Clark Griswold flies to Vegas tomorrow

When a business wants to encourage customers to buy its product(s), it usually offers a hook. Whether it’s an advertisement showing just how freakin’ amazing your life will be from using the company’s product, such as a commercial implying that you’ll have scantily-clad chicks hanging all over you if you drink lots of beer for breakfast, or a story explaining how much worse your life will be without the company’s product, such as a commercial showing a woman rejecting her boyfriend for being a cad without a condom, companies try to sell you on why you need what they offer. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but they’re always trying.

It’s even better when they offer samples of a product. The primo example of this is Costco, because seriously, who would buy a fifty pound bag of fish sticks if they didn’t offer a sample? No one, so they offer samples. A “trial version”, if you will. It’s very effective and gets you hooked. Even if you don’t buy the fifty pounds of fish sticks, it’s always in your mind that, if you’re hungry on a Saturday afternoon and don’t feel like going to the grocery store, you can always go to Costco and eat for free. Yes, they give you $3 worth of free mini-hot dogs and shots of pasta, but you spend $130 on a lifetime supply of toothpaste and ketchup to get it. There is no logic behind the customer’s actions; it just works. So, yeah, trial versions are common. Especially in software.

Because I’m going to Vegas, I’ve been playing computerized casino games, as I’ve already written about. Aside from Blackjack and Texas Hold ‘Em, I want to play Craps. But I don’t know how to play Craps, so I’m playing on my laptop. Since my laptop is tedious on the Metro, I searched for a casino game for my pda to make it much easier to practice Craps while sitting with 200 of my closest strangers. I found All Mobile Casino.

I expect to pay for a full version of any game, but the trial version is my friend with software. Without trial versions, I’d buy few software programs, particularly games, because the risk of hating the game is too high. So trial versions enable me to verify a game’s merits before laying out my dollars credit card number. All Mobile Casino offers a trial version, so I installed it.

Riding to work this morning, I fired up my trusty Dell Axim so I could roll some 1s and 0s. I created my little miniature Tony, gave myself $1,300 in imaginary funds, and set off for the digital Craps table. Oh, my, the excitement.

I always start my bets small until I lose half my money and become bitter find the winning groove, so I dropped 25 fake American smackaroos on the Pass Line. I tapped the Roll button and two giant dice tumbled across the screen. The dice stopped on a five and a three, making the Point an 8. Excellent. I’m still learning, so I placed no additional bets before clicking Roll again. The dice shot across the screen and stopped on a four and a three, giving my roll a 7. That’s bad. Bye bye imaginary money, I hardly knew ye.

I can live with one loss, so I pushed another $25 to the Pass Line. You will not believe what happened next. Imagine this:

I tapped the Roll button and two giant dice tumbled across the screen. The dice stopped on a five and a three, making the Point an 8. Excellent. I’m still learning, so I placed no additional bets before clicking Roll again. The dice shot across the screen and stopped on a four and a three, giving my roll a 7. That’s bad. Bye bye imaginary money, I hardly knew ye.

Wait, what just happened? Did I roll an 8 and a 7 back-to-back in the same breakdown I did before? Very bizarre. So I bet again and tapped Roll. Same result. Are you kidding me? I ran the test one more time to verify that this is how the trial version is coded. It is.

I studied business in college, both undergraduate and graduate school. Never, not once, did I learn that it’s wise to make a potential customer a loser on the first shot. Would a drug dealer offer you the first hit of heroin for free, but with a disclaimer telling you how much your burgeoning addiction will destroy your life? No, he says “Try this, you’ll like it.” It’s the American way. Yet, Binary Fish expects me to give them my money so that I can practice being a loser? Ummm, no. If I want to know what it feels like to be a loser, I’ll watch the Phillies play. (I’m a bit disgruntled right now about this season. I haven’t given up hope, I’m just disgruntled. Ignore that comment because I’m not really that cynical.)

Can you imagine Las Vegas advertising with the slogan “Come to Vegas – We’ll keep your money and your dignity”? No, it’s never going to happen. Gambling sells illusions of riches and life betterment. That’s the product I’m buying. If you want me to buy your product, give me a trial version that allows me to roll nothing but sevens. That’s the product I want. I’d even give you the $17.95 you’re asking for it. Until then, I’ll just give that $17.95 to Las Vegas instead. They’ll at least offer me a smile when raking my money off the table.

