Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Trip to BARGE 2015


When I attended my first BARGE in 1993 at the Rio I had no idea that I'd be looking forward to the first Saturday in August 22 years later. That year we had a single two table NLH tournament at the Rio and I flew in to Las Vegas on Friday, and probably returned to Pittsburgh the following Monday. I had a blast.

So it was with anticipation that I made my reservation at the Golden Nugget on February 3 after receving an offer from them that made the cost less unreasonable. This lead to my first bad beat of the trip...it turns out that reservations made before approximately January 15 were not subject to the dreaded resort fee of $20 + tax. About a month later I made my Southwest reservations to arrive before dinner on Monday, July 27 and return on Sunday morning, August 2. Because I am an old fart I was able to use their Senior fares which in this case saved a few dollars over their "Wanna Getaway" fares and had the added advantage of being fully refundable.

Monday, July 27

On Monday morning I finished packing and Barb drove me down to the CMU campus where the PAT bus service to the airport starts. Pittsburgh buses are free to the CMU community and only take about an hour as opposed to about 35 minutes plus parking time by auto. I usually take it if I am returning home at a decent hour.

My flight to Chicago was uneventful. I used the two hour layover to enjoy a Gold Coast Dogs Italian Beef sandwich with giardiniera. A great sandwich but not as good as Mr. Beef's in the city (though much better than Big Al's.) The flight to Las Vegas was also uneventful and on time, arriving at 3:05pm. Here I scored my second bad beat of the trip...Ken Kubey had rented a car and would have been happy to pick me up except that the car barely held him and Rich Strauss and their luggage. So I grabbed a taxi and scored my first good beat the trip...not only did the driver not try to tunnel me, but he insisted on taking Paradise because that was the right way to go. Of course he received a generous tip for his trouble.

I was quickly checked in to room 11219 in the Rush tower and began to unpack and discovered my third bad beat of the trip...I had left my medicine kit at home. I had all of the liquids but none of the other usual things such as a tooth brush, a razor, and some medicine that I take. All but the medicine were easily replaceable at the Walgreens down the street (and so was the medicine the next day when my doctor phoned in a prescription.)

Over the years, Un, Dan and Sharon Goldman, and I have developed a tradition of having a dinner at Hugo's on the Monday night of BARGE. Usually we were joined by others. This year we were joined by Bree Goldman, Goldie, Warren Sander, and Steve Daniel. After a great dinner including a cold seafood platter, the wonderful Hugo's salad, and ahi tuna, I had the honor of paying Un's share of the tip. This was the result of the bad beat of the Pittsburgh Penguins (barely) making the playoffs. Un and I have a standing bet. I say the Penguins will go deeper into the playoffs than the Blackhawks. If either team does not make the playoffs then there is no bet. If both teams get into the playoffs then the bet is on and if the winning team also wins the Stanley Cup the payoff is a high end dinner in Las Vegas during BARGE. When the Penguins barely made it to the playoffs I immediately contacted Un and asked if I could buy out my bet...and he was gracious enough to agree.

After dinner I went down to Walgreens for supplies and then visited Binion's to say hello to folks in the tournament that evening. A few years ago I tried a 7pm tournament and found that due to jet lag I was barely able to keep my eyes open by the time we had gone a few levels. I realized that there is no point in playing in a tournament that I have no way enjoying it...much less winning it. So after a while I went and played some video poker and then off to the room and bed.

Tuesday, July 28

As is usual for me on a trip to the west coast I woke up too early, probably 6:30. I took my time and did some work online and then my morning ablutions, and was thinking about getting dressed when I noticed that a text had come from Goldie about 7:45am saying that he and JZK were meeting at the GN Starbucks at 8:30 to go to breakfast at EAT. I looked at my watch and saw that it was nearly that time and quickly texted him that I could be there at 8:45. I eventually ended up meeting them (and Oscar) at the restaurant and had a great corned beef hash breakfast. Goldie, I think, proposed that we CCR for the bill and I lost (or won depending on ones point of view I guess...to be clear, I bought everyone breakfast.)

