Eleven Years in Las Vegas
My eleventh year in Las Vegas started with a plan. As the 2011 World Series of Poker got under way, I was set on challenging myself by regularly sitting in the biggest games I had the bankroll to take a shot at. I was very focused on testing my skills and finding out whether I had what it takes to play in some fairly high stakes games.
On June 1, I jumped right into the 75-150 fixed limit Omaha 8 or better game which had a kill to 100-200. It was a graveyard shift game but still had two tables running. I recognized some players from the 30-60 Bellagio game, but a majority was unknown to me. It was obvious quickly that this was unlike any smaller game I had played before. While it was certainly beatable due to a couple action players, it was mostly populated by tight-aggressive players who werenít handing their money over easily. Even the action players knew how to play. They simply didnít have any reason to worry about losing at these stakes.
Still, I held my own. Though I actually lost $500, I can point to some strong missed draws and a flopped set of Aces getting outdrawn to console myself. The game broke after a few hours and I moved into a 50-100 HORSE game (the largest mixed game Iíve ever played). Again, I felt I could play with the competition and won a little of my money back. It wasnít a winning first day, but I had met the enemy and stood my ground.
The next day I played the 75-150 O/8 game again and scored a $2,000+ win. The competition was the same strength and I played about the same. But, the cards fell better and I racked up with a little more confidence.
For about two weeks, I played the 75-150 O/8 game at the Rio and some of the 30-60 O/8 game at the Bellagio (because a friend told me the game was incredible and I agreed after observing it for a bit). My results were fine with some winning sessions and some losing sessions. Overall, I felt my shot taking had gone well.
On the morning of Monday, June 13th, I woke up and planned to enjoy a restful day. But, it wasnít to be.
There arenít many things Iím scared of or worry about. But, that morning I was going to face one which occasionally gnawed at me. I woke up to find multiple, even frantic, messages asking me to call home (Massachusetts) immediately. I knew what the messages would say instantly- my Mother was ill.
A year earlier (2010), I visited my mother in May to spend both Motherís Day and her birthday (5/21) with her. This year, I decided earlier in the year that I would push back my yearly visit to late July so that I could escape the Vegas summer heat and make the visit during the slow Vegas poker season. I just called on Motherís Day instead. Thatís a decision Iíll always regret.
That morning, my Aunt had gone over to my Motherís home to drive her to the hospital for a routine check-up. But, upon arrival, my Aunt (a retired nurse) recognized symptoms which indicated my Mother was having a stroke. Though my Mother was still on her feet and talking, my Aunt rushed her to the nearest hospital.
But, it was too late. Shortly after arrival, my Motherís stroke became massive and she lost consciousness. She was stabilized and eventually transferred to Bostonís Beth Israel hospital for better care. However, the damage from the stroke was so devastating that the doctors decided any surgery would be useless. Even in a best case scenario, my Mother would never speak again, be paralyzed on half her body, never regain consciousness, and need to be on life support for the remainder of her days. However, it was more likely that she wouldnít be that well off. She was lost.
I got all this information in a phone conversion with my Aunt shortly after waking up that morning. Though my Uncle (my Motherís brother) was legally the person who could make decisions regarding my Motherís healthcare in a circumstance like this, that was only because they lived close to each other whereas I was nearly 3,000 miles away. It was always understand by everyone I would be the person ultimately responsible for any end-of-life decisions.
My Aunt and Uncle had been told by my Motherís doctors that there was no hope of recovery and they relayed this information to me. So, sitting alone, far away from my Mother, I let her go. I let my Uncle instruct the hospital not to take any extraordinary measures to save my Motherís life with the full expectation that she would die shortly.
When I hung up the phone, I sat dazed for quite a while. Eventually, I moved up my already-scheduled July flight back home to a red eye flight later that day. That gave me some time to make some preparations such as doing some laundry and getting some cash to bring with me to Massachusetts (my poker playing money was in high denomination Rio and Bellagio chips). Then, I headed to the supermarket to do some shopping for the week. I was almost there when I snapped out of it and realized I wouldnít need any groceries in Vegas. I was going to be away for quite a while.
I didnít sleep on the flight from Las Vegas to Boston. So, when I arrived early the next morning, I was tired from a lack of sleep and jet lagged. My Aunt and Uncle picked me up at the airport and we went immediately to the hospital so I could see my Mother who had survived the night. Obviously, my Mother didnít look well when I saw her.