I’m betting my life savings on Blackjack

Yesterday, I mentioned that I’m going to Las Vegas this weekend, but I didn’t mention that it’s the bachelor party in anticipation of my brother’s wedding. Besides being excited beyond any rational comprehension about Vegas, I’ve learned an important lesson: expect little when you leave the Vegas bachelor party plans to the vegan, non-drinking best man who thinks that watching Cops is a great way to spend a Saturday night.

I’m just saying.

…Fool me twice, I’m an idiot

Let me tell you why I suck at Texas Hold ‘Em.

Texas Hold ‘Em is a simple game, but the strategy is quite detailed. The only way to get better is to see as many hands as possible. That’s why I generally buy back in if when I’m bankrupted from the game. I have to lose before I can win. So I play some cards.

Last week, my roommates and I had a game. I was the 3rd to bust out among the six players. I don’t really remember many of the good hands I’ve played and won, but like every poker player, I remember every bad beat. Last week, I had played my worst hand ever, letting my roommate play a straight draw from the Flop to the Turn without betting when I had top two pair on the flop. Naturally, he pulled the straight on the River. Being blinded by my “sure win”, I bet into his straight because I wasn’t paying attention. I never recovered in the game.

Monday, I told some friends about my horrible play, laughing as I swore I’d never make that mistake again.

Early in tonight’s game, I drew the following pocket cards:

I raised aggressively into the big blind before the flop, just to let everyone know that I was serious. A few players called my raise, while a few folded. That was exactly what I wanted.

The flop came out:

I bet into the pot again, hoping to buy the pot or gamble my way into the flush. Two of the other three remaining players called. I made a silent wish for another spade. The Turn came out:

I made my flush. This is the time to bet into the pot, most likely with an all-in to let the other players know that they had better have a strong flush. I checked to play it “cool” and pretend that I didn’t have the flush. Why I played it that way, I don’t know. What was I waiting for? I had the Jack-high flush. All I could do is let someone make the stronger flush. But I checked. Everyone checked behind me. The River came out:

I had a sinking feeling as I realized that I’d possibly let someone draw to a flush with only one spade in their pocket cards. I checked, knowing I’d messed up. It was too late to play it, so I decided to let the cards play out. As the bet went around the table, I assessed that only one card could beat me. If one of the other two players had it, I’d lose the hand.

After the betting was through, we flipped over our cards. My brother, one of the remaining players, saw that I had the Jack and sighed. I relaxed, expecting to win. The other remaining player, who’d never played before, had been tentative the entire hand and hadn’t bet into the flush when the Ace came out. With my pocket cards and the community cards, I knew 7 of the 52 cards in the deck. That meant that, with 45 cards unknown to me, only the Queen of spades could beat my flush.

She flipped over her cards and looked for help. I saw her cards and immediately knew I’d lost:

Despite vowing that I’d never make that mistake again, I made that mistake again. I let an opponent draw into the best hand without having to bet to see it. I busted out two hands later.

I’d say I’ll never make that mistake again, but I’m not confident about it now. I suspect that I’ll overplay that situation a few times before I balance out into the right strategy. Playing more cards is the only way I’m going to get better and not make the stupid mistakes. That doesn’t make tonight any less frustrating.

Two Beats and A Push

With all these buttons, there's only one worth pushing.With the recent proliferation of poker blogs, it’s become chic to write about card playing exploits. I’m not too worried that it would be boring, but I don’t want to get into the minutiae of how I played different hands of cards. Right now, that feels like a tedious exercise in writing. I want to discuss experience rather than do a travelogue through different hands of cards.

I mention this because Danielle and I went to Buffalo last weekend, ostensibly to visit her parents for their anniversary and to go to a Blue Jays game in Toronto. The real reason was different. We had to gamble.

We played some cards, we threw down some money, most of us walked away with more than we began with, and we had a grand time. Even me, the big loser who left Casino Niagara down five Canadian dollars (approx. 38 cents American). I could delve into details about this hand or that hand, but that’s not necessary. My adventure is summed neatly into a three-hand stretch of Blackjack. I pulled a 20, a 19, and 20. I lost the first two hands and pushed on the third. That was my luck for the night. Two beats and a push.