By the time we were done it was nearly time for the board/organizers lunch that, as an emeritus member of the board, I had been invited to at Triple George. Obviously I was not that hungry, but I did manage to eat a virgin Cobb salad (no chicken).

On this day there was a BARGE tournament starting at a more reasonable 3pm. It was a 25 game mixed event and I decided, at the last minute, to enter. The games, in order played (4 hands each) were:

  1. Binglaha
  2. Badacey
  3. Stud High/Low No Qualifier
  4. Crazy Pineapple 8-or-better
  5. 4 card Chowaha 8-or-better
  6. Razz
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Badugi
  9. Stud 8-or-better
  10. Hold’em
  11. Courcheval High Only
  12. California Lowball
  13. Razzdugi
  14. Omaha High Only
  15. Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw
  16. Stud
  17. Omaha 8-or-better
  18. Lazy Pineapple High Only
  19. Chowaha
  20. Hold’em High/Low 8-or-better
  21. Five Card Draw
  22. Badeucey
  23. Five Card Stud
  24. 2 or 5 Omaha 8-or-better
  25. Deuce-to-Seven Razz

I didn't play a hand beyond Razzdugi (13) but I had a ball playing and hope that this tournament becomes a fixture at future BARGEs.

In early BARGEs a group of mostly cigar smokers would get together in a private room at a high-end restaurant for dinner and cigars. Over the years, various people (such as myself) who didn't smoke but who enjoyed the food and company started to attend. When Vegas restaurants stopped allowing smoking the tradition continued (except for the smoking part of course). In recent years the dinner was organized by Goldie but since he was also a BARGE organizer this year he did not have time. Instead he scheduled a more informal non-smoker at Pizza Rock at 6:30pm. The time was choosen to coincide with the break in the 25-game tournament. That break turned out to be scheduled at 8:30, but nevertheless at about 6:15pm five of us (myself, Dan Nussbaum, Andy Bloch, Goldie, and Crunch) headed over to start the festivities. The folks at Pizza Rock were skeptical that a large group would be following us, so they seated us at a 6-top table and we placed an order. Shortly later, after our drinks had arrive, but before our food, they moved us to their more private room as many others had started to arrive. We eventually totaled over 30 people spread across three long tables. The pizza, especially the Sausage and Stout pizza, was terrific. We paid by table and at our table the cost including drinks and tips was $28 a person.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday is traditionally the day of the Egg & I breakfast. This started a fair number of years ago when Steve Eisenstein suggested that everyone meet there at 8:30 in the morning and then surprised everyone by picking up the bill (except for tip). Several years later Goldie joined him in paying and after that I did as well. We met JZK at the Golden Gate (where he was staying in what he says was a luxurious suite) and drove to the restaurant. It was already full of BARGERs. This year we had about 52 people...in other years its been as high as in the high 60s.

Next came the blackjack tournament. Last year I made it the final table in this event. This year I came in second at my table and was also the overall non-placing chip leader across all tables, but that did not pay anything. I had worked my way up from virtually nothing to being in a position to beat Oldbear to win the table depending on the play of the last hand. I don't fully remember the details but Mark had me out-chipped but I was within striking distance. I put out my entire stack, forcing Mark to make a bet big enough to cover me should I win. The dealer busted and that meant Mark won. Since Mark stood on something like 15 to avoid busting, and I had a 20, I would have won if the dealer had gotten a 17, 18, or 19. (Or something like that...someone correct me if it matters to you.) I realized later, after talking to Dave Croson, that I should have proposed a save with Mark prior to the deal of that hand. Oh well...

The video poker tournament was next and I learned that my fingers are getting nearly as sticky as the keys on a Binion's video poker machine. It actually came close to hurting to play. Again I did not place, but that was pretty much assured by someone (Doug Grismore?) being at over 3,000 points within the first minutes of the tournament.

