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19 July 2016
By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS – Ten random thoughts, observations and takeaways after spending a week in Las Vegas covering the World Series of Poker Main Event, while attempting to rehydrate and readjust to life without watching 10 hours of poker a day:
10. July in Vegas isn't so bad
Yes, it's hot. Make that blazing hot. The thermometer regularly tops 100 degrees, and you will even break a sweat as you're walking back to your hotel after midnight. Having said all that, it's more than bearable, if you are smart about it.
First off, your airfare and hotel rates will most likely be considerably lower than at other times, so you can save money getting there and staying there. Secondly, if you plan your days and nights accordingly, you can still enjoy the city and not suffer heatstroke. Look, this isn't the time of year to be on The Strip for three hours in the middle of the day downing those huge slushy boozed-infused Eiffel Tower drinks. During the day, you need to either be inside the casino or taking advantage of some of the most entertaining and diverse resort pool complexes in the world. At night, get out and enjoy the city and its many offerings (a few of which are described below) and, above all, dress for the weather. For the majority of venues, it's OK to go with shorts and flip-flops for guys, and I saw plenty of women in casual sundresses or other forms comfortable clothing.
My favorite time of year to visit Las Vegas remains the fall (mostly because of my penchant for watching and betting on football), but summer in Las Vegas isn't nearly as insufferable as some may make you think it is.
9. Topgolf Las Vegas is the real deal
Call me a cynic, but when something immediately receives over-the-top hype and publicity, I always wonder if it's too good to be true. That's certainly not the case with the new Topgolf Las Vegas, which opened in May to rave reviews. I was fortunate enough to discover last week that the accolades are well deserved.
We will have more to report on in the coming weeks about my visit to the largest Topgolf franchise in the U.S., which sits behind the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, but for now let's leave it at this: If you are in Vegas, make every effort to hit this one-of-a-kind venue, whether you are a die-hard golfer or have never swung a golf club in your life. It's a blast.
8. UFC is king
This may not be news to many of you, since the UFC has been soaring in popularity for some time now. But for those of you who have been "fighting" the surge of mixed martial arts as a mainstream sport, you need to be in Las Vegas during a UFC event.
Last Saturday afternoon as I walked The Strip, UFC 200 had literally taken over the city. It seemed like no matter where you went or who you spoke to, the only thing on anyone's mind was the event going down at the new T-Mobile Arena. The cheapest ticket at the box office or on the street was around $450, and bars up and down The Strip were getting as much as $200 a head for viewing parties — and most of them were sold out.
I also spoke to a few sportsbook directors, and they said that a UFC event is now attracting as much action as an NFL game on an average Sunday in the fall. This would have been mind-boggling for me to comprehend before last weekend. But after seeing the madness that surrounds Las Vegas on a UFC fight night, I now realize it's the reality.
7. Outdoor venues are worthy additions
I've always been a person who prefers to be outside when the weather permits, especially when in Las Vegas. People-watching on The Strip is one of my favorite pastimes, but it can often get too crowded, and there are some sections that are a little bit too grimy to spend an extended period of time.
There are, however, two new outdoor entertainment districts just off The Strip that provide a much-needed alterative. The Park opened in April and serves as a grand entrance walkway to the new T-Mobile Arena. The MGM Resorts International creation connects the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts, and the restaurants all offer outdoor seating. I especially enjoyed Beerhaus because of the live music and the Happy Hour special of $4 chicken sandwiches and beers from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. The aesthetics are also very cool, particularly the 100-foot waterfall wall at the entrance that definitely serves as an enticement to stroll off The Strip and into the area, and the Bliss Dance statue, a 40-foot-tall sculpture of a dancing woman.
As much as I enjoyed The Park, in my mind, The LINQ Hotel & Casino Promenade — a 20-minute walk down The Strip — is even more diverse and entertaining. There are 40 shops and restaurants in this 200,000-square-foot area, and the centerpiece is the High Roller, the 550-foot observation wheel that has become a staple on The Strip. I caught the Rusted Root–Toad the Wet Sprocket show at the new Brooklyn Bowl, an intimate music setting that holds 2,000-plus and also features a restaurant and 32 bowling lanes, and it was one of the better music venues I've experienced.
6. Watching "The Bust"
OK, let's get to the WSOP, the main reason for my visit. As I wrote last week, if you are any kind of a poker fan, you simply need to get out to Las Vegas and attend the World Series of Poker.
One of the reasons I cited was that it's truly entertaining to be around masses of people who are checking off a bucket list item and competing in the WSOP Main Event. On the opposite end, however, is being there when someone's dream is crushed. I always tell my kids that the best test of someone's character is how they act when things go bad. It's probably very easy to smile and ham it up for the cameras when you've got a big chip stack in front of you, but you show your true colors when your aces get cracked and you suddenly go from living a dream to going bust. And believe me, you see all kinds of different reactions when this happens.
I give tons of credit to those who handle it with class, and I'm happy to report that was the large majority. After the initial shock, they slowly get up from their seat, gather their belongings and then shake everyone's hand at the table, wishing them all luck. Then they make that slow walk out of the room. Perhaps nobody coped with his departure this year better than 2016 Bubble Boy Adam Furgatch. Others don't manage the situation as well. I saw a handful of players simply get up, shout a few expletives as loud as possible and then storm out of the Amazon Room. Some would blame the dealer, or give a dirty look to the player responsible for knocking them out, refusing to give any credit or take any of the blame.
