PREFACE: This is a difficult blog to write.
Each and every week, I receive a text-message inviting me to play in a local poker tournament. The weekly tourney is $120 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. — hosted at the MGM Grand.
My distaste for the MGM Grand and everything associated with the monstrosity is widely-known and well-documented. It’s been the subject of columns in both newspapers — the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal. I won’t reopen those wounds and get into details now (see a future blog for that). I only say that I was fully prepared to move on emotionally and give this giant money-sucking leech another chance when I made my first entrance into the MGM Grand in four years.
And so, last Tuesday night — prompted by an invite from poker pro Karina Jett, the extraordinary hostess at the MGM Grand (probably the only wise executive decision they’ve ever made here was to hire Jett) — I decided to release those bitter bygones and set foot inside a casino that still owes me thousands of dollars.
At 6:30 pm, I pulled into the MGM Grand parking lot. Not much as changed in this regard since my last visit. One still must maneuver a giant maze of lanes and floors and then walk a mile to finally get to the building entrance. Indeed, it takes me perhaps five minutes inside what used to be the world’s largest hotel to instantly realize that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has changed since I wrote the following review (which was posted at a gambling website back in 2002).
It should be noted that everything in the following review is a reflection of my experience there ten years ago. But, it’s just as relevant now based on Tuesday night’s visit. One update: The MGM Grand now has a poker room, which has moved again. For several years, it was located beneath a noisy nightclub. The poker room has since been moved off to the side, which I will add is nothing to brag about.
Moreover, all of the events relating to my fallout at the MGM Grand in 2005 occurred well after this review was written. So anyone who thinks I’m biased should be aware this review was originally written three years prior.
Here it goes.
Writer’s Note: The Flame Steakhouse closed its doors for the final time in 2014. The replacement restaurant at the El Cortez is not recommended.
Finding a delicious “trout almondine” is next to impossible outside of New Orleans.
Or — so I thought.
Then, I dined at The Flame Steakhouse which is the gourmet restaurant inside the time-warped El Cortez Casino in downtown Las Vegas. I ordered and then devoured a Creole delicacy that was every bit as tasty as the world-class fare served at Antione’s, Galatoire’s, or Arnaud’s in the famous French Quarter.
In a city that has become dominated by flash-in-the-pan “celebrity” chefs and ridiculously-overpriced Haute cuisine, it’s refreshing to a experience throwback to a time and place when all that really mattered was great tasting food served at a reasonable cost in a comfortable atmosphere with reliable service. Sadly, those fundamentals are lost in what has become a sea of snooty waiters and obscene South Strip prices, which so often meet their well deserved demise.
Perhaps that’s what makes The Flame Steakhouse so enduring and consistent. Very little changes. It’s good – all the time. And since that first visit many years ago, I’ve dined here perhaps 50 to 60 times – always leaving both satisfied and with the feeling I got a bargain.
This is an all out declaration of war.
If you’re one of the fucking idiots who consistently drives in the RIGHT-HAND LANE….if you are one of the obnoxious jackasses oblivious to those who casually stroll along on sidewalks making our daily walks and runs….if you selfishly barrel through busy intersections like the ass-joker that you are….I’m issuing you a full-fledged warning.
From this moment forward, I will no longer be responsible for my actions or what happens to your vehicle. Prepare to meet my middle finger. Prepare to hear the blasting of my horn. Prepare for my flashing headlights.
I am making it a mission to improve traffic flow. I’m making it a mission to save both time and energy. I’m making it a mission to reduce needless vehicle emissions. I hereby declare that the RIGHT-HAND LANE is only for entering/exiting the roadway and for making right turns. Nothing else.
And now let me explain why this is such an outrage.
I’ve taken up running the last several months. In virtually every city I’ve visited since I began my training program, I observed a consistent pattern of unmistakable rudeness. Often when running along a sidewalk, perhaps no more than a few feet from the right-hand traffic lane, these brain-dead jokers completely oblivious to common courtesy roar past me like out-of-control freight trains. These vehicles race by in a mindless stupor, blinded to any manifestation of humanity.
Just when I was convinced Las Vegas had pretty much become like everywhere else, I was reminded once again that this city is a very unique place.
Yesterday, I renewed my car registration. In Nevada, all vehicles must be smog checked once per year. This means, you drive your car to local station where they run a series of diagnostic tests. Sort of like Medicare, only it’s your car that gets a government-mandated check up, instead of you.
