Tag Archives: WSOP

Victoria Coren: my life in poker, and the WSOP Main Event

22 Jun

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Earlier this month I played in the Millionaire Maker tournament of the World Series of Poker, without success. Victoria Coren, my own poker mentor (it was playing at her home game, ten years ago, that I discovered how complex and fascinating the modern game was), may have rather more success when she heads out to Vegas next week.

I’ve just interviewed Vicky about her love of poker and her marriage to comedian David Mitchell in the International Business Times: click here. For my guide to the top 12 places to play in Vegas, click here. NEW: FOR MORE ON VICKY’S HISTORIC DOUBLE EPT VICTORY ON EASTER SUNDAY, click here.

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Las Vegas poker: my guide to the top 12 places, part 2

10 Jun

In honour of the premiere on Wednesday of the poker doc Bet Raise Fold at Palm’s, I’ve compiled my insider’s guide to Vegas’s finest poker rooms. This is part two. Click here for part one

MGM Grand (south-centre Strip): The spacious, elegant 22-table room is situated next to the Centrifuge Bar, good for landing the odd oversauced fish on your table. And now that the vast new Hakkasan restaurant/club has opened at the MGM, you can expect even more action. There’s a good range of games, including a weekly H.O.R.S.E. tournament. Tournaments: daily 11.05pm ($80), 7.05pm (Sun-Thur $80, Fri-Sat $125); Tues 7.15pm H.O.R.S.E. $120.

Mirage (centre Strip): This is one of the first places I ever played in, ten years back, and still a favourite for cash as it’s so easy to make money. There seem to be no pros, just a lot of happy holiday-makers used to friendly games back home who call off big raises in the hope of improving later. Nice atmosphere, though the dealers are infuriatingly lethargic. The tournaments and Sit ‘n’ Gos, however, are underattended and have terrible structures. Tournaments: daily 11am ($60 except Sat $110), 2pm and 10pm ($50).

Orleans (west, near Strip): This sprawling, somewhat down-at-heel casino has the largest poker room off the Strip with 35 tables, as well as the cheapest rake (capped at $3 rather than the usual $5). The players are mostly old-timers and locals, and they offer a wide selection of games and tournaments with an excellent structure given the relatively modest buy-ins. Years ago I came first equal in an Omaha tournament here, despite it being the first time I’d played (I looked up good starting hands on the internet and stuck to that), so the standard is not that hot. For a real adventure, try the H.O.R.S.E. tourney. Tournaments: daily at 12.05pm (Omaha Hi-Lo Mon-Wed $60; NL Hold ‘Em other days $60-80), and 7.05pm (Omaha Hi-Lo Mon $100, Thur $80; NL Hold ‘Em Tue $80, Wed $100, Fri $125, Sat $100; H.O.R.S.E. Sun $100).

Planet Hollywood (centre Strip): The new poker area is a great improvement on the old, which was sandwiched in between noisy slot machines. This is not a place for serious play, but it is a good place to have fun and to make money at cash. You get a lot of Brits here, and more women than in most rooms. The tournaments have a terrible structure and are best avoided. Tournaments: daily $70 at 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm.

Rio (west, near Strip): I’m including this as a nod to their hosting the WSOP, but outside that period there is little reason to venture out here, other than the chance to eat steak in the Voodoo Lounge after playing, which (top tip!) gives you free access to their terrific rooftop club. The poker room is small and cramped at just ten tables, the tournament structures are poor, the players random, but the staff are very efficient. Notable for the Mega Beat jackpot, one of the world’s largest, which starts at $200,000. Tournaments: daily $65 at 12noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm.

Venetian (centre Strip): This is the biggest of all Vegas poker rooms at 59 tables, and my favourite for tournaments, due to the size of fields, but less so for cash as it’s noisy, overly bright and you can run into some decent players. Experienced players may enjoy the variety of games on offer, with the currently trendy Open-Faced Chinese on offer as well as Omaha variants. Tournaments: daily at 12noon ($150 Mon-Thur, $200 Fri and Sun, $500 Sat), and at 7pm ($120 daily except $150 Tue and $200 Fri).

