Sunday, May 13, 2007

Summer Concerts

This is going to be an awesome summer for music. I have tickets for 3 concerts this summer.

First up is Chris Cornell May 31 at City Hall. I have been a huge fan of Chris since I first heard Soundgarden back in 1990. He has continued to make great music as a solo artist and in Audioslave (Soundgarden was much better though). He has left Audioslave and has another solo album coming out. Should be a great show.

Next is Rush in Atlanta on June 13. Since Starwood has closed, there's no amphitheater here, so Rush isn't coming to Nashville on this tour like they usually do. So I am taking Alec, who is a huge Rush fan and has never seen them live, and a friend of his to Atlanta to see them.

And to finish up the summer, I'm going to Cleveland, OH to see Dream Theater on August 11. I've been a fan of theirs since 1992. I've never seen them live, since they never come to Nashville. I am very excited about this show. Alec and a lot of his friends love DT also. I bought the tickets on the spur of the moment because I happened to check on them right after they went on sale and had the opportunity to get pretty good seats. We'll be in about the 30th row, right in the center in front of the mixing board (which is typically where the best sound is). I bought the tickets just a couple of days before Alec's birthday, so they were part of his present. I printed a map with the route from Nashville to Cleveland, then pasted Dream Theater's logo above Cleveland. I handed that to Alec at his party. It took him a few seconds to figure out what it was. A friend of his was looking over his shoulder and I could see his reaction when he recognized what it was. I did tell Alec that since the concert is 2 days after my birthday, he had to buy me a t-shirt at the show.

Counting Cards (sub story from Vegas story part 2)

This is a sub-story to my Vegas story. I had a brief encounter with a guy I'm pretty sure was counting cards.

Now, I've always been interested in the odds and the math behind games (not just card games). So naturally, I'm interested in card counting. One of the great things about blackjack is that it is one of the only games in Vegas that has a memory. I have argued several times with a friend about probability and independent events. His idea on roulette was to watch the history and if several reds had hit, to bet on black. But each spin of the wheel is independent from the last spin. The same with dice. If I flip a coin 1 time, the probability of it landing on heads is 50%. If I flip it 10 times and it lands on tails all 10 times, what is the probability of the next flip being heads? It's still 50%. While I was playing roulette one day (and yes, even though I know it's mathematically inconsisitent, I still found myself watching the history and betting based on the past ), I saw 5 numbers in a row hit in the 30s and it hit 33 twice in a row during that run. That seems improbable, but statistically, it was just as likely to hit 33 the 2nd time as it was the 1st time.

My encounter with the assumed counter was during my Monday night blackjack marathon. It was early in the night because I was still sitting in the middle of the table. This Asian guy was standing behind us just watching the game. There were open seats, but he didn't want to play. He just stood and watched, he didn't seem to know anyone at the table. About 3/4 through the shoe, he decides to sit down. He cashes in a C-note and places all $100 in the circle. Damn, dude is serious. I've seen people do stuff like this before, but they didn't sit down, they walked up put their money down, either lost or won and walked off. Lo and behold, the dealer busts and this guy is $100 richer. His next bet was only $15. Now that's a big change in betting strategy. He lost. Next hand, he lays out $25 and wins. It starts dawning on me that he was back-counting the whole shoe (when you count the cards while not sitting at the table) and he waited til there was a high positive count to sit down. The next hand he lays out $50, I had just won $10, so I left it out there for $20. We both won. He leaves $50 out there, I put out $30 and won. When we finished the shoe, he got up and left. I won about $75 in the 3 or 4 hands where I watched what he bet before making my bet.

The process of counting cards is simple. Statistically, more low cards favors the house while more high cards favor the players. So, you don't actually count the cards that are played (meaning you don't have to know that 4 Kings, 2 fives and 3 10s have shown up), you just keep a running count of the high and low cards. Low cards (2 - 6) are worth +1 point, high cards (10 - Ace) are worth -1 point. 7, 8 and 9s are neutral. When the count is positive, that means it is more likely for high cards to come out, favoring the player. So the idea is to adjust your bet according to the count. If it is negative, you bet the minimum, if it is positive, you bet more ( raising the bet for higher positive counts).

Now, if you go to Vegas and you count the cards down at the table and you are fluctuating your bet drastically based on the count, you will stand out like a turd in a punchbowl. Trust me, they've seen it all before. One of the ways counters have gotten around this is by working in teams. You can have several people sitting at various tables, just betting the minimum and counting. When the count gets high enough, instead of them changing their bet, they signal to a partner and he or she comes in and just starts betting big. Since he hasn't played any other way, it's not as suspicious. When the count goes down, that player leaves.

