KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “Bellagio poker”

MGM Hates Poker Players – This is How We Know

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on March 13, 2017 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

I hate being a hater, but MGM National Harbor’s poker comps system hates me back.

Last week I played poker nearly every day at this new poker room.  Overall, it is excellent – spacious, comfortable, lots of action, competent staff and worthy of an overall highly favorable review.  I’ll definitely go there again.

At a comp rate of $2/hour, I earned some decent meal money.  Every so often, I get hungry.  When I get hungry, I want to eat.  The casino has an excellent variety of food options, all at resort prices.  To offset MGM’s resort prices, I want to use the comp dollars as much as possible.

Seems simple, right?

If you order food at the table, to eat while still playing poker, it goes like this… Realizing you are hungry, you ask a server for a food menu.  The server explains that there are separate food servers, and the beverage servers do not handle food.  Look for a server with a purple shirt and black vest.  Not seeing any, you ask the dealer if they can help locate a server.  No problem says the dealer, and he pressed a button on his control panel beneath the letter F (representing a special 4-letter “F-word,” of course I’m talking about Food) and a light goes on.  That should do it.  About 20 or 30 minutes later, a food server appears, looking sharp in a purple shirt and black vest.  The food menu is limited to a few options from each of the places in a food court, which includes a seafood vendor, fried chicken and donuts vendor, pizza, mexican, sushi, deli, Asian, ice cream shop, and Shake Shack.  Except not the Shake Shack or the ice cream shop.  And not everything at the other places, just 3 or 4 options from each.

I decide to go with the spring rolls from the Asian place.  I give the food server my mLife card (MGM’s customer rewards program is called mLife) and show my ID, and all is good.  40 minutes later, the server returns and asks me if I ordered spring rolls.  “Why yes I most certainly did, and I’m really looking forward to them.”  “Sorry, they’re out of them.  Would you like to see the menu again?”  Hungry turns into Hangry.  I go for the chicken tenders. Another 40 minutes later it is now nearly 2 full hours after the first hunger pains, my chicken tenders and fries arrive and I don’t really care how they taste.  My comps paid for it, and the server returns my mLife card.

For dining at the table, start the process at least an hour before you will be hungry.

But maybe you don’t want to eat at the table.  Maybe you want something that isn’t on the limited table service menu, or want to dine at one of the fancier restaurants and not the food court or you really like the Shake Shack.

In that case, you have to go to the poker check-in desk and ask the staff to transfer a portion of your comps balance, which is tracked on your mLife card, to a different category or bin or account which is also tracked on the same mLife card, in order to be able to use it at the food court or any of the fancy restaurants.  With a line of people growing behind you, the conversation goes like this:

Poker staff:  Where you are going to eat?

Me:  I’m not sure… I’m going to walk down to the food court and see what looks good.

Poker staff:  OK, that’s called The District.  I can do that, as long as you aren’t going to the Shake Shack.  If you plan to eat at the Shake Shack, I have to do it one way, because Shake Shack isn’t owned by the casino.  For the rest of The District, I have to do it another way.

Me:  Are you shitting me?

Poker staff:  No.  That’s really how we have to do it.

Me:  Out of curiosity, what if I wanted to eat at one of the fancy restaurants, like Jose Andres’ place?

Poker staff:  Then I have to specify which restaurant, just let me know and I can handle it.

Me:  I hear the Shake Shack is really good, but I haven’t been there yet and haven’t even looked at their menu.  I guess I’ll pass on that for today and eat somewhere else in the food court.

Poker staff:  How many dollars do you want transferred?

Me:  I don’t know… I’m still not sure what I’m going to get.  Does it matter?  If you transfer extra, the unused balance will be available to use later, right?

Poker staff:  Wrong.  Let’s say I transfer $20.  This is only good for one transaction.  If you only use $15, the $5 unused portion of your comps is forfeited.

Me:  Are you shitting me?

Poker staff:  No.  If you know what you are going to get and how much it will cost, you can transfer the exact amount.  Or you can guess and probably want to guess on the low side so you don’t forfeit any of your comps.

Me:  [glance over my shoulder, line is getting longer]  Uh… I guess transfer ten bucks and I’ll figure it out.  The food court is a couple hundred yards away, and I don’t want to walk down there just to plan my meal so I can walk back over here and wait in line to do this again so I can walk back over there to eat.

