Dec. 15: Plane Thoughts

Wow! What a view. Outside my window, just under the plane's wing, I see a sea of clouds. It's beautiful. As far as the eye can see, the clouds stretch like an ocean from the shore.

As I begin this first installment of my trip report we are about 30 miles out from the Kansas City airport. I'm aboard my favorite carrier (Southwest{BTW, do these flight attendants interview or audition for these jobs}), with reservations in my pocket for my favorite hotel (Golden Nugget), and a car is waiting for me with my favorite rental company. (Alamo). Life is good, and getting better.

I guess I should feel lucky to be here at all. Back home I left a treacherous day of fog, freezing rain, and overall climatic yukiness. My usual 2 ½ hour trip to the airport took four hours, only to have our flight delayed by a little more than two hours. During it takeoff it so foggy that I could barely see the end of the wing from my window seat. But like I said, my fellow pasengers aboard this flight are some of the lucky ones. At least we're going somewhere. Still on the ground back at KC International are people waiting to leave for airports that are closed because of the severe conditions. After reading Iowa Tom's excellent trip report, I guess this has to count as a win.

Talk about a labor of love! It is with great anticipation and excitement I begin this trip report. Even though I'm sardined here in seat 10D, I am about to set off for a four-day, three-night visit to my most favoritist place in the whole wide world. The only place I know that can bridge the gap between my current life as a 41-year-old school administrator, and my former child who use
to innocently quiver with anticipation and excitement on Christmas morning. Although I have lost track, by rough estimate I believe this is about my 25th visit to the 24/7 capital of the world. But 25th or 1st, no matter, I still have the swelling knot of unbridled enthusiasm growing inside me. Some people choose to spend their $$$s on expensive psychological treatments. Me too.
It's just that my offices visit consist of getting on a plane and taking this magical journey as often as I can. And the doctor is in.

The only thing keeping from this from being a perfect trip is that my wife decided not to come along. Although she did come with me back there on trips 17-20 or so, she simply doesn't share the same relationship with Wayne's town that I do. The fact is, I don't have to persuade her at all. I use to kid her that the only reason I went was to restock our dwindling matchbook supply,
but I think she's on to me. But to her credit, she does recognize how mportant these trips are to me and my state of mind, and actually encourages me to go while she stays home with our two boys. A LVOL board friend of mine from Florida once asked me how I get her to let me go on these trips all by lonesome. She recognizes that my job can be very stressful (I'm a public
school superintendent), and that looking forward to these trips can be the therapeutic equivalent of having that sweet, juicy carrot dangling just in front of you, helping you to go on. Helping a little bit this time is that a couple of months ago she went to France for 10-days with an office colleague of mine. During the trip I had a crash course in what it would be like to be a single parent. We survived, but just barely. For some reason my boys didn't think that beanie weanies and hash browns were quite as good as their mother's home cookin.? Spoiled brats! Frankly, it's no secret that I married up. Thanks Honey!

You know, when a fella is flying at 30,000 feet (give or take), he can get a bit reflective. I've been trying to analyze just exactly what it is about Wynn's World that attracts me so. I think I finally may have a handle on it. Bear with me if you will. (Or click on 'back' if you won't.)

Anonymity

I like my life. Good job. Great wife. Kids to be proud of. It ain't bad. Not bad at all. But living where I do, there is a certain sense of a fishbowl type existence. As the superintendent of our public school in this mid-size Missouri community, I am recognized just about everywhere I go. The other night my wife and I were in a local restaurant when a friendly community member
came up to me wanting to talk about our basketball team. I take no offense by it, as a matter of fact, I welcome it as a sign that our school's patrons see me as the 'approachable' type. It happens all the time just about wherever I go. If I feel like a six-pack (or hell, maybe even a twelver) of Bud, I always wonder what people are going to think of me if they see the suds in my cart. 'Did you see that' That superintendent must be quite a drinker.? Once when I was in one of elementary school I actually had a kid tell me that they saw me walking into a liquor store. I wanted to tell him that it better to walk than stagger, but chose not to.

But you know what. In the land of Oz I'm just one more identity-less face in the crowd who's simply looking to have a good time. Bud for breakfast? Why not. A friend of mine is the president of the local university, and she says there is no better place to escape to than Vegas for this very reason. I'm happily content to just one be of the happy huddled masses yearning to be
free of 'real life.' If just for a couple of days.

The unexpected

One of the pleasure of this Board is being able to read the stories of my fellow Vegasheads. It's like a cult, minus the grape Kool-Aid. You guys get it. You really do.

And one of the things you get is knowing that trips to Vegas are as distinctive as snowflakes. Though you may use the same airline, stay at the same resort, no two trips are exactly alike. What great stories will this trip generate. The big win? The big loss? The unforgettable character or moment? In past reports I've written about special Vegas Moments. You know what I'm talking about; those special spine shivering flashes when you realize there is nowhere
I'd rather be than right here, right now.

I don't know what special Vegas Moments this trip will generate, but I do know they're out there. Just waiting....

Mano a Mano

My preparation for these trips is not unlike that of a boxer preparing for his next match. I do my best to prepare both physically and mentally for my worthy opponent.

I like to think my gaming expertise has evolved over the years. I now spend about an hour a day for one month leading up to my trip trying to hone my skills as a blackjack player. When I first started playing the game I wasn't even aware of the Basic Strategy tables, now I do my best to try and be an 'advantaged' player. What that means is that I track (or count) the cards. This lets me know when it's good for me to bet more, less, or keep my bet the same. I also get a report called the Current Blackjack News which tells me which casinos are offering games most advantageous to the player. This trip it looks like the Monte Carol, Frontier, and Stardust are offering the best games. Best games, that is, in my price range, because I generally play at table where the minimum bet is $10.

Unlike a professional player (at least one of which frequents this board and freely offers his insights), at most I only play blackjack about ten days a year. I know this means that in no way, shape, or form, do my skills compare with those who play with mor frequency. But if I'm going to play, I try to play the best game I possible can. Because of my occasional play, I don't try to camouflage my bets too much, which may extend my playing time. This caused me to be kicked out once last year at the Barbary Coast, which on the surface of it was kind of embarrassing, but actually gave me something to talk (and write) about upon my return.