It's an intriguing and fascinating thing to witness in person, and hopefully if I ever get the chance to play on poker's biggest stage, I'll learn from the people I saw act like jackasses upon their elimination and respect the game and my opponents with a graceful exit.
5. Watching "The Grind"
This is the biggest takeaway a first-time spectator will receive from watching a big-time poker event in person. Playing poker is an absolute grind.
Now, I'm certainly not trying to compare poker to playing three sets on the sweaty grass courts at Wimbledon or the physical toll it takes to suit up for an NFL game. But I don't think the average person who became a fan of poker by watching it on TV realizes what it's like to play your way through a Main Event field. We're talking 10-plus hours a day, sitting at a table, trying to remain sharp, knowing that a single misstep or mistake in judgement could cost you your tournament life. You could go 90 minutes without seeing any decent hole cards. You have to deal with all kinds of personalities at the table — both good and bad — and if you start doing well, you have to be able to manage yourself and your demeanor in front of an audience and/or the ESPN cameras.
Even though there's not much actual activity to the game, playing poker at this level takes a dramatic physical and mental toll on the participants, and it's never more evident than when you get a front row seat for the "action."
4. "Old school" players are more entertaining
Maybe this observation is a sign of my age more than anything, but as a rule, the veteran pro poker players are, by far, more engaging and more interesting to watch than the younger generation.
Love him or hate him, Phil Hellmuth is fun to watch. Same goes for Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, Michael Mizrachi and Joe Hachem. Let's face it: Poker isn't a great spectator sport, but these guys are all personable and genuinely seem to enjoy being at the poker table. They'll chat up their opponents or the dealer. They'll discuss hands. They'll make you want to keep watching.
As great a player as Fedor Holz is, he's not there to entertain. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Fedor has won in the vicinity of $18 million over the last 14 months, so he owes an apology to no one, but he and many of the other rising stars in the game are simply not as captivating as the older players.
And here's a theory as to why. Walk around the WSOP and watch the players. More than 80% of them (admittedly an impetuous calculation because I didn't do any hardcore research) have their iPhone or mobile device sitting in front of them. As soon as they fold their hand or the dealer is shuffling, the table goes silent and the players are on their phones texting, tweeting, e-mailing, or in some cases, playing another game. Before the proliferation of cell phones, players had nothing else to do but talk to their tablemates and discuss everything from the last hand to where they went the night before. Yeah, I know I sound like your grandfather, but allowing poker players to use their cell phones has definitely inhibited the conversation level at the table.
3. Jason Somerville is the exception
Admittedly, this whole "poker ambassador" thing is overblown. Players like Negreanu and Mike Sexton, who is literally known as "The Ambassador of Poker," don't come along too often, and many players — including the reigning WSOP Main Event champ — have zero interest in being that guy.
Somerville is different. Unlike the younger players I referred to above, the 29-year-old PokerStars.com Pro and founder of the hit live stream series on Twitch "Run It UP" has "it." I got a chance to watch him at the poker table during the Main Event and as he sat on a PokerStars-sponsored panel about online poker, and I came away not surprised at just how popular he has become. Somerville is knowledgeable, opinionated, well-spoken and approachable. Oh, and he's also a pretty damn good player, as seen by his five WSOP cashes this summer and his overall $3.6 million in live career earnings.
If the game of poker — and more specifically online poker in the U.S. — is looking for a face of the game, Somerville is an obvious choice.
2. WSOP.com review
I haven't played online poker since "Black Friday," so it was a true pleasure for me to download the WSOP.com - Nevada app on my phone and indulge during my free time in Las Vegas.
The pros of online poker are obvious. You don't have to be sitting at a poker table to play poker. You can play in your hotel room, while sitting at the pool, or in the sportsbook as you watch multiple games on TV (yes, I did all three). The games are fast, there are options to sit down in micro stakes all the way up to large stakes, and there's a regular schedule of tournaments. The WSOP.com poker rooms are a custom version of the 888 Poker software, and I found them to be clean and user-friendly, as was the deposit and withdrawal process. It's definitely something I will partake in every time I travel to Nevada going forward.
The cons, of course, are also obvious. Sometimes the online poker game goes too fast for a sometimes-slow poker mind like yours truly. There are times when the pot has been scooped and the next hand is being dealt before I could even decipher who won and why. And there's nothing that can replace the feeling of real chips in your hands and the ability to watch and read your opponents' face and mannerisms.
1. Poker and sports betting, but no DFS
This is not news to anyone who's been following the trials and tribulations of the daily fantasy sports industry over the past year, but the ban on DFS in the state of the Nevada is mind-boggling.
Think about it. I can travel to Las Vegas from my home in Boston and download multiple sportsbook mobile apps and then proceed to legally wager on everything from the NFL and NBA to UFC and the PGA TOUR from the comfort of my hotel room bed, or as I wait in line for the VooDoo Zipline at the Rio.
I can download the WSOP.com app on my phone and play in a $2-$4 no-limit game or "sit down" in a $50 sit-and-go as I sip a cocktail with a little umbrella in it at the pool bar, or while I ride the High Roller over The Strip.
But last Wednesday morning when I tried to log into my DraftKings account to join a British Open tournament, I was locked out because of the DFS ban in Nevada.
It's downright baffling and it has to be rectified, hopefully sooner rather than later.
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