Excalibur 3 Our alarm blares at 6 am and Sean and I jolt upright, hearts trip-hammering. Time to try to make 7 am sign-up at the Excalibur! We take quick showers and hustle down to the Trop’s coffee shop to meet up with the gang. The non-poker obsessed, Liz and Jim, wisely decide to either sleep in and/or have a leisurely breakfast at the Island Buffet. The rest of us hurry off to the Excalibur. On the way, Brian tells me that their alarm nearly gave him a heart-attack too.

“We can’t adjust the volume. It’s stuck on deafening.”

To our collective shock, when we get to the Excalibur, the sign up sheet is already half-filled, even at this ungodly hour. Soon after we jot our names down and randomly pick our seat assignments, all 40 of the tournament spots fill and the host starts signing alternates.

I end up with seat 6 at table B and Melissa ends up with seat 9 at the same table. John, Brian and Sean all end up at table C. We have an hour wait, so Sean sits down to read while I eagle-eye the competition.

Out of the 40 or so people milling around, Melissa and I are two of only three women. Everyone seems nervous. Two very nervous 30-something guys get their seat assignments and immediately sit down with a dealer to learn how to play “this Texas Hold ’em thing” before the tournament starts. Hmmm. This could be interesting.

Minutes before start time, I try very hard to get Brian arrested by pulling a Claratin-d pill from my pocket and handing it to him in front of a couple of cops, saying, “Here, you said you needed a bump.” I guess Vegas cops see that kind of thing all the time, because they don’t tackle him to the ground or even tazer him. Brian shoots me a dirty look and does one of his patented Rodney Dangerfield shoulder shrugs while trying to turtle his head into his collar. He’s so paranoid it’s cute. By all rights, they probably would have gone for me first anyway.

The tournament buy-in is $35 for $300 in chips, with no add-ons, re-buys or bonuses. We all feel the blind schedule seems fast, doubling every 15 minutes. With the low chip stacks and rapid blind schedule, this tournament should fly.

Melissa and I take our seats and chat with our fellow players. The young guy two to my right asks me if I have a poker “schtick” yet. I smile and say, “Well, I’m a female. I guess that’s my schtick.” Everyone laughs.

After about 20 minutes of play, no one at the table, save Melissa, scares me. I guess this makes sense since it is an early morning tournament at a less popular poker room. Most of the guys at our table play fast and loose, trying to bully the pots by aggressively and oftentimes flamboyantly pushing all-in over and over. I sit back and wait for cards, knowing patience, in this case, is going to pay off big. I notice Melissa doing the same. We both kick several people out.

All five of us are still in when the alternates completely play out (probably about 50 players total for the tourney), so now it is first to the ole’ finish line. We see Brian get up from the table behind us and I catch a look from Melissa. Bummer. John follows him shortly after. We collapse to two tables and I turn to see Sean still in. Good! Brian and John wave to us from the rail.

I hit bad luck and end up losing a lot of chips to a beanbag who goes in with K-4 off-suit against my A-Q. He pulls a K on the turn. Sean taps me on the shoulder and gives me a quick hug as he leaves the arena in 15th place. Melissa takes down a big pot and smiles over at me. I grin back feeling nice and relaxed, even though I’m now low-stacked.

With the blinds terrorizing our chip stacks, I realize I have to make a move. I finally get a playable hand, A-J, and silently rejoice when one of the loose, young guys splashes the pot with a good-sized raise and then stares me down, smiling. I smile back and call, figuring him for low cards, connectors, possibly suited. The flop comes J–9–2. I watch him as he does his best “Hot Damn!! I just hit the Monster of Monstrous hands” dance before aggressively pushing all his chips into the middle. I push all my chips in the middle and flip my cards up. He hides his dismay poorly and flips his cards over to show 3 – 5. Jesus, worse than I thought. I get ready to double.

The turn gives us a 5. The river gives us a 3. I shake his hand, twiddle my fingers good luck to Melissa and join the boys on the rail in 12th place. Melissa’s chip stack looks large and in charge when, after 15 minutes, they collapse the table down to the final table.

Melissa 2The best moment comes ten minutes later, when we hear Melissa squeak, see her pull a colossal tower of chips towards her chip stack and three dejected young gentlemen stand slowly, heads hanging low. That’s OUR Melissa, thank you very much.

After twenty minutes, it’s a heads-up match between Melissa and a really nice guy, one of the few there who actually played well. John, Brian, Sean and I watch with his affable buddy from the rail. Eventually, they decide to split the money and it’s all over. Melissa’s first tournament in Vegas and she ousts 50 people for a 1st place win. Stellar!!

Even though none of us love the blind schedule, we decide to ride Melissa’s wave of excitement and sign up for the 11am tourney. Amazingly, I pick the same exact seat as the 9am tourney – 6B. Sean sits down at 7B! Excellent. Sadly, he gets a bit over-aggressive out the gate and goes out very quickly. An alternate takes his place. John follows shortly thereafter and they wave to me from the rail and wander off towards the casino proper.

Play again goes fast and furious. The competition seems about the same, maybe a bit better than the 9am. I look around and guesstimate more alternates than before, putting the total player count somewhere around 70. The alternates finally play out and it’s a sprint to the finish.

I make a major boneheaded move by trying to push the loose, aggressive big blind around with an all-in bet before the flop from the button. He calls, I flip over my 9’s and he flips over his J’s. Nothing hits on the board and his Jacks hold. I’m out in 19th place. Yeah, well, I won’t do that again. I wince as “Life is a Highway” warbles from the speakers overhead.