The thing I love about blackjack in comparison to the other games is that no matter what cards are played, there is ALWAYS a mathematically correct play. ALWAYS. If only life were that simple. Though we live in a world of gray, the blackjack table offers nothing but black n' white. Right n' wrong. No hunches. No guesses. There is always one right answer. Of course, that
doesn't mean you will always win. Far from it. I've gone through some bad streaks that just about made me want to cry, or at the very least smack the dealer around a bit. But I still know that I am one of a very few people who is sitting there with a reasonable chance to beat this faceless, monolithic opponent called the casino.

Another thing I love about the game is how it requires my total concentration. I'm not the type who relaxes very well. As a matter of fact, in college I got a B- in a class that was designed to teach us how to relax. I remember the teacher would come around the room and lift our arms up to see whose was limp. Well, let's just say I had a hard time with limpness. (Please don't generalize from that previous statement.) In order for me to relax I have to occupy my mind with something else. Lounging on the deck of a cruise ship doesn't do it for me. Focusing on how the cards have come out, and adjusting my play and betting accordingly, not THAT's relaxing.

One last note, please don't get me wrong. Though blackjack is my preference, I well recognize that everyone has their own tastes and interests. We gravitate toward certain games for our own personal reasons. I don't begrudge, nor look down on anyone for their preferences.

Freedom

There just ain't nothing quite like it. Have I said that before? I'm not certain why, and I suspect it would cost me thousands of dollars in psychiatric bills to find out, but there is no place I feel more free than Las Vegas. Maybe it's because this seems to be truly a place where standard rules don't apply. Maybe it has something to do with how it can loosen and unbridle inhibitions. How about because it offers across the spectrum choices that are so foreign to our everyday lives. Frankly, I don't know and I don't care. I just know that there isn't anywhere else where I fell so alive. When I'm jogging down the strip listening to Springsteen on the earphones I feel an
unparalleled rush.

Just, the sheer damn spectacle of it

And last, how can you not appreciate the sheer damn spectacle of the whole place. My good friends, it's just so wonderfully absurd. Isn't it? A Polynesian palace, next to an Egyptian pyramid, next to a medieval castle, across the street from the New York skyline, by a North African city, near the Jersey boardwalk, just down from an Italian village, and so on, and so on.
Truth can be stranger than fiction.

Where else in our lives do we think nothing of armed guards parading right past us with carts loaded with thousands of $$$$, and we just play on as if nothing unusual is happening. How many of us know a good place in our town where we can get a steak and shrimp dinner for $5.99, a shrimp cocktail for $.99, or eat a buffet with more choices than a kid choosing a crayon color? How many of us live where buildings are 35 stories high, let alone having a room in one?

With as many trips as I've made, I'm still in total awe of the site of the strip as it first appears outside my airplane window. One each side of it is desert, and yet there it is, right in the middle of it, with no really good reason to be there at all. Come to think of it, maybe that's the best
reason of all.

Well, for both of you that have read this far, that's all for installment one. The next time I write I'll have both feet planted firmly on the ground. I may be poorer in the pocketbook, but I definitely will be richer for the experience.

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Part II: The Horror. The Horror.


One of the popular movies of the 70s' was Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now. Marlin Brando plays the role of Col Kurtz, a psychotic army officer who, shall we say,goes a smidge off the deep end when he abandons his command and proclaims himself god to agroup of seemingly accepting Vietnamese natives. Martin Sheen, who plays the role of Captain Willard (and who later changes his name and goes on to become a popular TV president), is sent
by the army brass to 'terminate' Col Kurtz's command with 'extreme prejudice.' After Kurtz suffers a mortal wound at the hands of Willard, and he lays on the ground while his slowly life bleeds away, Kurtz, hoarsely whispers his final words, 'The horror. The horror.'

Welcome to my first 6 hours in Vegas. My experience would make Col. Kurtz's tame in comparison. All except the being morally wounded part, that is.

First of all, to set the scene, I'm writing this late Friday night (early Saturday morning, actually), in Rm 18125 of the Golden Nugget. It's a beautiful room with an equally beautiful view of the strip. However, let me quicky recount for you what has transpired so far.

In yesterday's first installment I wrote about my rather treacherous trip to the airport. During my three-hour+ trip to KC International I must have seen at least three dozen vehicles in the ditch. Being grateful for my arrival at the airport, and still one hour in advance of my flight, I learned our plane hadn't even left St. Louis yet. A breezy three short hours later, we finally took off for Vegas on board which I passed the time by using my laptop to write the first part of my trip report, 'Plane Thoughts.'

In any event, little did I know that my delayed flight would only be the beginning of my travails. As we approached Las Vegas, and I cooperatively complied with the instruction to turn off all electrical devices, we came into contact with a little something the pilot called 'mild turbulence.' Being the calm, happy flyer that I am, I prefer calling it 'MY GOD WE'RE ALL GOING TO CRASH & DIE' turbulence. I guess I'm not exactly one of those cool, icewater-icewater-my-veins pilot types. I don't think I've ever gotten on a plane without wondering to myself, 'Is this baby going down today.' Anyway, the last 20-minutes of our flight were akin to riding a mechanical bull, only this time we got to do it at about 20,000 feet. By the time we finally banged down on to the runway I was both relieved and groggy. Now, being in Vegas I half-
expected to be groggy. Matter of fact, I like to spend a good deal of my time in a kind of alcohol-induced, blissful state of grogginess. Groggy is good. Unfortunately, due to the unfriendly skies around McCarren, I now had an unwanted head start.

After stumbling off the plane, I wobbled made my way through the terminal and to the Alamo bus stop. From there I was expecting a quick ride to Alamo's location a few minutes from the airport (which happened), and a quick check-in at their special kiosk for Quicksilver members (which didn't). After inserting my card, the polite machine thanked me for renting from Alamo, and said that all I needed to do was to take the contract which was rolling out of the computer below. This was a problem because there was no contract. No hits. No runs. No Contract. I had to ask a counter person for help. She suggested I run the card through the other kiosk, but when I did the computer gave me an error message. I then had to have the girl process my rental, which kind of defeated the purpose of the Quicksilver concept in the first place.