Finally there was the craps tournament. Last year I also placed in this tournament. This year I was in the number 10 position at my table, with no one to my left and Jordan Devenport in the 1 position. I got the button but since I am as likely to hit another player as the end of the table when I throw, I passed to Jordan...who placed his entire stack (except the one required pass line bet) on the field and proceeded to roll a 12. For those of you who don't play craps, the field bet is not a good bet. It is a one roll bet that pays even money if a 3, 4, 9, 10, or 11 are rolled, double on a 2 and .... triple on a 12! First place for the tournament was pretty much locked up right there on the first roll and I did nothing to distinguish myself from the rest of the players.

My poor showing in these three tournaments meant that I did not place in the "triathlon of gambling" tournament (based on the results of all three tournaments mentioned above.)

By the time all of this silliness was over it was time for an early dinner so that those playing in the HORSE tournament could be back in time for the 7:30pm start. Earlier I had asked Patti and Ice if they wanted to have dinner that evening, and we ended up at Joe Vicari's Andiamo Italian Steakhouse at the D. The three of us were joined by Goldie, JZK, and Tiltmom. Patti and I split some steak tartare and we almost all had the table-side prepared Caesar salad. Goldie and I split a crispy fish whose name I don't remember but it was delicious, as were the grilled asparagus, the lobster ziti, etc. At some point during the dinner Kim had disappeared and we found out later that she had given the Maitre D her credit card to cover the meal so that there would be no arguing over the check. Of course a great argument ensued, but Kim (or should I say the rest of us?) won.

Those who were playing in the tournament got back nearly in time for the first hand. Goldie was heading to the smoker at the Goldman's. I decided to try my hand at some NSUD Deuces Wild video poker. I did not do nearly as well as Foldem who had managed four deuces twice in as many days. In fact I helped the D fund his wins (very slightly). Then it was off to Binion's where Allknight and I talked about the Pirates and then the two of us went off to Leppert's at the California for some ice cream. Before bed I played some video poker at Binion's and won some money.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday was CHORSE. I had planned to pick up a donut at Dupars but when I got there they were out (even though it was 9am). I had pretty much decided to skip breakfast when I ran into Deron Brod coming out of Binion's and he invited me to join him and others at Magnolias. It turns out that I had run into a strategy meeting for a competing CHORSE team consisting of David and Caryl Aronson, Deron, David Soussan, Gillian Groves (?), and Janie MacIntosh. Not much strategy discussion ensued, and so I had no inside scoop to give to my team, the  McLibtards.

This year the McLibtards consisted of Dan and Sharon Goldman, Goldie, Nolan, Foldem and me. I played O8 and made money the first two rounds and misplayed a hand and lost a bit the third round. I am not sure how the other tables went except that Nolan has already said that he lost a bunch in third round at his table and between his loss and my loss we did not make the playoff round the next day. We managed to only lose about 37% of our buyin though so there was that. During CHORSE I played my only real live poker of the trip -- Goldie asked me to play his stack while he was playing Hold'em for our CHORSE team. I managed to lose about $15 for him playing a dealers choice game I had never played. He did not ask me to play his stack after subsequent sessions. :)

After CHORSE came the annual group pilgrimage to I Love Sushi in Henderson for some good old fashion hamburgers. (I bet you thought it was going to be for Sushi.) I rode out with the Aronsons, Jordan, and Kenny Shei. The was a crowd of 26 of us (plus Kai Landrum) dining on as much Sushi as we could eat...fancy dishes with names like "your sisters mustache" or something like that. All very delicious. One of the traditions of this meal is that someone makes an educated guess as to what the per-person price will be (called setting the line) and everyone who cares bets $5 on whether the actual price will be over or under the line. I was sitting next to Chuck Humphrey who said to me that he expected that the line would be set at around $43 (I forget the exact numbers here). I bet him $1 that it would be under. This was sort of a meta-over-under bet and it later cracked up people who heard about it. Anyway, the actual line was set at around $41 and both Chuck and I took the over (in prior years I had almost always taken and won with the under). The actual bill per person was about $43 so not only did we both win, but Chuck's line would have been much better than the one set by Un.