Poker staff:  You got it, my man.  Give me just a few seconds.  [He swipes my mLife card through a card reader, enters about the same number of keystrokes as a rental car clerk setting up a new reservation, then swipes my mLife card through a different card reader, a few more keystrokes, a fake smile and off I go.]

It’s clear that the poker room management didn’t design this system themselves.  I feel sorry for them.  Not every customer is as delightful to deal with as me.  The line moves slowly, including mostly players who just want to sign up to get on a waiting list.

The next day, while walking to a restroom, I pass by a glass door with a sign that says Casino Host & Credit.  On the way back, I decide to go inside and see if that would be the proper place to provide a little customer feedback.  There is a management looking guy standing by the door, wearing a suit and MGM nametag.  He looks very official.  For purposes of this blog entry, I’ll refer to him as “Vlad.”

I ask Vlad if the casino is interested in hearing feedback from customers about their experience there.  Yes, he says.  I ask where I should go to provide some, and Vlad says “you can talk to me.”  We are not inside the office, but outside the office near slot machines and other gaming.  With head-thumping music blaring.  Vlad does not invite me into a quieter place to talk.

Trying to explain that I feel sorry for the poker room staff who have to deal with this cumbersome system and resulting hangry customers, and that we’re all frustrated by the lack of integration of the poker comps system with the rest of the casino, I lay out my case.  I probably look highly agitated.  Partly because there is a very high base noise level and I practically have to shout just to be heard.  Partly because I am highly agitated.

When I reach a pause, Vlad responds.  First he explains that he has no involvement in running the poker room.  He knows their comp system is separate, but doesn’t know how it works, the rate at which comps are earned or any other details whatsoever.  But it’s that way because the poker room isn’t profitable and doesn’t make any money for the casino.  Then he explains that if it were up to him – and Vlad wants me to know that he’s worked in the casino industry in Atlantic City for over 25 years – there would be no poker room at all.  In Vlad’s opinion, poker is a waste of valuable casino space that could make a lot of money if it was used differently.

Translation:  Dear customer, if it was up to me, you would not be our customer!  So it is OK with me that the part of our business that you patronize is systematically pissing you off.

We actually chat for about 20 more minutes.  Vlad isn’t unpleasant; he just knows where he stands and isn’t shy about it.

My points goes like this:

  • If it was up to Vlad, there would be no poker room, right?  [Vlad:  right.]
  • But there is a poker room, so that means somebody other than you decided there should be one, right?  [Vlad:  right.]
  • And that makes the poker players in that poker room a subset of all of the customers of this glorious MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, right?  [Vlad:  right.]
  • The poker room provides comp credits to its players, right?  Whatever the formula is, it is a non-zero amount.  [Vlad:  right.]
  • So if you are going to have a poker room and give the players comp dollars, why – when spending $1.2 billion dollars to build this place – would you design a comps system that systematically frustrates the poker room staff as it also systematically pisses off that subset of your customers?  [Vlad:  uh…]

Vlad gives me a long explanation of comps, how some comp dollars are automatically generated as a by-product of each game based on the amount of time and stakes played, and other comps are awarded at management discretion so he can give some extra meal money to some poor schmuck who loses his entire wad really fast.  All of which applies only to the non-poker parts of the casino.

As for the poker room, Vlad maintains that he doesn’t have anything to do with it, doesn’t know how it operates, but a different system is justified based on the bad economics of poker rooms for casinos.

The same approach to using poker room comps is used at all MGM properties.  At the Aria or Bellagio, however, you have to go to a different desk and not the player check-in desk, and get a paper voucher for the amount of comp dollars you want to use (or lose).  And poker comps earned at one MGM property can only be used at that property – you cannot use Aria poker comps to buy food at Bellagio or MGM Grand and vice versa.  It is equally maddening for the players, although not quite as bad as forcing the check-in desk to handle the comps too.

Given MGM’s otherwise strong commitment to poker, with large and active poker rooms in many of their properties (Bellagio and Aria are among the top poker rooms in Las Vegas; MGM National Harbor is now one of the largest poker rooms on the east coast), it is beyond my comprehension that they don’t integrate the poker comps with the rest of the gaming areas.  Maryland Live! does.  Caesar’s/Harrah’s/Horseshoe does.  Other casinos do.