Welcome Back to Nashvegas (Part 2)

Well, I promised this would be shorter, but I probably lied. This is part 2 of my Vegas trip. If you haven't read it yet, here's Part 1.

Monday, we got up and went to the NAB show that was in Vegas. It's the National Association of Broadcasters and they have everything from radio transmitter stuff to cameras to video editing and a whole lot of other stuff I didn't know anything about. Ace was able to hook Chuck and I up with free passes to go to the trade show floor. We got to check out some really cool shit. Chuck was drooling over some of the DV cameras, we were all drooling over the new Final Cut video editing software from Apple. I've had the bug to buy a Mac for a while and seeing some of the stuff there has made me want one even more.

After our trip to the trade show, I played a little blackjack and when it was time to go to dinner, I was up about $100. We had a hankering for Hooters hot wings, so we walked down the street to the Hooters hotel. As we were walking to the restaurant, we saw another restaurant called Dan Marino's (you know, the former QB of the Dolphins) that was advertising all you can eat ribs for $16.99. Since none of us have ever met a rib we didn't like, we decided to try it out. We ordered some boneless buffalo wings as an appetizer to satisfy our wing craving and then it was on to the ribs. They brought out a plate with a huge rack of ribs and my 2 sides (which were also all you can eat). Damn they were good! There were 3 or 4 sauces on the table also and the whiskey sauce was excellent. We all knocked out our 1st rack and Chuck got another half rack and Ace and I got another 1/4 rack. We were all stuffed. One of the things that made the meal even better was that our waiter, Nick, was one of the best waiters I've ever had. We never had to ask for anything, he was just there with it and he was actually friendly. Not the normal "I'm your waiter and I have to be nice so I get a good tip" friendly. We got the manager over there and complimented both the food and the service. We figured that usually people only comment when they are complaining, so we would share some positive comments.

After dinner, we hung out in the room to let the food digest and I was itching to get back to the blackjack table. This was my last night in Vegas and even though we weren't leaving until after 3 the next afternoon, I knew I wouldn't have much time to play on Tuesday. I headed downstairs around 9:30 and found a good $10 table (the $5 tables are gone after 6 or so) with several people.

Side track: one of the things I enjoy the most about Vegas, and this will probably be a shock to the people who know me, is getting to meet so many different people. There are literally people from all over the world in Vegas. I like talking to people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Ok, back to the action. I sit down at the table and change out a black chip (that's $100 for you non-Vegasy people ). I'm betting the minimum and looking for a cocktail waitress. The first couple of hands are terrible, then I get a pair of 8s. The dealer is showing a 5. You always split Aces and 8s because they both are terrible hands. So I split my 8s (meaning I put down another $10 and have 2 hands). My first 8, I draw a facecard to make 18, so I stay. Next 8, I draw a 3 to make 11. You always double down on 11, unless the dealer is showing an Ace. The dealer is showing a 5, which is a bad card for the dealer (you assume they have a 10 not showing and that they will bust). So I double down the 11, drawing a 6 for a 17. I now have $30 riding on this hand and the dealer is showing a bust card. Everyone else plays, the dealer flips his hole card. A fucking 6. The dealer is sitting there with 11. I know what the next card is before he flips it, a fucking 10. The dealer hit 21, costing me $30. I won the next hand, then got a pair of 7s with the dealer showing a 2. I split and drew a 3 on the first one. Double down. I drew a 10 for a total of 20. Drew a 4 on the next 7, double down. I drew something crappy like a 5. So I have $40 on this hand, dealer flips his hole card, has to keep hitting, he meanders through 5 cards to guessed it: 21. I was down $100 before I even ordered a fucking drink. I cash in another black chip, the cards were just not falling my way. Some people got up and I moved over to the middle of the table (I had been sitting at 1st base). The cards weren't much better.

My second $100 went almost as fast as the 1st. I wasn't happy about it, but it was money I had won the night before and earlier that day, so I hadn't even touched my stake for that day yet. So I pulled another $100 out (this time it was green and made out of paper). Things kind of went back and forth. Then the card counter sat down.

I decided to make this story a separate post because it involves some backstory and a lot of information. See my next post to get the story of the card counter. I'll include the end here so we can continue with the narrative. I had about $125 in front of me when he sat down, when he left, I had about $200.

The guy on 3rd base (the last spot on the table to act, to the far right of the dealer) finally left, so I moved over there. By this time, I had been playing about 2.5 hours and still had the last $100 I had cashed in plus a little more. Considering I lost the first $200 in less than an hour, playing for an hour and a half on the same money was good. People were coming and going at the table, the dealers were changing out every so often for breaks, the waitress was putting orange slices in my screwdrivers, life was good.