I usually don't plan dinner after Sushi (which ends about 3:30 in the afternoon), and usually end up going to dinner anyway. Last year it was with Rich Korbin at a steak house out near his home. This year I had asked Nolan if he wanted to have dinner and he invited me to join a group who were going to Bazaar Meat by José Andrés at the new SLS Las Vegas. However that was scheduled for 9 pm to account for people busting out of the HORSE tournament. In the meantime I played a bit of video poker and managed to quadruple my buyin. I also won $10 deli comp on the spin-and-win machine plus $5 in free slot play (which went nowhere.)

At 9pm Nolan, myself, Goldie, and Bruce Kramer sat down at a table for about 30 at Bazaar Meat. We were the only ones at the table. We were soon joined by Ben and Asya who were there for their second visit in a week. Their addition to the table probably increased the number of diners in the entire restaurant by at least 2%. It was a huge empty room full of wonderful smells and lots of staff and the food was excellent (or maybe beyond excellent...not sure of my superlatives here). Some of us started with the Cotton Candy Foie Gras, there was made-at-the-table steak tartare, a carpaccio platter, a sausage platter, bouchon potatoes, a whole roasted chicken, a 2.25 lb washugyu ribeye and more that I am forgetting. Everything was wonderful, but the chicken may have been the best chicken I have ever had.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday started with breakfast with Bozo, Frank Irwin, and Goldie. We ended up having it at the Golden Nugget just for expediency. Bozo and I had started having breakfast on BARGE Friday when he began to come to BARGE after a several year absence. Frank, who was a present-at-the-creation BARGER had been away even longer, joined us this year. We used to get together at the WSOP back in the days when my site, ConJelCo, was handing the Internet coverage of the events. One memorable year the two of them took me for dinner on my birthday to an extremely good Mexican restaurant out on Desert Inn if I remember correctly (none of us can remember the name of the place.) In any event, it was great to catch up after a number of years. Even better...after Goldie offered to pay for breakfast, Frank would not hear of it. So we suggested CCR, which Frank had also not heard of. Bozo won the privilege of buying all of us breakfast.

The tournament Friday morning was the Mike Sexton TOC-style tournament. I did not play particularly well or badly, but my major good play was getting up from the table about 5 minutes before the clock ran out prior to the break to run to the deli to order a brisket sandwich to be picked up in a few minutes. This put me at the head of the line when the break actually game. I busted out of the actual tournament about 45 minutes after the break ended. I have no memory of how.

By then it was almost time for the Symposium. We had put together a smallish syndicate of seven people to bid on players and bought perhaps a ten pairs. Whether or not we would make money on these purchases would be determined by how the members of the pairs did in the main event on Saturday.

I received a text from a friend, Joe Tall, who asked if I was going to be around. I told him my schedule, which at that point was basically up in the air and he said he'd be down about 6:45pm. In the meantime, Edmund Hack, another original BARGEr had asked if I wanted to get a bite to eat. We eventually decided to ask Joe, Frank, and Bozo to join us at Pizza Rock for a quick slice or two. There was a longish wait there so I put my name on the list and they said that they would text me when a table was ready and that we'd have about 15 minutes to claim the table once they did. They predicted over an hour wait but it only ended up being about 45 minutes. When Joe showed up he gave me a great gift. He had once worked for a railroad in Maine and had a small collection of three switch keys one of which was perhaps 80 years old, that he said had been waiting for someone who would appreciate them. I was going to use them as a card protector in the NLHE tournament but decided that there was too much risk that I would forget them.

Then it was off to Karaoke. I was so tired at this point that I did not feel the urge to actively participate in spite of Sharon coming up to me and asking if we could so our usual "Paradise Under the Dashboard Light" duet. I did participate in the open bar (thanks Dan!) I was very moved by Un's Spirit of BARGE rendition and shared a private moment with Foldem who was my co-organizer of BARGE for oh so many years.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The big day. Again I had not intended to have breakfast because David and Chris Kluchman were providing Oface donuts for everyone at the tournament in honor of Chris's birthday. But at about 9am (the tournament started at 10:30) I received a text from Bruce Kramer saying that a group was having breakfast at Dupars and were at that point waiting in line. I arrived just as they were being seated. The table initially included Bruce, and Barry Kornspan, and Sharon Lewis, and at least one person I am forgetting. We were soon joined by Jared and Carol Anderson. Luckily Bruce discovered the smaller portions on the back of the menu so that I didn't have to try to ingest four whole slices of french toast.