Reader comments welcome below…

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Bliscipline

One of the best poker books ever written is Elements of Poker, by Tommy Angelo.  One of the author’s charming qualities is his invention of words, that heretofore didn’t exist, to describe things that need their own special word.  Word inventions like gobsmacked, tiltlessness, Kuzzycan, and fast rolling.  And bliscipline.

Of bliscipline, he says:  Bliscipline is when you are at the table and you are so totally in control of yourself and so totally at peace in the situation that no matter what happens next, you’ll still have plenty of resolve in reserve.

I needed some bliscipline at the Bellagio in Las Vegas a few days ago, when this hand occurred.  I was playing at a $1/3 game, had bought in for the maximum of $300 and started this hand with a somewhat short stack of approximately $170.  Having lost some pots, I was searching for my bliscipline before topping off my stack.

Villain #1 for this hand (V1) is the BB.  Villain #2 (V2) is UTG+1, and opens the action with a raise to $10.  A young Russian girl calls.  I call with 8h 7h in the Hijack seat, i.e., two seats to the right of the button.  There is another call and V1 calls from the BB.

V1 seems like somewhat of a novice player.  When he first sat down, he made a comment about “being new at this” when he didn’t understand the protocol for something (straddling? string bets? I don’t exactly recall) Then in an earlier hand, I raised to $12 with AQ from a late position, and he called from one of the blinds A6o.  On a flop of AJ6 rainbow, he led into me with a $20 bet, which I mistakenly interpreted as his having an Ace with a weak kicker.  With no history on this Villain, I called his flop, turn and river bets and now my stack is short.  He looks and acts like a tourist or conventioneer, wearing a golf shirt and being social in a way that says I’m here for entertainment, let’s play poker and drink some and yuk it up.

V2 is very aggressive post flop; on multiple hands he has tried to push people off the pot when he smells weakness.  He is not overly aggressive pre-flop, but has made several raises to $10, almost as if sweetening the pot to try to take it down later in the hand.

Flop ($50):  6h 5s 4d.  This is fantastic!  A rainbow flop that gives me the top end of the nut straight.  Rather than bliss, I feel s surge of energy and I plan how to maximize my value for this hand.

V1 checks, V2 C-bets $15, and the Russian girl calls.  I decide to call, in part because I’m hoping V1 has some reason to call here as well.  There is one fold and V1 does call.

Turn ($110):  9d.  A safe card, albeit putting 2 diamonds on the board.  Time to build this pot and set up a river shove.

V1 checks, V2 bets $20.  Methinks he might have an over pair, although his bet sizing is weak.  On the other hand, his bets when trying to push people off hands earlier has been much larger, so maybe this is his style for value bets, ie., bigger bets are bluffs and smaller bets are for value.

The Russian girl calls $20, and I raise to $55.  After my raise, I have about $90 behind.  I’m trying to find the raise size that an over pair will call, and that makes it very difficult for anyone with any value who calls this raise on the turn to be able to fold when I shove on the river.  I am definitely not trying to push anyone off this pot.  While there is a flush draw now, there aren’t many hand with two diamonds in them that would have put in $15 on that rainbow flop, just to chase a backdoor flush draw.

V1 and V2 both call, but the Russian girl folds.   Hmmm… flush draws still seem unlikely, but a possibility.  Sets (I think a set would have announced itself loudly by now)?   Over pairs?   Two pair?  Pair + Ace kicker?  V1 could have virtually anything with any value, or could not even know what he has, as he still just doesn’t seem like a very good / thinking player.  V2 still seems more likely to have an over pair than anything else.

River ($295):  6d.  This is a nightmare card for me, as it brings in not only a 3rd diamond, but also pairs the board.

V1 checks again, and while my heart surges up into my throat, V2 suddenly perks up like a race horse coming around the final turn with his ears pinned forward.  He straightens up in his chair and starts cutting out chips for betting, 3 small stacks of 5 red (i.e., $5 each) chips, then stacking them up, and eventually sliding $75 into the pot, in a manner that tells me that I just got fucked.  Or as Tommy Angelo would say, when negative fluctuation occurs, you get fluct.

Hello?  Bliscipline?  Where are you, my friend?  I’d like to find you, ’cause I could really use your help.  Right now!

My emotions go crazy.  I started this hand with $170.  Flopped the nuts.  I’m entitled to get my last $90 in on this river, and win this pot, which will give me an ending stack of $470 or so after rake and tip.