Undaunted, even though I was now slightly behind schedule, and still had a headache from the bumpy flight, I set off for the Golden Nugget. There are a number of ways to get there from the airport, but I've found the quickest way is to take I-15 and exit on Charelston. (For those who love detail to the nth degreee, my exact route is Bermuda to Sunset-Sunset to LV Blvd-LV Blvd
to Russell-Russell to I-15-I-15 to Charleston-Charleston to Main-Main to Bridger-Bridger to First-Voila, GN Parking Garage.) Quickest, that is, unless there happens to be an accident in the northbound lane. Which of course, there was. I made reasonable progress up to the Flamingo exit, at which point traffic was backed up for a couple of miles. We weren't at a complete standstill, but it was definitely a slow, bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. It took about twenty-five minutes to go the three miles from the Flamingo exit to Charleston. So far I was now about four hours behind where I thought I'd be. Seeing as how this was only going to be about a 72 hour trip, I now had my trip reduced by about .055%, and I wasn't even out of the car yet. Not good.

After finally arriving at the Nugget I went to the South Tower to check-in. When someone asked if they could help I told her that I was checking in. She said that the south desk was now closed (which I later found out was so they could attend a company Xmas party) and that I would have to go to the North Tower to register. After lugging my luggage to the North Tower desk, and
patiently waiting my turn in line, I asked the nice clerk if they had any rooms available in the South Tower (which is closer to the parking garage) with a view of the strip. She gave me a room on the 11th floor, but when I got up to the room and opened the curtains to look outside, the only thing I could see was the big building right across from the street.

This wasn't exactly what I had in mind, and had to decide whether this was good enough, of if I wanted to go back down and ask for another room. I then thought of Jolanda (sp?), the former Rio Queen who has left her queendom for the Monte Carlo, who once wrote about how much she enjoyed going to sleep at night with a view of Vegas right outside her window. Somehow, I didn't think I would get the same warm and fuzzy feeling going to bed with my final view being
of the Clark County Administrative Building. Deciding that it was pointless to have a strip-side room with no view of the strip, I decided to take all my luggage back down to the desk and ask for a new room. This time I got a much better room on the 18th floor with a terrific view, which unfortunately wasn't doing much for my headache.

After unpacking, I decided that the antidote for my headache would be some exercise. Because it was already dark out, I chose to drive out to the strip for my run. I've never run here at night, so I was looking forward to a little jog under the neon lights of the strip. I didn't run dowtown because, although I don't feel unsafe downtown, I also know going a block or two off Fremont
will lead to meeting people whose idea of three squares a day is a little different than my own. These weren't exactly the kind of people I wanted to run into (maybe even literally) at night, so I drove up to the Stardust, parked in their north lot, and took a quick jog up to the Bellagio, turning around after I had run by the fountains. When I got back to the car I felt much better, my headache nearly gone. After returning to the Nugget's parking garage, I ran over to the Golden Gate to get the first (and second) of which I believe will be many shrimp cocktails. I told myself they would be an appetizer for supper to follow.

After showering I realized that in addition to the shrimp cocktail, all I had to eat for the day was a cup of Honey Comb cereal that I ate in the truck on the way to the airport, and the delicious in-flight SW meal of Chemically Saturated Sausage, stale crackers and cheese. Time for supper. I walked down to the Triple 7 Restaurant at the Main St. Station, and ordered their $6.99 ½ lb. Prime Rib and a large Royal Red Lager microwbrew. Both were excellent, although I wondered if the beer might bring back my headache, instead of the sought after fuzziness.

By the end of the meal I was tired, and decided that I would play a little blackjack at the Golden Nugget before turning in for the night. I've been fighting a cold for a couple of weeks, and even though it was only at 9 p.m., back in Missouri I would already be in bed for the night. I don't especially like playing at the Nugget because their BJ rules on the double deck games aren't very player friendly, but I also realize that if I still want to be able to get the casino rate for my room I'm going to have to give them some of my play. I also don't mind playing at the Nugget because they seem very tolerant of someone who is counting, but not playing for high stakes. I generally play at $10 minimum tables with a spread of 1:5. Meaning my minimum bet is $10,
and my high bet would be $50 ($10 x 5) when the count calls for a more aggressive bet. I'm obviously not much of a threat to them, and have never felt like I was getting any undo attention ('heat') from the pit.

For whatever reason the last few times I've been to Vegas I've seem to have gotten into an early hole, and then have to try to work myself out for the rest of the trip. Let's just say past form has held. I suppose like most other games (I just play BJ), things can happen fast (in either direction), or not at all. I've sometimes sat at the same table for a couple of hours, only to be
exactly where I was when I started (which sometimes can be a victory in itself). Well this was one of this times when things happened fast. In less than fifteen minutes I was down $180. As I have said before, I'm not the strongest player in the world, but I do know all the basic strategy moves, I do adjust my bets according to the count of the deck, and I also use 18 exceptions to basic strategy play when the deck count calls for such deviation.

And you know what? None of it mattered at all. To lose nearly $200 in fifteen minutes is a still a little bit on the quick side. The frustrating thing was I was winning my fair share of hands in a neutral or negative decks, but when the count of the deck increased, and I raised my bets accordingly, I got killed, hammered, slaughtered, and a bunch of other unpleasant verbs I'm not smart enough to think of. I had a particularly difficult (and costly) hand when I doubled on an 11 with a dealer showing a 6. Because the deck was very positive I had a $50 bet in the circle, which for me is generally my maximum bet. With the double down I now had $100 in the circle, and heart palpitations in my chest. But I still felt pretty confident because first, I figured the
dealer would probably bust, and second, even if she didn't there was an excellent chance that my down card would be a 10. Well, you probably already have figured out that the dealer didn't bust, and that I also didn't have a 10 in the hole, and that my $100 go swooped off the table faster than a Republican Supreme Court justice calling for an end to vote recounts.

Sometimes I think you can actually know too much about something. For example, if this situation had happened to me a couple of years ago I would have just shrugged my shoulder and thought it was just one of those things. However, by the time the dealer began taking cards the count had reached an Alps-like height of +10, which meant the remaining deck was rich with 10s. Sometimes I have to restrain myself from blurting out something stupid like, 'Hey dealer.
Do you realize who how unlikely it is that what just happened happened.' Do you think that would blow my cover?

Before I lost all of my second $100 stake I decided to call an end to the carnage and go up to the room and begin sharing my experiences with my friends on the Board. Now that I am nearly done with my first day, I must say that all things considered, and unfortunately this has already proven to be an eventful trip, I would still rather have a bad day here than a good day about anywhere else. I only get to come out here once, maybe twice a year, and I'm not going to let a couple bad things get me down. Tomorrow is another day. Another day in paradise?