The cars are hooked up to a machine with a bunch of wires and switches and tested for emissions. What this really means is — the state and the auto merchants get to shake you down for $20 a pop, per car, each and every year.
On the west side of Las Vegas, I pulled into what’s called a “smog station.” Inside a small kiosk was a man who looked pretty much like you would imagine when I say the words “auto mechanic.”
“Need a smog check, today?” the man barked out as rolled down my window.
“Absolutely,” I replied.
As I passed my car keys over to the auto technician (that’s what they’re called now – “auto technicians”) I couldn’t help but notice a white sign plastered above the entrance.
It was a Sunday.
Boulevards normally jammed with traffic were less so and moved more freely. It was a day of leisure. People were out and about.
The park was busier than the day before. Children ran in circles. There was laughter. Music played.
And, my eighth run began alongside the concrete aqueduct.
Just as the day before, I ran about a mile, and then veered off the right. I scaled the first wall effortlessly and ran a considerable distance before coming upon the same cinder block barricade I remembered from the previous day.
I had arrived at the blue tent.
But this time, the tent had an occupant. A small-framed man, perhaps 30 or so, sat upright on what appeared to be a sleeping bag. I did not want to startle or disturb the man. So, I quietly made my way over the wall and began to proceed down the path to continue my run.
Suddenly, one of the dogs started barking. And the other dogs too, joined in unison. The canine alarm bells had gone off.
I could not see the man’s face clearly. But, he must have been fearful. After all, few passersby run along the aqueduct and certainly no one scales over two barricades – on a weekend, no less – to invade the solitude this man had etched for himself in what was a gigantic foreign metropolis.
Alerted by the barking mutts, the man quickly rose to his feet when he saw me. He appeared startled, and it was easy to understand why this was so.
Seeing a invader passing along the aqueduct, in a place off-limits to pedestrian traffic, had to be a terrifying prospect for this frightened man resting in solace, who was clearly Hispanic, probably Mexican — and almost certainly an illegal alien.
That’s right — an illegal alien. Chew on those words for a moment.
This is the story of a man you will never know.
This is the story of a man you will never see.
Yet, it’s the story of so many who live amongst us – hidden away within the crevices of all towns and cities, invisible to the contemporary consciousness.
Los Angeles’ arteries are not highways — but rather its aqueducts. They are a meandering maze of concrete vessels bringing life to millions. Mostly unseen and largely ignored, they lie burrowed amid a gigantic quilt of industrial parks and busy freeways choked with traffic and frustration, channeling clear water from the snow-packed High Sierras down to valleys, and ultimately to our sinks, bathtubs, toilets, garden hoses, swimming pools, and restaurants.
There is one man the who calls the aqueduct his “home.”
This is the story of how I came to stumble upon that man and how I became aware of the numerous challenges he faces each day. It is the story of an unintended series of personal events which reminds us that compassion and generosity are not measured by volume of deeds but rather by the simplest acts of human kindness.
We’re not officially into the Oscar movie season, but there’s already chatter in the ether who will win – for Best Animated Film and the brings the odds on who is the favorite but before making a wager make sure to study and read a betonline review.
It makes sense this particular race would take center stage in the summer when a majority of animated films hit the big screen to satisfy kids young and old alike.
Leading the charge is “Toy Story 4,” which has critics and its audience on its side. The fourth and likely last installment in the Pixar franchise opened to a record global weekend with $238 million and great praise from those pesky movie reviewers.
Come on guys, it’s Woody and Buzz. How could they not like it?
If nominated in January, “Toy Story 4” is likely to see tough competition from Dreamworks “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” the possibly final look at Hiccup’s coming-of-age. In November, Disney’s “Frozen 2” also will enter the fray.
The outlier in this category is Disney’s “The Lion King,” opening mid-July, which straddles the line of live action and animation using virtual production skills to create a computer-generated movie. It definitely checks all the boxes to make it an animated film but it looks nothing like one.
There’s also the chance it won’t even be submitted as a contender in the category. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie isn’t being touted by the studio as “animation” and a similarly made movie, “The Jungle Book,” wasn’t submitted for consideration in the category in 2016. It did, however, win the Best Visual Effects Oscar, beating “Doctor Strange,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Other potential nominees: “Klaus” from Netflix, “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” from Wallace & Gromit creators, and “The Addams Family.”
The major Oscar categories are expected to be as competitive.