I listened to the doctorís explanation of what happened and then stayed in my Motherís ICU room with nothing to do but hopelessly sit and wait. After a couple hours, a nurse came in the room to turn my Mother so she would be more comfortable. That was something I didnít want to watch and simply walked out for a while why she was taken care of. At about noon, my Aunt and Uncle brought me back to my Motherís place where Iíd be staying while helping settle her affairs.
I had hoped to get some sleep that afternoon but ended up just lying in bed thinking. Eventually, I gave up and took a shower. When I got out, I found a message on the answering machine from my Uncle asking to call him immediately. I braced myself for the news which indeed came- my Mother had died just a short time earlier. She was 67.
I had accepted this inevitability more than 24 hours ago and had it reinforced that morning when I saw my Mother. Somehow, I think that spread out the pain so that there wasnít any one terribly anguishing moment.
My Father had died five years earlier. But, I was always closer to my Mother so I still had a strong sense that I could always go home to somebody. Now, though, I was really facing something which changes your perspective on life. My parents were both gone and to some extent, I was alone.
I spent the rest of June in Massachusetts doing all the things that have to be done. Some of it felt callous, like giving away all my Motherís furniture, one piece at a time, to her neighbors at the retirement community she had moved into a few years earlier. Some of it made me feel guilty, like emptying out her bank accounts for myself (I was her sole beneficiary). And, of course, some decisions, like deciding to bury both my parentsí ashes together, drove home the finality of it all.
When I left Massachusetts, I realized it may be a long time before I return to the place I spent the first 30 years of my life. I like my Aunt, Uncle, and cousins a lot, but theyíre not the type of family I would travel across the country each year to spend a couple weeks of vacation with. Likewise, the friends Iíve got there are people I might meet up with while there for other reasons, but Iím not going to travel specifically to see them. In short, there was nothing left behind to bring me back.
I arrived back in Las Vegas on June 30th to appreciate the world had gone on without me. Mason Malmuth had stepped in and edited the 2+2 Magazine himself in my absence, but still paid me anyway. The World Series of Poker and all the cash game action had continued unabated. And, my apartment with the air conditioner turned off gave me a 90 degree welcoming.
I didnít care about any of it. I donít think I was depressed, but I had little interest in poker, work, or anything other than taking it easy for a while. So, I cashed out my Rio and Bellagio chips and said goodbye to poker for the rest of the summer. For the next ten weeks, I donít remember what I did. It was probably a lot of walking (after sunset), reading, and movie watching. Though, I did edit the August and September issues of the 2+2 Magazine so that I could keep the job going forward.
I suppose I did some life reflection but I donít want to sound dramatic about it. I just spent some time considering what options I had going forward. The savings I inherited from my Mother wasnít life-changing, but it was substantial and offered me much more flexibility in what I could do. In the end, I realized I was content where I was and doing what I do. So, I got back in the poker saddle again.
With the start of the NFL season in September, tourist activity picks up in Vegas, especially on the weekends. With it comes more poker action. I discovered my Bellagio 30-60 O/8 game collapsed in the summer and a 15-30 O/8 sprung up at the Venetian. So, if I was going to keep playing O/8, I was going to be forced to step down in limits.
Through the autumn and into early 2012, I played mostly that 15-30 O/8 game. But, it eventually devolved into a mix of winning 30-60 players and solid 8-16 players. Although a friend insisted the game was good, I kept evaluating it as a mediocre game. And that put me in a bind. I prefer avoiding mediocre games even if it means stepping down in limits, which would mean going back to the 8-16 O/8 game. Suddenly, it was looking like I was headed back where I was about year earlier when I had decided to regularly test myself at higher stakes.
In early 2012, I did play some of the 8-16 O/8 game (and the 15-30). But, I also moved back to no-limit hold Ďem and looked for other games such as Big O (five-card PLO/8) or mixed games which sometimes runs at the Venetian. It was all rather unsatisfying, though. I wasnít challenging myself and wasnít having much fun either.
As the 2012 World Series of Poker was approaching, I wondered if I should take another shot at the bigger games despite being a bit rusty in my play. At the very least, some good regular medium stakes games would be running.
I really have no idea what my upcoming twelfth year in Las Vegas has in store. I have no plans or goals and perhaps not even a primary game to play regularly after the WSOP is over. My next year is a complete unknown even to me.