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TR-3: Dead Battries, Shooting Tigers, & Runnin' Rebels


I'm beginning to wonder who I've ticked off. Whoever it was, I need to make amends because the gods are letting me have it. If you read Part II of my trip report, you'll recall that I had some difficulties during my first day. Different day, same story, at least in part.

The first thing I was going to do this morning was to take another run down the strip. After I settled in behind the wheel of my Alamo rental (Pontiac Sunfire), I proceeded to insert the key in the ignition, turn the key in clockwise motion, and....nothing. No lights, no radio, no engine, NO
WAY. The car was dead. And the worst part was, I'm the one who killed it.

It seems that last night when I drove back from my evening run I had, well, I uhmmmm, I mean it's kind of embarrassing to admit this, but I FORGOT TO TURN OUT THE LIGHTS! So. Now I'm sitting in rental car, in the middle of the Golden Nugget parking garage, in an unfamiliar city, with a dead battery. Now what the hell do I do? Somewhere deep in the recesses of the 'y' chromosome that made me the male who I am, I decided to lift up the front hood. I guess I'm not exactly sure what I was looking for, the ways of an engine being very
foreign to me, but I couldn't help myself. Upon close inspection it became clear that someone hadn't stolen the engine, but in fact the source of the problem was a dead battery.

I got out my rental agreement, went back to my room, and called the 1-800 # that Alamo listed for emergency purposes. Hey! If this isn't emergency, I don't know it is. After a short amount of time the nice lady from Alamo called a nice lady from GM who called a nice man from Las Vegas Auto-something or other, who came and recharged my battery. From start to finish the whole thing took about 90 minutes. I was sorry that it had happened, but at least things were quickly fixed (or charged).

Taking advantage of my now fully charged car, I decided to drive out to the Tropicana and run north on the strip eventually turning around in front of the deserted Desert Inn. When I got back to my car, got in and flipped the ignition, I was grateful to hear the engine immediately turn over. Rather than take I-15 back to downtown, I decided to take Swenson down to Sahara, go east on Sahara, and then take Fremont St. in to the downtown area. At a stoplight the driver in the vehicle to my right was trying to get my attention. When I rolled down the passenger side window he said that my front hood wasn't pressed all the way down. A pedestrian crossing the street heard him and volunteered to close it tight. Gee. That would have been an interesting. Going down I-15 at about 65 mph when my front hood blows open. I guess given the sad state
of affairs so far, this would have to be considered a win.

Like last night after I returned from my run, I decided to go right to the Golden Gate for my daily intake of shrimp cocktail. Unlike last night, I checked to make sure the lights of the car were off first. From there it was up to the room for a quick shower, and get ready for the day's adventures.

The first order of business was to try and recover from yesterday's loss at the blackjack tables. I first went to Las Vegas Club, which for some reason is one of my favorite places to play. Being a sports guy, it's just got a comfortable feeling to it. It also has some rules in their double deck game that are better than those offered at the Nugget. Thankfully, the dark veil that has been covering me since I got here seems to be lifting. I had a small $50 win here, and then followed that up with another $25 win at The Horseshoe. The Horseshoe offers single deck games that really allows the player to take advantage of quick changes in the deck count. I don't like the seemingly constant shuffling, but I do appreciate how on your toes this game makes a person be.

I then went back to the Nugget and doubled my usual $100 entry stake, which just about brought back to even for the trip. After getting quickly down in this game, I began to come back by actually winning some hands in high deck counts. The highlight was doubling my original $40 bet on an 8 against the dealer showing a 5, which is departure from basic strategy, but was called
for with the high deck count. The dealer busted (as well he should), and I pulled a 10 (which well I should), thus proving that there was a natural order to the world.

Unlike a trip I took this summer, I did not have as many non-gaming activities planned. This summer I went to the Trop's comedy show, went up the Stratosphere Tower, drove out to Red Rock, saw an IMAX movie at the Luxor, and generally tried to curtail my gaming. This trip the only non-gaming activities I had planned were to watch the Iowa/Missouri game in the GN sports book, and attend the UNLV and Cincinnati at the Thomas & Mack Center. I've always
been a bit of a UNLV fan, and I was sad to see their program has fallen back on bad times after last year's appearance in the NCAA tournament. In the past week the NCAA put the program back on probation (no tournament for them), and the university responded by firing their coach.

At about 4:00 I nestled into my seat in the modest, but quaint GN sports book/lounge to watch my tigers. Being the featured game, the GN showed the contest on their portable big screen TV that hangs over the stage of their lounge. Not exactly the Bellagio, but adequate. With the game being in Iowa City, and given the fact the Hawkeyes are still undefeated, Iowa was listed as a 6-point favorite. The tigers have played pretty well this year, their only loss thus far being to Syracuse, so I bet $25 on my home team.

It was a very exciting game, and as regulation time wound down the game was tied with Iowa holding the ball for one last shot. This put me in a very peculiar spot which caused me to question my loyalty to the black n' gold of Mizzou. You see, emotionally, I very much wanted the tigers to win the game, but in order for them to do that Iowa would have to miss the last shot so the game would go into overtime. However, from a financial standpoint, if Iowa made the last shot, and thus won the game by only 2-points, I would win $23.70 from my bet. If the game did go to overtime, then Iowa would have another chance to cover the spread. Oh boy! What's a tiger fan to do?

As it turns out, Iowa did miss their shot at the end of regulation, and missed another one at the end of the first overtime which would have also broken the tie. As the second overtime entered its final seconds Iowa had a 5-point lead with about 7 seconds to go. My fear was now that it looked like Missouri was going to lose the game anyway, they were going to come down the court, take a quick shot, miss it, and then foul, and watch my $48.70 slip away as some Hawkeye make the two free throws, giving Iowa a 7-point win. But the tigers came through for me. Rather than run down court and take a shot, the point guard lose control of the ball, and by the time possession had been gained time had expired. The tigers lost, but I won. I was happy and sad at the same time.

Shortly after the tiger game was over it was time to head out to the Thomas & Mack. I had asked on a UNLV message board about whether tickets should be purchased in advance. The replies I got back said there would be plenty of seats still available at game time. They were right. I ended up buying a lower level ticket for $5 less than the ticket price from someone who was just trying to unload the ticket. Pretty good seats, which is unfortunately more than I can say for the game. After some glitzy introductions, accompanied, of course, by the school band belting out Viva Las Vegas, the Runnin' Rebels got off to quick start against Cincinnati, but eventually fell victim to their opponents advantages in size and quickness.
Nonetheless, it was kind of cool to be at the game.

