June 4 to Thursday June 9. This gave me 5 days to play poker! My attitude was: I will play poker all day for 5 days. If much of that is in the $1500 tournament, then great. But if I bust out of that, so what? I’m in Vegas and everything is good and there is always more poker!
Flights and hotel: I scoured Travelocity for a few days and got a pretty good deal: Flight on Westjet and 5 nights at the Polo Towers (on the strip, next to Planet Hollywood) for just over $1000 (including tax). I also booked a rental car on my aeroplan points: all the W.S.O.P. events are at the RIO and it is off the strip. So a cab to it costs $20 to $40 depending on where you are coming from so that can be a big expense.
I had a choice of renting from Avis or Hertz and chose the latter since the compact car was 3,000 points cheaper. I have spent almost 15 years traveling for my work and was, at one point, a member of Hertz #1 Gold but now I’m just Avis Preferred. I did not think of that when booking because I’m used to the bus dropping me off at an electronic board with names and stall numbers where I go to my car and drive it out. At the Vegas airport my Hertz experience was quite a bit different. I arrived to a lineup of 8 people and there were only 2 desk agents! But the lineup was actually for the bank of video kiosks and there was one agent directing us to the next available one. This seemed like a punishment when I had already booked the car yet still had to line up to get the paperwork completed. There was one guy at the front of the line with an frustrated/disgusted look on his face and when I asked him “I already booked my car, is this the right line?” he assured me it was and that he was waiting for one of the “live” agents who seemed totally tied up with the two people who had been there all the time I was waiting. After about 15 minutes I got to the video Kiosk and took the phone and was talking for a couple of sentences before I realized that it there was a screen and an agent was talking to me (with cloth backdrop showing trees and a mountain). I had to provide my license and rental information which was awkward because there was no counter upon which to rest a phone or wallet or paper. Eventually she found me a car and the kiosk spit out six narrow pages of paperwork that I was warned was coming because if I had not caught each piece they would have just fallen on the floor.
The car rental was a major pain because my flight landed around noon and my first tournament I wanted to play in was at Binion’s in downtown Vegas and it started at 1 pm. By the time I got in my car, drove downtown, parked at Binion’s parking lot and found the tournament, it was 1:30. The tournament buy in was $160 and they had 40 minute blinds and you could enter (or re-enter if you busted out) any time within the first four rounds. So there was no risk of my missing entering the tournament but I still like to get there on time to see all the hands I can. So I paid my entry and got in the tournament at the second blind level.
To be continued……