There were about 4 of us at the table and this laid back looking Asian guy sat down and threw $100 down. At this point, instead of giving 20 $5 chips for change, they were giving 2 $25 and 10 $5, I guess encouraging us to bet bigger. He lays down $25 and bam, bad cards. About 5 hands later, out comes the wallet, another $100. 7 or 8 hands later, repeat the process. This guy dropped 7 $100 bills on the table in the span of an hour. Then he seemed to hit the spot I was in (I was still playing on the same money) and he didn't have to go into his pocket anymore. We started talking and introduced ourselves. He was from Singapore, there for the NAB show. There was a couple at the table from Chile and the dealer was Armenian.

So, here I am, the hick from Nashville, the only representative of America at the table. It's not like we have a great public image anyway. It's about 1:30 in the morning and I've been drinking screwdrivers as fast as they can bring them. But I am not a sloppy or mean drunk. I'm friendly and when I'm playing cards, especially for that kind of money, I'm very serious, no matter how much alcohol I have. So I'm being nice to everyone and we are all joking around. The Chilean husband was making me nervous because he split 10s several times. He won 2 out of the 3, but it's not a good idea to do it. There's only 1 card that can give you a better hand and if the dealer is showing a low card (which is the only time you would even consider splitting 10s), you will often end up taking their bust card. Anyway, while all this international goodwill is flowing, Mr. Drunk Ass American decides to sit down at our table.

Now, I've been around drunk rednecks, drunk headbangers, drunk black people, drunk geeks, hell even drunk Cajuns. And unfortunately, I've been around the most obnoxious type of drunk there is: the white, upper middle class, middle age business man. That's the tribe this guy belonged to. He sat down right next to me and started playing. At the same time, he started asking where the hell the cocktail waitress was. He said he needed some Maker's Mark. That's red flag #1 that you are dealing with this particular tribe, they refer to what they drink by it's brand name. They wouldn't be caught dead drinking "whiskey" or "vodka" or "tequila", they drink Maker's Mark, Grey Goose and Patron. Now, don't get me wrong, these are good liquors (although I prefer Absolut to Grey Goose), but I'll drink OFC, Smirnoff and Jose Cuervo just as quick.

So Mr. Drunk Ass gets his drink and promptly knocks it over and spills it all over his chips and a few cards. The dealer (Roosevelt from Armenia) was very gracious about it, even though I could tell it pissed him off. The little bits of ice left on the table hadn't even melted before he was loudly saying he needed more Maker's Mark. Yea, that's exactly what you need jackass. Now, when you play at a blackjack table for longer than an hour with the same person or people, there will usually be some sort of comraderie going. If you make a bold move like doubling down on 8 and win, your "friends" will congratulate you, maybe even shake your hand. This guy wanted to shake hands every time we won, no matter what we did. Then his asshole buddies showed up. They were just as drunk and just as obnoxious. They were egging him on to bet more and more and totally disrupting the flow. Finally, they decided they needed to go and hit on a cocktail waitress or something and they all left. I just looked at Vincent (the guy from Singapore) and shrugged trying to say "not all of us are like that".

Shortly after that, the couple from Chile left and it was just Vincent and I against the dealer. We were both still playing on the same money. I would get down to $10 in front of me, then work my way up to $200. We went through several dealers and had a few people sit down for a few minutes, but no one really stayed. Then they raised the minimum to $25, but we could still bet $10 since we had been there. Sometime around 3am, Vincent asked me about tipping the waitresses, he wasn't sure how much to give them. He didn't know if the drinks were free or not. I told him the drinks were free, and that I usually gave the waitress $1 and every 3rd or 4th round give her $2 (or usually $2.50 which is the chip you get if you hit blackjack when playing $5). He offered to tip for the next round (there was 1 other guy at the table at this point). So this started a cycle where we would take turns tipping and we were giving her $5 a trip. I think at one point I gave her $10 because she was putting 2 orange slices in my screwdrivers.