I coined my own term and acronym awhile back, for Sudden Onset Entitlement Tilt.  Or SOET.  Pronounced “SWEEEEET!”  SOET is easily confused with Bliscipline.  At its (sudden) onset, SOET seems like a prelude to bliscipline.  I just flopped the nuts (or I have pocket AAs), and I’m going to win a huge pot, and after I do that I will feel blissful.  I have many times gotten fluct while experiencing SOET, when a nightmare card arrives (i.e., I get gobsmacked!) and despite the preponderance of the evidence that my hand is no longer good, I continue to pour all my chips into the pot.  Suddenly, this looks like one of those times.

I find just enough discipline (but definitely not my friend Bliscipline) to slow down and think about it.  While in the think tank, I glare at one of my travel companions who is at the same table (for purposes of this blog post, I’ll call him “Zach”), in a way that I’m sure he will interpret as I just got fluct.  Zach confirmed to me later that my glare indeed meant I had flopped the nuts.

It is $75 to call and the pot is now $370. I’m getting 5-to-1 odds so my straight only has to be good 1 out of 6 times for this to be a correct call in a mathematical sense.  Poker players tend to do this type of math when they know they are beat, but want to justify calling anyway so they can confirm beyond any doubt the villain’s hand.  I’m about to call, as this was a back door flush so it’s not like he was chasing it from the get go.  And the highest card on the board is a 9.  Did V2 raise pre-flop with pocket 99’s or some other combination that just made a full house?  Wait a minute KKing, think this through.

What does he have and how would he play it?  I rewind the hand.  V2 open raised to $10 pre-flop. Then he C-bet $15, which was weak given the pot size.  Then he bet small again ($20) on the turn, and called my smallish raise to $55.  Was that a C-bet with total air, followed by a blocker bet when a flush draw became possible?  This actually makes some sense if he has Ad Kd or Ad Qd or Kd Qd. Maybe Ad Jd.  I suppose I can buy that story line.

His body language, however, is compelling.  When the 6d hit the board on the river, he sat up, leaned forward, looked happy, and grabbed chips like a man on a mission.  While his bet is larger in absolute terms, it is still very small in relation to this bloated pot.  He wants to be sure he gets paid, and shows no fear of 2 other players still in the hand.

Goddammit!  (TILT)  This pot was supposed to be mine. This is where my session is supposed to get untracked. (TILT TILT TILT)

This is a time that calls for discipline.  When you are beat, you are beat.  I finally fold, suffering in silence.  I’ve gotten much better in the last six months at being able to fight off the tilt and lay down hands like this.

A young Israeli guy 2 seats to my right nods in approval.  He mouths the words “he has full house” towards me.  This is fascinating, as if this other player who I don’t know, never played with before, haven’t had any table conversation with, half my age, is suddenly pulling for me to make the right decision.  It is so much easier to see what is happening with great clarity when you are not involved (financially nor emotionally) in a hand.  The young Israeli sees it.  I see it too, although it takes a couple minutes of staring and glaring before I can let go of my cards.

Then, to my surprise, V1 check-raises to $150.  All along, I had disregarded him as a threat after V2’s bet and body language, as he had checked and called every street.  Now he makes a minimum raise. WTF?

V2 quickly calls. V1 shows Ad 8d and V2 tables Kd Qd.  V1’s Ace-high flush beats V2’s K-high flush to drag in a nearly $600 pot.  V1 called the flop $15 bet with a gutshot straight draw and 2 over cards.  V2 did not have an over pair, but made a flop continuation bet with 2 over cards, then a blocker bet when a 2nd diamond arrived on the turn.

According to my Poker Cruncher app, my equity in the pot after the turn card was 81%, V1 was 19% (including his equity in the possibility of a chop if the river was a non-diamond 7), and V2 was already drawing dead.

I’m glad I found the discipline to fold.  But I’m not feeling any bliss.

I continue with my sub-$100 short stack for about an orbit and a half, trying to get my mind right again.  Then on my next button hand, I add $200, and immediately get dealt 9h 9d and call a pre-flop raise.  The flop comes Kh 9s 3h.  When the opener C-bets, I raise him and he spazzes out and shoves (AA, AK, KQ range), probably assuming I’m semi-bluffing with a flush draw.  I call, the turn and river are both hearts and my 9h makes the winning flush to take his full stack (which was under $200).

Slowly, bliss begins to return. I missed you Bliss, you are my best friend. Let’s play on…

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