We got to the tournament in plenty of time. As I sat down I noticed that Eileen Milligan was the dealer at our table. She told me (and others) to go get a rose from behind the podium and give it to Chris Kluchman for her birthday. Sure enough there were many dozens of roses of varying colors behind the podium and I selected one for Chris. I got a hug from her in return. Happy Birthday Chris!

I played at a table with David and Brian O'Grady, Stan Wood, Joe Long, Andreas Wolfram, I think Oscar was at the table as well, but I am drawing some blanks at the moment. Pretty much like the hands I was dealt. I eventually went out by going all in against Brian O'Grady with my QQ not holding up to his, I believe AJs.

As the tournament began, I had a creme fraiche Oface donut thanks to the Kluchmans. I'm afraid to say that it reminded me of a not-hot Krispy Kreme donut. I should have gone for the lemon custard.

After a brief bout of depression, Heldar and I went over to Main Street Station in search of some reasonable paying video poker. I had consulted the vpfree2 site and knew what I was looking for. Unfortunately we went counter clockwise around the casino and it wasn't until we were more or less back where we started until we found the "good" machines. Rick and Polly Mombourquette and a few others wandered by while we were playing and we were eventually joined by Paul Stine. None of us did particularly well on those machines but we enjoyed each others company and conversation.

At the banquet Mike Chow and I sat at a table and held seats for Josh Paley, JZK and Aston, and Ice and Patti all of whom soon joined us. For once the food at the banquet was very good...my prime rib as done just right and the asparagus were a bit crunch the way I like them. I did not need or eat the dessert. The speaker was Jen Shahade, a chess champion and poker professional who had a great presentation of what I would call avant-garde poker and chess films if I knew what avant-garde meant. (My 19 year old daughter, Lizzy, is getting into film at the Pittsburgh Film Makers and I texted her a link to Jen's films to perhaps inspire her.) Jen is a very impressive lady who went on to be both the first BARGE speaker and first woman to win the BARGE NLHE event. I'm sure the prize pool was a pittance to her but she seemed to completely get the spirit of BARGE  (playing in at lest three of our tournaments) and I am hopeful that winning meant something special to her. In fact there were three women at the final table and I believe all three of them lasted until the final six. Sharon came in sixth, Bree second, and Jen first. Unfortunately of those who were paid in the tournament, our syndicate only had 15th, 12th, and 11th...not enough to compensate us for what we had paid for our "horses". As soon as I collected the returns to our syndicate, I went around and distributed them to our members...then off to bed around midnight for an early wakeup call the next morning.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Paul McMullin picked me up at the GN valet entrance at 7:15am and we drove by (and returned to) the rental car center. We both had TSA pre-check, but I found that there wasn't a pre-check aisle at the entrance to the B gates. Since I did not want to take off my sandals and walk barefooted through security, I hiked over to the C gates and even so was at my gate by around 8:15am for my 9:40am flight. In spite of doing early bird checkin, I received boarding pass A60. Glad I didn't wait until 24 hours prior. The flight was going to be full, so I took the first aisle seat where the other two seats were occupied by "small" people and where there was overhead space for my luggage. This proved to be around row 8. I chose the flight because it was nonstop to Pittsburgh and tail winds had us arriving about 25 minutes early. I had hoped to talk Barb into picking me up at the airport but one of our puppies had puppy surgery on Friday and Barb did not want to leave her. But I made it to the curb in time to catch a PAT bus back to Pittsburgh and Barb picked me up and I was home by around 6pm Pittsburgh time having just experienced the best BARGE evah!

My thanks to the very able organizers of BARGE 2015, Russ, Goldie, Jeff, and Rich and to the board of directors, Un, Becca, Heldar, Barry and David. I am privileged to know all of you as well as the rest of the attendees of BARGE. I can't wait to see what the next year brings us for BARGE 2016.

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