For Best Picture it’s a smorgasbord of drama including such contenders as (in no particular order):
“Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt set in LaLa Land about the time Charles Manson and his family were wreaking havoc
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, everyone’s favorite guy next door.
“The Aeronauts,” from Amazon has Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reteaming in a survivalist adventure story in a hot air balloon.
“The Laundromat,” a Steven Soderbergh political thriller from Netflix starring Meryl Steep and Gary Oldman about journalists linking political figures to tax-shelter bank accounts.
“The Farewell” has “Crazy Rich Asians” breakout Awkwafina gets attention in this story of a family keeping its matriarch in the dark about her cancer diagnosis.
“The Irishman” gets together director Martin Scorsese and a few of his besties (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci) in a film about a mob hitman who alleges to have killed Jimmy Hoffa.
“Fair and Balanced Roger Ailes gets big screen treatment after Showtime’s take down. This one stars John Lithgow as Ailes feeling the wrath of the women of Fox News (Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron).
“Ad Astra” stars Brad Pitt heading to space in search of his dad who went missing looking for extra-terrestrial life.
“Little Women” brings a strong possibility director/writer Greta Gerwig will receive her second nomination as best director in this classic favorite starring Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Meryl Streep and Laura Dern
The acting categories likely will see many nominees from the above-mentioned movies with several having deafening buzz:
Best Actor – Antonio Bandaras, “Pain and Glory”; Robert De Niro, “The Irishman”; Leonardo DiCaprio and/or Brad Pitt, “Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood”; Taron Edgerton, “Rocketman”; Jonathan Pryce, “The Pope”; Pitt (again), “Ad Astra” Eddie Redmayne, “The Aeronauts”
Best Actress: Amy Adams, “The Women in the Window”; Awkwafina, “The Farewell”; Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”; Alfre Woodard, “Clemency”; Saorise Ronan, “Little Women”; Kristen Stewart, “Against All Enemies”; Natalie Portman, “Lucy in the Sky”; Julianne Moore, “Gloria Bell”; Elisabeth Moss, “Her Smell”
3 REASONS TO BE EXCITED FOR NEW NFL SEASON
Author: Ashley Munson
The NFL preseason 2019 is underway, which means that in some months the game we all love starts again. This year it will be an extra special affair given it’s the 100th campaign. On September 5th the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears face off at Soldier Field in a match that breaks the usual rules of season openers, the Super Bowl winners, the New England Patriots, usually raise the curtain but instead they play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers three days later.
If the opener is anything like last year’s week one match up between the same teams though, we’re in for a treat – last season the Packers were facing defeat after losing Aaron Rodgers to injury only for him to return later in the match to turn the tie on its head whilst effectively on one leg.
The Packers snatched a 24-23 victory. Whilst we wouldn’t bet our hard-earned dollars on that happening again, here are three things that you might want to consider wagering on throughout the campaign.
3 – A BET TO RUN ALL YEAR
Okay, so you could place this bet now or you could bide your time and see how things progress throughout the season. However, when April the 2020 draft will be taking place in Nevada, there are already a handful of talented youngsters vying for that number one spot. One option is Georgia Bulldog quarterback Jake Fromm.
Fromm has proven himself to be more than capable of match winning performances during his time at Georgia and was named the Southern Eastern Conference freshman of the year in 2017. The big question mark over Fromm is his impact against tougher opposition. He’ll definitely get selected in the draft and early too, but number one pick looks a stretch too far.
Another name in the frame is Chase Young; Young has earned a reputation as a solid defensive end and is being tipped to set an Ohio State record for sacks in the upcoming campaign. Unfortunately for Young the Miami Dolphins look a safe bet to have the first pick and that means they’ll go looking for a quarterback, which probably means Tua Tagovailoa will be a Dolphin for the 2020 season.
The Crimson Tide QB has already won both the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards as well as setting a new FBS passing record. He narrowly missed out on the Heisman trophy to Kyler Murray last year, but you can expect him to follow in Murray’s footsteps as the number one pick.
2 – MOST THROWING TOUCHDOWNS
We’ve already mentioned some potential stars so what about the guys who have already taken those steps? Matt Ryan is a shining example of what the 2020 draft hopefuls should want to be. He was the number three pick in 2008 and has remained loyal to the Atlanta Falcons and is now their captain.
It was only three years ago he dominated the awards including being named MVP and ranked highly amongst quarterbacks last time out. Looking to outdo Ryan will be 2012 number one pick Andrew Luck. Luck missed the 2017 campaign through injury but scooped the comeback award last year in no small part to the 4,500 yards and 39 touchdowns he threw.