After the game I went back to the Triple 7 for a salad and filet ignon sandwich. No beer this time because I still hadn't been able to shake the slight headache I've now had for most of the trip. When I got back to the GN I played for another hour or so, eeking out another small $75 win.

So far, including my winning basketball wager, I'm up almost a $100 for the trip. After yesterday's (and this morning's) debacle both on and away from the tables, I feel pretty good about it.

As I finish my 3rd installment I'm looking out at the view from my 18th floor window. Though things have been far from perfect, there's nothing else I would rather see outside my window than what is there. I can clearly make out most of the casinos on the strip. From the Stratosphere, to the Mandalay Bay. This is exactly where I want to be. I'll go to bed with smile on my face, and probably wake up with one too.

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TR-4: Bad Lock & Good Luck

Alright. This isn't even funny anymore. Not that it ever was in the first place, but I have another tale of woe to add to an already lengthy list. And it all started with a bucket of ice.

I'm not a world traveler by any means, but over the years I've stayed in my fair share of hotels. Between vacations and business travel, I would guesstimate that I spend about 15 nights a year in hotels. Over the course of the last 20 years this would have me lodging for a total of about 300 times. In all my experience, nothing compares to what happened today.

It all started innocently enough. At about 10:15 this morning I stepped out of my room to get a bucket of ice. What could go wrong? Having just been awake for a couple of minutes, I had just thrown on a pair of running shorts and a T-shirt. When I got back to the room I inserted my key- card into the lock, but nothing happened. This isn't that unusual, so I did it again. And again. And againagainagainagain. Nothingnothingnothingnothing. The green bulb, then yellow, then red would all light up, but the lock wouldn't open.

Green-Yellow-Red. Green-Yellow-Red. Green-Yellow-Red. No luck. No lock.

I approached a maid on the floor, was relieved when I found that she could speak English and explained my situation to her. She said she couldn't let me in the room, but she she would call maintenance so I just stood patiently outside my door. After a few minutes, I then sat, but somewhat less patiently, waited outside my door. No maintenance. Minutes ticked away.

I then told the nice maid that I would go down to the registration desk to see if they could issue me a new key. She said she would cancel the maintenance call. When I got down to the desk and explained what happened the first question they asked me was, 'Do you have some identification'? On the one hand I perfectly understood the question, I know that can't just let anybody have access to the rooms, but on the other it kind of ticked me off just a little bit. However, trying to be polite, I again explained that I was just walking down the hall to get a bucket of ice, and didn't think of grabbing my drivers license for such a short trip. She reproached me slightly by saying that I should 'always' have my ID if I was leaving the room, and asked me for my home phone number and street address so she could confirm my identity on the computer. After satisfying her that I was not the kind of guy who just wandered aimlessly down the hallways with an ice bucket in hand for kicks, she recoded my key and sent me back up to the room. Mumbling under my breath I got back on the elevator, took it up the 18th floor, walked to my room (which incidentally was as far away from the elevator as geographically possible), inserted the key, and....

Green-Yellow-Red. Green-Yellow-Red. Green-Yellow-Red. No luck. No lock.

I then went all the way back down to he lobby, talked to the same desk clerk, who then asked a bellhop to come up with me to see if his universal key would open the lock. So Kid Bellhop and I get back on the elevator and go all the back to my room on the 18th floor, walk all the back down to my room, he inserts his so-called 'universal' key, and....

Green-Yellow-Red. Green-Yellow-Red. Green-Yellow-Red. No luck. No lock.

Kid Bellhop then runs back down to the main lobby where he says he's going to call maintenance. So once again, I just stood patiently outside my door. After a few more minutes, I then sat, but somewhat less patiently, waited outside my door. No maintenance. Many more minutes ticked away. It actually reached a point where, as I was sitting there waiting for Gus from maintenance to come lend me a hand, I started laughing about the situation. Here I was, in
my most favorite place in the whole world, and I may as well as have been in Paducah (no offense to those in Paducah, I'm sure it's lovely) because everything that I needed, ID, money, car keys, clothes, were behind this closed door.

After about ten minutes a blue-coated security person named Janet came down the hallway and began looking from door-to-door like she knew she was suppose to be here, but wasn't quite sure why. Thinking for a brief moment that perhaps I was invisible, I stood up and told here the problem with my door. I'll give you million dollars (figuratively speaking) if you can guess the first words out of her mouth.

'Do you have some identification'?

This time, I admit a bit testily, in measured words I said, 'No. I was just walking down the hallway to get a bucket of ice. I had not idea I would need an ID to get into my room.' She told me that that would be okay, she could check my ID when we got back in the room. 'FINE. I'd be only too happy to show you me ID once I'm back in the room.'

My new best friend Janet called maintenance again, and they assured her they were on the way. So Janet and I had about ten minutes to make some small talk. 'Where you from? How long are you staying? etc.'

At last the maintenance guy arrived with some instrument that looked like it could perform one mean colonoscopy. He explained that my lock had tilted, meaning that through some magnetic quirk all of its memory had been erased. I told him that happens to my brain all the time, so it's nice to have a name for it. ('Honey, I meant to get you an anniversary present, but my mind tilted.') After he inserted the device into the lock the reprogramming only took a couple of minutes. He gave me a couple of new keys, I thanked him, and he went on his way.

Ever vigilant, security person Janet did in fact enter the room and ask to see my ID, which was locked in the safe. I guess people with melting ice try to talk there way into empty rooms all the time. Thankfully, the combination to the safe worked perfectly, and I was able to convince Janet that I was on the up-n-up, and not just some guy who gets his kicks by locking himself out of his
room with a bucket of melting ice.

From start to finish, the whole thing took about an hour, and in the long range scheme of things it wasn't that big of deal, but I do intend to bring this up tomorrow when I'm checking out to see if I can get some cost taking off my bill for all my pain and suffering, not to mention the mental cruelty.

All that, and it wasn't even noon yet.

After wasting a substantial portion of the morning trying to get into my room, I decided that I didn't have enough time to take my usual run down the strip, so instead opted for a run around downtown. Though I would never make this run at night, I didn't feel too uncomfortable doing it in daylight. It was during my run that I witnessed one of those 'only in Vegas sights.' Right outside the Golden Nugget there was a panhandler begging for money with a cap in one hand,
and a bottle of Michelob in the other. I guess he didn't think to bring his Chivas from home. I guess there's no sense pretending he wanted the quarter for a cup of coffee. Perhaps he was shooting for a nice lobster dinner to go along with Michelob. In any event, I spent the nice 40 minutes running up and down Fremont with occasional diversion to Bridger and Ogden.