Wynn (north-centre Strip): A lovely 26-table room in one of the most relaxed and elegant casinos, this makes most people’s top three, along with the Venetian and the Aria. You get all sorts here, from sharks to money-no-object fish, with good action at mid-levels, and the staff are highly professional. Tournaments: daily at 12pm ($140 Mon-Thur, $200 Fri and Sun with $10,000 guarantee), plus 7pm Thur ($140 with $25 bounties).

For my pre-WSOP interview with Victoria Coren on her life in poker and marriage to comedian David Mitchell, click here.

Las Vegas poker: my guide to the top 12 places to play

10 Jun

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I have temporarily misplaced my Cannes Film Festival diary, so the tenth and final entry must wait (for the first Cannes entry, click here).

In the meantime, let’s talk poker. A new poker-themed thriller, Runner Runner, comes out this autumn starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, and a terrific-sounding documentary, Bet Raise Fold, has its premiere at the Palms casino on Wednesday. I’m just back from a successful five days in Vegas during the World Series of Poker, so to get you in the mood, here’s my insider’s guide to the best places to play:

There may be greater places to gamble than Vegas – Singapore’s two casinos take as much revenue as all the Strip’s casinos combined, while Macau takes in seven times as much – but there is no better place to play poker. There are 30-plus different rooms, running the gamut from tourist crap-shoots to high-stakes games for hardened pros, and at the lower stakes it’s almost guilt-inducingly easy to make money: most people are hobby players, home-game regulars who fancy their chances in a proper poker room, but don’t mind blowing a few hundred bucks over a free beer or three.

I’ve been to Vegas eight times now, and have played in pretty much every poker room, usually ending the week in profit. This is a two-part guide to the 12 best: 

Aria (centre Strip): The poker room here is close to perfection, purpose-built just a few years back when the Aria opened, ultra-comfortable and with friendly and efficient staff. It attracts good players, rather than drunken fish, but it’s worth going nonetheless just to play some proper poker in a professional environment. Tournaments: daily $125 at 1pm and 7pm.

Bellagio (centre Strip): Despite its 30 tables, you have to wait a long time for a 1-3, no matter the time of day. On the plus side, the standard for 1-3 or even 2-5 is not that high, as the real pros are playing 5-10, 10-20, or “The Big Game” in Bobby’s Room where Devilfish told me he had once won a million in three days. (NB: Mind you, I’ve watched the Big Game at Starworld’s Poker King room in Macau, and written about it in Condé Nast Traveller: there you can win or lose a million in a single pot!) Nice, busy atmosphere, quick service, mostly friendly crowd. Tournaments: daily at 2pm: Mon-Thur $125, Fri-Sat $545, Sun $335.

Binion’s (Downtown): On Fremont Street in the happier, cheaper, sleazier Downtown area, Binion’s was the original home of the WSOP, and was freshened up a few years back with a new ten-table poker pit (tournaments are held upstairs, where there is more space but less atmosphere). Players are mostly old-timers, but underestimate these grizzled veterans at your peril. Do make sure you buy a FOOTBALL OF BEER (that’s two pints of beer, served in a receptacle shaped like an American football) from the outdoor frozen cocktail bar a few doors up, and tip the serving girls well — seemingly they can’t afford clothes. Tournaments: daily at 10am ($60), 2pm ($80 weekdays, $125 weekends), 8pm ($60).

Caesar’s (centre Strip): A lot of rich Eurotrash of varying playing standard, the odd perma-tanned trophy wife, and some decent players. The 25-table poker room is sealed off from the casino floor, and so can feel rather bland and soulless, until the dancing girls file through the room on their way to perform. There’s an extra room for tournaments, which can attract more runners than anywhere outside the Venetian. Tournaments: daily at 9am ($70), 12noon ($110), 4pm ($70), 7pm ($110), 10pm ($85). Also Sat-Sun 2pm ($235).