The third man hoping to lead on the quarterback stats this coming year is Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes was named as starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs for the 2018 season and he quickly put himself in the limelight scooping back to back player of the week awards and things didn’t slow down; Mahomes ended the season as MVP after throwing 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. It will take a big effort from someone to outshine Mahomes this time around too.
1 – THE SUPER BOWL WINNER
Mahomes’ throwing ability gives the Chiefs a real chance of going all the way this time round after the disappointment of losing out in the AFC Championship game last time out. Though, it’s highly likely that the reigning champions – the New England Patriots – will be hard to knock off their perch.
Everything says one of those two sides will reign supreme but there are a few teams further back in the odds who could spring a surprise – our outside tip would be the Cleveland Browns; who with the likes of Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham in their ranks stand a chance, especially if they are fortunate to not have injuries throughout the season.
There you have it, three things – all very different – to keep your interest peaked throughout the entire campaign. Just remember, if you decide to put money on any of it, bet safe and good luck.
How can you sustain a passion for poker?
Poker is a crazy game.
I’ve heard inexperienced players say that they “hate Aces and Kings”, usually because they’ve had their glorious starting hands beaten down by 8-9 offsuit. Ultimately, the resentment that they feel for the innate deck of cards is misplaced, but at least they still feel something.
After the 1000th bad beat, the heart no longer beats for every turn of a race. After a million, players tend to give up on caring about outcomes altogether and focus only on making the right move.
Cards are cruel, and variance is a fact of life. Understanding this makes poker (and life itself) more bearable. This shift of focus from feeling defeated every time a pair of Aces are cracked, to maintaining a technical approach to play, constitutes the maturity of the player to become a potential winner.
Rage of a bad beat…
Yet something is lost in the process. If one cannot feel alive when Aces are cracked (or when they hold to bring a much-needed victory pot), then how can one maintain a passion for poker? It’s a battle between taming emotions enough to be able to make sound decisions and having enough fire left in your belly to really turn up for tournaments, wits and all.
Learning is the answer, as cliché as it sounds. Players who step over the invisible line, the line between caring about outcomes and not caring about outcomes, must dedicate themselves to a constant process of learning.
If a player’s satisfaction can no longer depend on their pair holding up against an opponent’s flush draw, then it must lie with knowing whether they made the correct move or whether they could have played the hand better.
Regardless of how the deck played out – an element completely beyond their control – they can find joy in confirming their own play and improving on it. On a practical level, this means reading, training and analyzing hands, as well as practicing the game through the lens of constant improvement.
Again, newer players are likely to feel spongier than those who have been on the circuit for a long time. At first, the mind can’t help but try to make sense of the game. It seeks to understand, then to expand and experiment. But whether playing guitar or poker, there’s always plateaus to overcome. After a while, even the most passionate of newbie will lose steam. Effectively, they have reached a point of “Can do it”, and they slow down.
The learning must continue indefinitely if the player desires to become pro or semi-pro, but now is also the time to broaden the scope of what it means to stay passionate. Doubtful you can sit alone in your room reading poker books and grinding online for too long and still enjoy poker. It really helps to get more involved with the scene, to meet and dine with other pros if possible.
You could also consider entering major events. I would never recommend that you play outside of your bankroll, but then again grinding $1 SNGs for an entire lifetime is hardly the definition of fulfillment. Do what you can to set goals, progress and get out of your comfort zone with Sunday MTTs, local casino tournaments and by keeping major events like the WSOP, which this year had 8,569 entrants, firmly on your radar.
Passions are like cocktails. You have to stir them well, water them down, spice them up, or do whatever is needed to make the most palatable, pleasant and intoxicating mix. And like cocktails, passions require that you show restraint or take a break every now and then so that they do not taint your sanity or leave you p*ssed on a weekday. So, is it better to play poker with passion on the weekends, or to play with dull awareness every day?
Poker can be a lifelong love affair and is worthy of a career move for some, but it’s not for everyone. It’s a rare breed who can play day in, day out for a living. Those who are happiest are, in my experience, those who have other hobbies and interests, or other ways to earn money. They are the mixologists of life, who know how to properly prepare their cocktails to their own taste.
Footnotes and Credits:
PHOTO 1 — Photo by Sweetlouise // CC0 1.0
PHOTO 2 — Photo by Pixabay // CC0 1.0