After a quick shower, and a couple more shrimp cocktails (for a total of 6 for the trip), I went over to the Vegas Club to play a few hands and watch the end of the Green Bay Packers game. Though I am now a diehard Rams? fan, my roots are in Green Bay, having lived in Wisconsin for 22 years. It was fun playing blackjack and watching the Packers at the same time. I was also doing well at the table, because the pit boss came over and asked if I wanted to be rated, which I didn't. After a series of nice wins in high count decks, I left the table $150 to the good. I then headed back to the GN, and played in one of those marathon sessions where two hours later I came out even. It actually felt like a victory because I had lost my initial $100 entry, chased it
with another $100, and then another before I finally starting getting some cards. I promised myself that if I ever got back to even I'd jump out. After I split aces against the dealer's 9, and covered one with an 8 and the other a queen, I quit when the dealer's hole card was an 8. Sometimes a tie can seem like a win.

From there I headed out to the Rio to see if their seafood buffet would be crowded. When I visited the buffet this summer I was given a number that basically would have had me waiting somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd Florida recounts for a seat. I chose not to wait, and instead returned to downtown and made one of my all-time worse Vegas decisions when I chose to dine at the Fitzgerald buffet. I swear this buffet makes Circus Circus? or the IP's seem exquisite in comparison.

Thankfully, this time around my luck was better. I only had to wait about five minutes before I was seated. Was it worth it? Hmmm. Tough question. The price of the meal was nearly $30, and I'm not sure I got $30 worth of enjoyment out of it. Considering my last two meals at the Triple 7 didn't total $30 between them, I can't say there was much value in this meal. Still, for
the most part I thought the quality of the food was decent. With the exception of the rock lobster tails, which had the consistency of a super ball, most everything else was pretty tasty. In particular, the snow crab had a decent enough flavor, the peel n' eat shrimp weren't too bad, and the crab salad was ok. The desserts did look lovely, and I probably didn't help matters when I
ended the meal with not one, but two pieces of pecan pie. The french say that you should always leave the table a little bit hungry. Let it be known, my performance at this evening's dinner table was very unfrench-like.

From the Rio I decided that it was time to get serious with a little blackjack. Although I've stayed at the Rio a few times, seldom play blackjack there because they don't offer any double or single deck games. They also have recently installed continuous shuffle machines which even further adds to the casino's edge, and makes tracking the cards totally futile. So instead of trying to recoup the expense of my meal from the Rio, I instead decided to drag my protruding, seafood-filled, gut to the Imperial Palace.

The Imperial Palace is known an being a fair place for blackjack. It's also known for having some of the nicest cocktail waitress outfits, but being a married man I'm oblivious to those sort of things. I shared the table with a nice lady from Chicago was trying to get drunk before her midnight flight, and a young gentleman from Toronto who sat down and couldn't lose a hand.
During this session I had the unique experience of splitting 6s three times against a dealers 4. After my initial decision to split, first card off the deck was another 6, which I also split. I then got a 10 on the first six for a 16, a 9 on the second for a 15, and then another six, which I also split. On the third six I got a 4 for a 14, and then on the last 6 I drew another 6, which they wouldn't let me split because the maximum was splitting four times. I stood on my 12 because by this time the count was about +5, but I was feeling pretty nervous because I didn't have a winning hand in the bunch. Thankfully, the dealer obliged my busting having an 8 in the hole and then drawing a 10. Greedy jerk that I am, I actually was hoping for a draw that would have
allowed be to double down on a couple of my splits, but it was a good win nonetheless. After a couple good turns in positive decks, I left the table with a nice $125 win.

Regarding the uniforms, rumor has it that they are going away from the short blue silky dresses with the plunging necklines to a two piece black number featuring short shorts and black swimsuit like top (with sleeves), thus exposing the midriff. Again, that is only a rumor and I must admit that I was focused on the game that I didn't really notice any more details.

From the IP I went to down the Stardust, which currently offers one of the best blackjack games in town. I spent three hours at the Stardust, About 2 ½ of which was at one table. We kept going back and forth, and all hell broke loose in one deck where the count kept going higher (which is good), which made my bets keep going higher (which is good), only to see me lose every hand (which is bad). Within a span of 3 minutes I went from being up to a couple hundred
to down. I finally cashed out $135 in the hole, and almost left to head back downtown, but decided to play one more game. I'm glad that I did because in this heads up game with the dealer (I was the only one at the table), I had my best game thus far. Within about a half an hour I had not only won back the $130 I had just lost, but another $200 besides. A nice win!

From there I decided to walk up to the Frontier, because they had the same good set of rules as the Stardust. By the time I got there it was about midnight, and I swear to you there was nobody playing blackjack. Not one person, despite the fact that six tables were open. The only thing I've seen anything like it was a couple of years ago when I stepped inside the Desert Inn, only to see more casino personnel than players. I played one deck, won $25, and took my big winnings back to the car. I didn't feel very comfortable playing my game when the pit boss doesn't have anyone to watch but me. I think that would a recipe for disaster.

When I got back downtown I decided to make one more tour of the Vegas Club (+$100), Horseshoe (+$50), and one more game at the Nugget. I now had gone one whole day without leaving a casino with more than when I came in. In the Nugget game I quickly got up about $300, but then lost some big bets with big counts, and not wanting to break my streak, I jumped out $100 to the good.

For a day that started with frustration, it sure ended on a high note. Going to bed tonight I'm up about $850 for the trip. Unless I play like a complete idiot tomorrow, which incidentally is not completely out of the question, I should go home with a nice win.

Now if only I remember to take my ID next time I go for ice.

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TR-5: Is it getting hot in here?

Today I was almost scared to get out of bed. After what has happened to me the last two mornings, I was wondering what else could possible could wrong. Let's see, I haven't locked my keys in the car yet. After a quick shower and packing my things up, it occurred to me that perhaps things would be different today. With the lone exception of having my head cold return in full force, I am thankful to say the rest of the morning went by without incident.