Mandalay Bay (south Strip): The poker room is nothing special — ten tables, friendly, soft players — but it is relaxing, and I include it because the casino itself is one of my favourites. It’s discreetly upscale, with a terrific vodka bar guarded by a giant headless statue of Lenin: you’ll find his head frozen, like Walt Disney’s (apocryphally), in the ice room inside. The tournaments, however, are as random as the low buy-ins suggest. Tournaments: daily at 10am ($40), 1pm ($60), 3pm ($50), 6pm ($50), 9pm ($60), 11pm ($60).

Click here for the next seven rooms.

Cannes confessions #6: the night time is the right time

21 May

Whoever said “Man cannot live by canapés alone” (they do say that, don’t they?) clearly has never been to the Cannes Film Festival. The place is a ligger’s paradise: every major film-making country has a pavilion, each one hosting receptions; the Croisette beach is lined with party marquees; and that’s without even counting the regular hotel ballrooms and nightclubs.

Veteran Canneites swap tips on how to smuggle extra people in – from walking purposefully past talking the doormen in someone’s slipstream talking into a mobile phone, to getting a stamp on your way out for a cigarette and then pressing it to your friend’s wrist before it’s had time to dry. Director Paul Wiffen, with whom I spent a fair bit of time, is a master of the art, having been to 16 Cannes Festivals. Someone really should ask him to write a book of Cannes Film Festival astuces, as he calls his clever wheezes, so if there are any publishers reading this…

There is truth, however, to the phrase “No such thing as a free lunch.” Every drink must be paid for excruciatingly in speeches, most of them barely audible and in a foreign language. And so I can exclusively report, from the ballroom of the Majestic Hotel with the Princess of Thailand in attendance flanked by kneeling flunkies, the exciting news that Thailand is proud of its film industry; ditto for the Russians; ditto for the Locarno Film Festival. As to the Swiss, for all I know they make atrocious films as efforts to gain access to their woefully disorganised bash on the beach were rebuffed.

The best party I went to was for Four Senses, starring former Miss Switzerland Nadine Vinzens and described by the wonderfully named producer Omar Kaczmarczyk (pronounced “Cash-my-cheque”) as an “eromantic” adventure. (The movie, he clearly believes, is so ground-breaking that it necessitates a whole new word.) Though I am still eager to hear the rest of charismatic director/writer Gabriel Murray’s Hamlet story, as I was called away to dinner too early…

And of course, poker fiend that I am, I couldn’t resist trying out the Croisette Barrière Casino, which a couple of years ago wrested the World Series of Poker Europe away from London’s Empire Casino. The cash games there are brutal, with minimum blinds of 5-10, but I figured it would be a novel way to meet top producers, and so it proved: one ended up sitting to my left.

He was in a foul temper, however, cursing every unlucky break, and in no mood to chat to an aspiring film-maker. My British modesty didn’t help. After I guessed correctly that he was a producer (he had a Festival pass round his neck, and was playing high-stakes poker, so duh), he asked what I did. “I’m a journalist,” I say, “but I also have a film I’ve co-written at the festival.” And then, apologetically – “It’s only a short, playing in the Court Métrage. Gotta start somewhere, I suppose.”

At that, he turned away. I have to learn not to be so bloody British. Still, it meant I felt no guilt when I flopped two pairs to crack his pocket Aces, and he exited soon after, hurling his final chip angrily at the dealer with appallingly bad grace.

So let’s abandon all British reserve now and toot my own horn. The next night I played a 30-person tournament at the casino, and came fourth after eight hours’ play. Not too shabby. Good training for the WSOP Millionaire Maker tournament in Vegas the weekend after this…!

For my recent Cannes despatches, read my first IBT article first, with the opening night gala and towering celebrity tales. Then my tips for festival virgins; hanging with the Bond spoofers; and streakers, lesbian love-ins and Nuke ‘Em High with the Troma crew. Plus picture-gallery here, and my final IBT article, on outrageous Cannes publicity stunts, here

For more about my own film in the Short Film Corner, Colonel Badd, see outtakes here and posters here.

Come back tomorrow for more on Cannes.