I wave to Melissa and Brian and text Sean. He and John are back at the Trop with Liz and Jim so I head back to home base. When I arrive, Liz excitedly tells me about her trip to Mandalay Bay for brunch where she decided to visit their aquarium. She got some good chat time with one of the marine biologists and was bursting with fun Manta ray facts. She gives us a dandy demonstration on how to pet a ray – no palm, just a small *touch* with the pointy finger. Keen!

Paris 3Melissa texts to say she and Brian went out 10th and 11th respectively and they are on their way back to the Trop. By 12:30pm, all seven of us are trooping across the sky bridge towards the Strip and another walkabout commences.

I stick close to Liz and we practice our manta-poking technique as we walk. You never know when you’ll run into a Manta ray on the Las Vegas Strip. For the next few hours, we stroll, stopping into a casino here and a casino there. We collect poker tournament schedules and have a good bundle by the time we reach Paris, where we are all struck immobile by the towering twin Hasselhoffs decorating the fake Arc de Triomphe. Only in Vegas.

Ceasar's Palace 5We grab some early dinner at Bally’s (mediocre) and Jim decides to head back to the Trop for a nap. Liz and John strike off to find some Let It Ride, Melissa and Brian start walking north in search of a mall Melissa wants to see and Sean talks me into going over to Caesar’s Palace. He’s got a big, huge camera click-on and he’s itching to take some pics of the palatial property. Having never been inside Caesar’s, I tag along.

We find the poker room straight away and grab some tournament schedules. The buy-ins convince us that we are way out of our league, but we tuck the pamphlets into my purse anyway. After meandering around the casino awhile, I get a text from John. He and Liz are heading back to the Trop. Sean’s ready to go, so we tell them to wait at the Flamingo for us, we’ll join them.

Two hours and a Pete Rose sighting later, we manage to puzzle our way out of the rat’s maze that is Caesar’s shopping labyrinth. I hear “Life is a Highway” four times before we finally reach the exit. I feel like opening up a can of whoop-ass on the door when it doesn’t spit out a reward pellet. Exhausted, we finally rendezvous with Liz and John. Both seem genuinely relieved that we found our way out.

MGM Grand 2A short tram ride later, we make our way through the MGM on our way to the Trop. We spy a $10 Pai Gow table and John and I buy in for $60. It takes awhile, but we eventually lose our money. The dealer is a doll and very, very patient with us. As we get ready to leave, a guy sits down next to me. John gives me a rib-punch and gestures with his eyes at the man’s hand. A diamond as large as a dime glitters up at me. He starts betting at least $100 a hand, so we watch for a few and cheer him on. Nice guy.

Finally, we are back in the friendly confines of the Trop. Various souls peel off to eat but I find that I no longer need sustenance, as the Trop air has finally infused me with Super Stamina. Bonus! I reunite with my 9/6 poker machine and cash out an hour later up $20! Wow! Twenty whole dollars in only … an hour … sigh.

John and Liz pull me away from my machine but when I stand, I realize walking is over for this cycle – my dogs are howling! We follow the siren call of a bad cover band blasting out of the Trop’s lounge and set up a table for seven in the mostly deserted room. Actually, to be fair, the cover band turns out to be better than last year, and our waitress kicks ass.

One by one, our group gathers. Last but not least, an exhausted Brian arrives with horror stories of a Bataan-like death march through an unending shopping mall. We buy him a double. Melissa pops in, gulps a drink down and sprints back to the poker room to pick up a cash game. Girl is INFECTED!

We enjoy the antics of a couple in their 80’s sitting at one of the tables to the left of the dance floor. The woman has terminal dance fever. At some point, she gets up and boogies with the lead guitarist, which receives a very warm reception from the lounge crowd. In other words, I don’t hear anyone making rude comments, rather a lot of, “That kicks butt! I hope I’m still that active at her age! What kind of vitamins is SHE on??” She dances quite a few more times. It really does kick ass. And obviously, her husband, though not as agile, can’t keep his eyes off of her. Pretty cool.

When the band begins a rousing rendition of “Life is a Highway”, I lean over and yell to Liz, “Does it seem like this song is in heavy rotation this weekend??” She nods and laughs.

Finally, the band takes a break and we pay our bill (big tip for the waitress). En masse, we wander back towards the Trop poker room and wave Melissa down. She takes a break and excitedly tells us that she is up $100 before trying to talk us all into joining her. I want to hang with Liz, so I beg off, but John and Brian join Melissa at the tables. Liz, Sean and I play video poker awhile and, I have to say, she is a much more receptive audience to my 9/6 -vs- 7/5, etc… poker lecture than John is. But then, Liz is a natural scholar, so I’d expect nothing less.

At some point, Sean goes to check out the craps action and Liz and I sneak over to the bank of Wheel of Fortune machines to try to coax those wily temptresses into giving us spins. I will say this, the Trop WoF machines do put out quite a lot more than the WoF machines in other casinos – which means they give you just enough to get you excited before they completely crush you.

John joins us after a time and manages to talk Liz into a session of Let It Ride. I decline the invite, instead choosing to wander the Trop, putting twenty down on this and that. I hook up with Sean and we stroll over to the Let It Ride table, where we find Liz and John, drunker and richer. Well, John is richer anyway. Considerably so. Seems he’s hit a good run and is up about $500!

With Jim not there, Sean has to play DAD, so in his most soothing voice, he coaxes John away from the table then gently lifts most of John’s chip stack from his palm and sprints off towards the cashier. We all know John will thank Sean for that later. Sean returns with John’s money a few minutes later – five crisp $100 bills! As is John’s spontaneous way, he throws $100 of his money down on black as we pass a roulette table, which of course he hits! So, that was plenty of fun! Go John!

Sean and I decide to call it a night, since it’s 3am. We slip into bed and stay up another half hour as our neighbors – top, left and right – give us a lovely performance of “Screaming Rapture in Three Parts”. I guess the garden room walls ARE sort of thin.