I always have strong mixed feelings about my last day. My flight back to KC doesn't leave until 4:15, so I don't feel rushed as I have in the past when I've had to make AM flights, but I'm still kind of sad that today will be my last day. I've been fortunate. For the past few years I've been able to come out a last once a year, and for past couple of years I've made a summer and winter trip. I explained in Part I how healthy these trips are to my overall psyche. I know it's a lot more fun to unpack my bag, than to collect everything back up again. Just like the terrific feeling of getting off the plane and making your way to the transportation area, as opposed to
that long walk out to your gate for departure. Still, I have about 8 more hours, and I plan to enjoy them as much as I possibly can.

I called a casino host to find out if my play qualified for anything. I was disappointed, but not surprised to learn that it hadn't. Not even a café comp. He said that I had averaged about $10 per hand and had only played for about an hour each day. The hour each day thing was about right, but I know that I had to average more than $10 per hand because of the larger bets I made
when the deck count was high. On the one hand I was disappointed, but on the other it seemed pretty clear to me that either they weren't aware that I was counting, or they were and didn't really care. Fine with me. Besides, the best comp. is the one you earn at the table by taking their money. I guess if they won't give a comp, the best alternative is to take one from them by
beating them at their own game.

In any event, my breakfast stop that morning was at the Carson St. Café where I had their delicious buttermilk pancakes. They were good, and even though I was hungry, I could only eat about half of what was on my plate. This is the first time this trip that I haven't had Golden Gate shrimp cocktails for breakfast. They may not exactly be the breakfast of champions, but they've done quite nicely by me, thank you very much.

My plan of attack for today was to play a few last games downtown, head back out to the Stardust, and then one more game at IP before setting out for the airport. First on my list was the short walk down to the Vegas Club, a place where I've won during each visit for this trip. Each visit, that is, until this last one. Blackjack's a funny game. Unfortunately, this time I don't mean
funny in a 'ha-ha' sense. I'm talking funny in the strange way. You know the way I'm talking about. It's the one where no matter what you do, it's going to be wrong. The one where the dealer is going to make his/her hand, regardless of what the top card is. For you dice players, aren't there times when you've gone out on a few numbers, and can just feel that '7 coming up.
It's almost anticlimactic when the dealer says it out loud. Slot players, I'm sure at times you get the feeling like I may as well through this money on the floor at let them vacuum it up. Likewise for my VP friends, don't you go through stretches were even getting a pair of lousy jacks seems beyond your reach.

Thus was the fate that awaited me at the Vegas Club. Remember, I started the day $850 to the good, and only a complete collapse would prevent me from going home with a nice little profit. I wouldn't characterize my visit to the Vegas Club as a complete collapse, but after this session I felt like I had just been clobbered with Tyson's best punch.

Generally I enter a game with a $100 stake. If I lose it, I will usually go in for another hundred, and if I lose that, sometimes I'll chase it again, but most times I'll just leave. This time I didn't leave, although I should have. I was playing heads up against the dealer, so the whole thing
went pretty quickly. In hindsight, given the beating I took, I wish they had asked me for a blindfold. When the pitboss saw me losing hand after hand, he asked me if I wanted to be rated. This is the third time I've been asked that here, and for the third time I refused. As my third $100 stake began to slide from my side of the table to theirs, even the pitboss came over and kind of shook his head about my run of bad luck. Now I realize full well that as nice as some of these people are, they consider me an enemy that needs to be vanquished. Frankly, I think the same of them. Despite their occasional pleasantries, the fact is they want me to lose, and badly. So how pitiful was it that when I lost my last bet, and my 300th dollar, he kind of shook his head
apologized for my bad run. I wanted to tell him that it was alright, because over the years I've probably taken more money out of this casino than any other, but I just kind of nodded politely, and slunked away. It was pathetic.

Now the key to blackjack is not string thumpings like this together. In about 20 minutes I had reduced my winning by about 35%. Another such performance I would be spending my last couple of hours watching a movie, watching planes, or doing some other type of low-risk activity. I decided that before I check out of my room and left downtown, I would try one more game at the Horseshoe. And it was here that I got my first heat of the visit.

Please understand, card counters, even amateurish ones such as myself, are a little on the paranoid side. Although counting isn't illegal, casinos do have the right (at least in Vegas) to ban you from playing blackjack if they think you are too good. When you think about it, it's really an absurd concept. In most every other area of life people get rewarded based on their level of skill, or how hard they work, or both. In blackjack, the better a player you are, the more likely it is the casino won't even deal with or to you.

Most anyone who has counted has some story about being asked to leave the casino, or in blackjack parlance, getting 'backed off.' Right now there has been a two week debate on the www.bj21.com Vegas Blackjack message board about a counter who claims that Sam's Town literally abducted him in the parking lot on his way out, forced him to return to the casino, and gave him the classic back room treatment that you usually see in movies. The debate on the board seems evenly split between people who think this actually happened, including counters who said that at one time or another they got similar treatment, and those who think it's just hogwash.

There is perhaps no more respected BJ player on the LVOL board than the gruff both loathable Gehrig. I have no doubt that he has forgotten more about the game than I'll ever know. But I bet if you asked him, he would say he has been backed off on more several times during his career. There are ways to decrease the chance of being identified as a counter, but they usually consist
of making plays either against basis strategy or against what the count of the deck would dictate. This is intended to deflect suspicion, but it also means that on occasion the best play is not made. During my trip last winter I was asked to leave the Barbary Coast, which is notorious for being hard on counters. Ever since then I've tried to be very aware of any attention I may be getting from the pit, although I'm still reluctant to use camouflage given my sparsity of play. For the short time that I play I'm unwilling to give up any slight advantage I may have, perceived or otherwise.

Thus far this has been a heat-free trip. Or at least it was until I made my last stop at the Horseshoe. As I mentioned before, the Horseshoe mainly deals single deck so the count of the deck, and therefore your bets, canchange dramatically and quickly. When I sat down to play the count of the deck went very positive for the last round, so I upped my bet from $10 to $50 and
got a blackjack. The dealer asked me if I had got a phone call, which I took as a question about why I had increased my bet so much from one hand to the next. This still didn't make me too suspicious because it was only the first hand I had played, I was absolutely certain that given my low bets from previous visits they weren't exactly laying in wait.

The next couple of shuffles also led to high counts, and I began to win some pretty good bets. Before long I had about won about $300, thus making up for my drubbing at the Vegas Club, when the pit boss began to pay some extra attention to our table. After the first round of the next shuffle was dealt, and I raised my bet from $10 to $40, he picked up the discards and made a
show of looking to see if some smaller cards had come out, which would have made the deck count go up. Because I was sitting at third base, he did this right in front of me. When he looked at the discards, he took one step back and began standing right off my left shoulder. I can't say for certain if he was trying to send me a message, but what I heard was, 'I know what
you're doing. And I want you to know that I know.' I played one more hand, collected my chips, and left with $325 of the Shoe's money.