The more interesting adventure for the evening, among too many tender adventures to recount, was me and my identification. Somehow, despite my 31 years, people assume I’m lying about my age, trying to sneak in to casinos and bars and R-rated movies. Ignore my driver’s license, credit cards, and passport, they’re right to card me. I’m faking it because I’m really a 12-year-old boy.

After we ate dinner, I walked to the security guard at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort, knowing that this wouldn’t be as easy as it should be. Looking back at my first college ID, I know what an 18-year-old me looks like. I do not look 18 anymore. (Remember, this is Canada. The legal age is 19.) Yet, a determined security guard will be a star, even when a preponderance of evidence disproves him.

As he scanned my passport, I knew I was in trouble. He gave the picture and date his best hairy eyeball, knowing that it had to be a fake. Hoping to avoid prolonging this nonsense longer, I offered that I have my driver’s license. Miraculously, the information matches on both. A shocking revelation, I realize, but I’m smart. He can’t trip me up. Except he does because he asks me to sign a piece of paper. There are no words on this paper, just two columns of boxes. As I sign it, I realize he’s going to verify my signature against my passport. I know I’m fucked because my signature has changed evolved in the last six years. I envision not being let in and having to sit in the lobby while everyone else gambles the night away. Bastards.

“Can I see that driver’s license,” he asks. I don’t say that I offered it minutes ago as I hand it over. Because I’m frustrated, I don’t think to point out that all of the credit cards in my wallet have the same “new and improved” signature. I wait for him to understand his mistake and offer an apology. Hell, even a smile would suffice. I get the Blue Light Scan of Scrutiny&#153 instead. He sticks my license under the scanner that somehow registers its authenticity. It passes. Isn’t technology sweet?

He unhooks the security rope that stands between me and Blackjack. His look says “I know you’re lying about your age but I can’t prove it. Know that I’m on to you.” I don’t hate him as I walk past, though I do wish he was smarter. Meanwhile, my IDENTICAL TWIN BROTHER is standing at the casino entrance, waiting for me because he skated through his security checkpoint with barely a glance. Damnit!

We don’t drop a single loonie on a table at Fallsview, but we are there long enough to see a very drunk guy win $2,500 at a slot machine. As the attendant paid out his winnings, he showed her a picture of his grandchildren and told her that they were “going to get new suits”. We can’t find a good table so we drive to Casino Niagara, which turned out to be a prosperous and fun move.

Going into Casino Niagara, I plan for the inevitable, but I start with my driver’s license instead of my passport. My brother and Danielle are in front of me, so I assume I should have no problem once he passes through. When I get to the front, the security guard verifies my driver’s license in the Blue Light Scan of Scrutiny&#153, but I give her some slack and assume it’s because my license is from Virginia, not the more common New York that they see. I ignore the obvious argument that my brother just went through with the same birth date and Danielle has just walked through unscathed with a Virginia license that didn’t require the Blue Light Scan of Scrutiny&#153. Details.

Since it was Saturday night, the minimum bet for each table was going up. We’d hoped to find a $10 table, knowing the $5 was too much to expect. There was one $10 table left on the non-smoking floor, but it was full. Even if spots had opened, it was full of people who didn’t know how to play so we wouldn’t have sat down. Since we wanted to gamble, we had to play a $15 table. We found one with three open seats, so my brother, me, and my friend sit down in seats 3, 5, and 6, respectively. I put my money on the table. Before Derek, our dealer, takes the money, he asks for my ID. Instantly, I think I should get annoyed, but I discover that I’m not. Maybe it’s because I know the coming experience won’t be as fun if I anger the dealer before I’ve seen a card, but I don’t believe that’s it; it’s exhaustion from the little game that casinos play with me. Three-and-a-half hours later, I got up from the table having had the most fun I’ve ever had while gambling.

Having been held to excessive scrutiny twice and getting through a normal check once, I learned something valuable: despite appearing 12-years-old to anyone looking to proof me, I’m an excellent document forger. I always pass the Blue Light Scan of Scrutiny&#153 when checked, but the adventure is the same.

Like I said, my luck was two beats and a push.