Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stepping into a Casino for the First Time

"We're goin' out where the sand's turnin' to gold"
-Bruce Springsteen "Atlantic City"

I suppose any gambler can recall the first time he or she stepped inside a casino. There is a certain spine-tingling magic that lurks in the air and fuels the lungs. Just like the yellow brick road begged Dorothy to follow, a casino’s overly imaginative carpet patterns coax visitors through a forest of neon, tables, and slots: oh my! The natural adrenaline rush of gambling can fight a body’s sleep requirement for days upon days. This phenomenon is doubtlessly the source of the urban legend that casinos pump oxygen into gaming floor.

One lazy college day some friends and I were watching the movie Rounders. This was long before I found an interest in poker and, because of a general Matt Damon repulsion (at that time), we actually found it rather boring. However, the moment Mike McDermott and Worm headed for Atlantic City, we immediately turned the movie off (or maybe we left it playing, who can say?) and headed straight for the door. We were in “America’s Favorite Playground” (as Atlantic City was called in those days) shortly over an hour later.

Wandering around Trump Plaza, I soaked up this strange, new experience which I had awakened to. I looked over all the action and tried to decide where to test my luck first. Because the $5 blackjack table was full, I put a “nickel” on the outside of a roulette spread. My bet hit and paid 2 to 1. I won my very first casino bet and was on my way to infinite riches!

When I finally got a seat on the cheap blackjack table, it was on the third base side. The action got around to me and, not knowing the game, I hit against a dealer stiff card. A small, smoky-faced wrinkled man was so upset by the play that he yelled at me, picked up his chips, and left. "Wow! This place is serious," I thought to myself as I sat like a wide-eyed deer staring down an eighteen wheeler.

All in all, my first sojourn into a gambling house was quite an experience. It goes without saying that I had a mind-blowingly good time and did my best to return as soon as possible.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Winning Vegas Wedding

Before I had ever attended one, Vegas weddings triggered for me images of Elvis and Brittney Spears. However, after watching two friends get married in a nice little ceremony in the back of the MGM casino, I learned that even a Vegas wedding can be somewhat “traditional.” Afterward, we drank overpriced champagne before a lavish dinner at Craft Steakhouse. All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Because we played poker together regularly, a few of us, including the bride and groom, decided to try a tournament at Paris the following night. With five entrants, we excitedly discussed the strong chance of one of us cashing and we even pooled money for a first out booby prize. Busting first of our group was the highlight of an uneventful tournament for me, but two of us did make the final table, including the bride, who won the whole shebang! After she pocketed almost a cool thousand dollars, we strolled over to the Bellagio for celebratory drinks, railbirded a few well-known pros in their high-limit room, and then watched the famous fountain out front explode into the night sky.

Of course it takes a great deal of luck to win a poker tournament, but it wasn’t luck that propelled my friend to victory (she had used up all her luck finding a great husband). I know she won because she can play a mean game of cards, but I could never help but think there was something more to the victory. Looking at the happy couple posing with a mountain of chips and the winning hand, I get the sense that it was also the completely content state of mind found in a new bride. There is certainly a direct correlation between happiness and ability at the poker table. If you take a seat filled pessimism and distraction, you will usually lose, but if you are unencumbered with these emotional sandbags, then fortune will find you.