I don't know for certain if what I think happened actually happened. And I fully realize that I only may be flattering myself to suggest that I was about to get the ole heave-ho. But, I wasn't about to find out either. Even if this was my last day.

From there I was going to play one last table at the Nugget, but decided not to because they were all pretty full.

When I was checking out I asked to speak with a supervisor to see if I could have some cost taken off my bill for yesterday's lock debacle. She agreed to take off my phone calls and my buttermilk pancakes. I guess I was hoping for a little bit more, but like I said before, the best revenge is leaving with some of what use to be their money.

With only about three hours left on my trip, I went back out to the Stardust for some play with their good game. I was playing head-to-head for awhile, about holding my own, when a distinguished looking elderly man sat down to my right, and proceeded to win 14 hands in a row.
I couldn't help thinking that had he sat on my left, those would be my winnings instead. On several occasions for no seemingly good reason (because he did it in both negative and positive count decks), he would push out bet in the $500-$1000 range, winning most of them. I would guess in the hour he was at the table he probably won at least $10,000. The good thing about that was that while he was going for the big kill, I was consistently winning my own smaller
bets, and squirreling the chips away in my pocket. By the time I left the table, I had my biggest win of the trip: $500! I was now almost $1400 up for the trip, with only one hour before I needed to turn in my rental car.

Because I had stayed longer at the Stardust than I intended, I went to the Monte Carlo instead of the IP. I was looking for another $10 game, but when I couldn't find one with a double deck I decided to sit at a $25 table instead. I hardly ever play the $25 tables, but because I was ahead for the trip, and only had about 45 minutes to play, I decided to go out with a blaze of glory. I
bought in for $500, immediately got asked by the pit if I had a player's card (I didn't), and in short order lost about $150. Just about when I was going to jump out, the cards turned and I was able to score some nice wins. At one point I actually doubled my original stake, which would
have been a great place to stop, but did to decide to leave with a $300 profit after only at 45 minutes of play.

From there it was back to Alamo, back to the airport, on the plane, back to KC, and then the 3-hour drive home, getting in a little after midnight.

And Just like that it was over. Something I spent hours of time preparing for and anticipating, was finished. In hours I had gone from that feeling in Vegas like I had never left, to now wondering if I had been there at all.

I'll have one last installment with my final impressions.

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Final impressions

The Gaming

Whenever anyone returns from Vegas and tells me they made money, or 'came out about even,' I'm immediately skeptical. I know how tough it is to take any money out of this town. That's why I was very happy with this trip's gaming. When all was said and done, I made about $1650 at the tables. This is one my best gaming trips ever. With the exception of my first game at the Nugget, and getting my clock cleaned the last morning at the Vegas Club, I did not leave one
casino with less money than when I came. Even if someone is tracking the cards, this is a return way above any reasonable expectation.

When I first started counting cards I didn't know if I would continue it or not. It seemed, at least initially, that it took some of the enjoyment out of the game. I had to concentrate so much on the cards, that I had little time to engage the dealer, or my fellow players in conversation. Now, I don't think I could play without counting. I suppose like anything else, the more you do it the easier it gets. This time I found I could talk with my tablemates, watch the games on the TV, joke with the dealer, and still track the count. I guess there's no turning back. Now I don't think I could sit at a table and not count. I would cringe when I'd see someone put out a huge bet when the count was negative. But I know, it wasn't that long ago I was certainly doing the same thing myself. I'm certain that from this point on, it I play, I'll count.

The Nugget

I use to like the IP. Then it was the Rio. Now it's the Golden Nugget. I consider it a classic case of evolution. This is a very comfortable and elegant place. Other than getting locked out of my room, I really wouldn't have anything but nice things to say about the hotel. I think the size is perfect; big enough to offer options, but no so large as to intimidate. I'd happily stay here again.

Downtown

Hmmmmm. This one is a little bit tougher. In Iowa Tom's report he said that 'downtown has gotten yukky again.' He's exactly right. Even though I stayed downtown less than six months ago, there seemed to be noticeable increase in the traffic of the down-on-their-luckers. I would also suggest that there are probably more mumblers on Fremont St. than on most psychiatric wards. I guess if you're alone that's an asset. That way you don't need to go through the bother of having two people to have a conversation.

I think the downtown area needs to be careful. I know they keep trying to improve this area, and hopefully Neonopolis will do the trick for them, but it seems to me there is little cushion between what is now downtown and what tomorrow could be a ghost town. I still enjoy the downtown area, and I love the Golden Nugget, but the right now movement seems to be going in the wrong direction.

Transportation

I don't necessarily regard myself as someone who needs the first class experience, so I'm very happy with SW airlines. My round trip out of KC was only $184 (pre-tax), and if that means all I get is a small bag of peanuts and a coke, so be it.

I'm still sold on Alamo, despite the small problem I had with the Kiosk. I had a rental for 72 hours, and the bill didn't even come to $60. I like the freedom of having my own wheels, and with the internet rate I got from them, couple of cab and bus rides would have cost me more money anyway.

Food

I need to start branching out more. This trip I went to all my favorite places: Triple 7 for steak, Golden Gate for shrimp, Rio for seafood, and Carson St. for breakfast. If I had to do it again, I would have gone to at least one new place. Maybe next time.

Overall

I had a great time. Having been to Vegas a couple of dozen times now (maybe more), I would think it possible I'd start getting sick of it. But I haven't. If anything, the more times I go that more I look forward to my next trip. I prefer to think of it as a healthy addiction. Or
at the very
least, a harmless one. Vegas, as corny as it may sound, is that beam which emanates from the lighthouse on the distant shore. I'm kind of it here in the middle of the sea right now, but I know if I navigate correctly, I'll soon be in her harbor again.


P.S. One last thanks to everyone who's read these read these reports. I've enjoyed writing them for you, and appreciate the kind things you've posted and emailed. If you have any specific questions, please don't hesitate to let me know. I hope everyone has a very happy holiday season, and may your new year be full of:

A. Aces & Tens
B. 7s & 11s
C. Blazing 7s
D. Royal Flushes
E. All the above