Around 3:30, the dealer said they were going to close the table soon and we would have to move to another table. I started bumping up my bets a little trying to get back as much of my money as I could. A little after 4am, the pit boss said we could play one more shoe and then the were closing the table. After a couple of hands, I was betting $25 or $30 a hand and Vincent was playing 2 hands at $25 or $50 a hand. He was getting pretty good cards, mine were kind blah. I got down to my last $20, got back up to $100, down to $50, up to $150. There were only about 3 or 4 hands left in the shoe and there had been a lot of low cards, so I put $50 down. Won it, bet $50 again, lost. Last hand, I had $50 in front of me. I said fuck it and put it in the circle. Vincent laid out $50 in two different hands. He won both his and I won mine. When he colored up, he had about $600, so he lost $100 over a 4 hour stretch. I lost $200 (which I had actually won previously) over a 6 hour stretch. Even losing that much, I still had a blast and it was cool to play that long and actually close the table down. Once I fell asleep, I woke up around 7am and my hand was making the "stay" motion you make when you don't want anymore cards. I guess I was dreaming about playing blackjack.

The next day we had to pack and get ready to leave. We checked our comps and had free buffet meals, so we had lunch at the buffet, then bought some souveniers for the people back home. I found my way back to a blackjack table, playing single deck. That was fun, I had played single deck either Friday or Saturday night also. Ace joined me for a little while, Chuck came over and watched and reminded us that we had a plane to catch and gave us a deadline. We played just a few minutes past the deadline, headed to the room and headed to the airport.

Last time I came home from Vegas, our plane took off at like 8am, and I had been up til 4 drinking Kamikazis (vodka, triple sec & lime juice) and had eaten nachos sometime during the night. I spent most of the flight trying not to vomit and fighting a headache that felt like kamikazi pilots had flown their planes into my head. I also only had $4 on me.

This time, it was much better, I had a lot more than $4 (even though I had less than I left with) and I wasn't hung over at all. Our flight was later in the afternoon, so we stopped in a airport bar to have a beer. We boarded with the A group this time, so we were all sitting together, I was on the aisle which is so much better than the middle. And I had another little blue friend to help make the flight that much more pleasant. We landed in Nashville at 9:15 and I did get a little worried that they may have lost my luggage. Chuck and Ace got theirs quickly. I waited and waited and didn't see mine, I kept seeing the same bags go by and none of them were mine. Then I spotted my business card on the conveyor belt. I had this thing from work that attaches to your handle and one side had a plastic laminate you put a business card in and then sealed. It makes finding your luggage much easier. Well, I saw the whole tag thing lying on the conveyor belt attached to nothing. Finally, I spotted my bag. Tammy once again transported us home and I tried to go to sleep, since I had to work the next day and knew I wouldn't be adjusted back to Central time. But, I had a hell of a time going to sleep.

Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Welcome Back to Nashvegas (Part 1)

This was actually written almost a month ago, I just haven't gotten around to posting it. I was in Las Vegas April 12 - 17. This is the account of my trip. Names have not been changed to protect the guilty or innocent.

I think I'm finally back on Central Standard time and mostly rehydrated. 6 days in Vegas can be hard on your body and mind. Everyone's first question is always "did you win anything?" No, I didn't. But I didn't do too bad, I think the money the casino took from just barely covered the tequila and vodka bill. I rationed my money out so that I had the same amount to gamble on each day. 2 days I ended up with more than I started, 1 day I broke even and the other 3 days I lost. BUT, I ended each day with at least some of my gambling money left over. Did I have a good time? Hell yea.

We left Nashville Thursday afternoon after being driven to the airport by Tammy's Taxi (thanks Tammy!). I love to fly, but I hate to be close to my fellow man like you are on a crowded flight. Luckily my doctor understood and gave me a prescription for my flights. Unfortunately, I needed it. We (Ace, Chuck and me) had made sure to check in for our flight exactly 24 hours before the flight so we'd be in the A group (if you've ever flown Southwest, you know what I'm talking about). Well, after going through the security (the illusion of security) checkpoint, we stopped and got a pizza and a beer. By the time we got over to the gate, the flight was boarding and we were pretty close to the last people on the plane. I ended up in the middle seat between two guys who weren't talkative. I didn't mind as I left my sunglasses on, put on my headphones with some Pearl Jam and opened up a book. With the help of my doctor's little blue friend, I fell asleep after takeoff but before the plane even leveled out.

Chuck won the "fastest way to lose $20 in Vegas" award. We got out of the taxi at the hotel and he pulled some money out of his pocket to tip the cabbie. It was very windy and we were under a covered driveway, which acted as a wind tunnel. I caught site of a $20 bill flying off about 10 feet in the air. I swear I saw Andrew Jackson waving as it fluttered off. Chuck went to look for it, but it was long gone. Somewhere on the vast Internet, someone is posting a blog right now about how they were in Vegas and a $20 bill just flew right into their hands.

We got settled in and went to eat at the buffet at Excaliber (where we stayed). It was the first of several trips to that buffet and the first 2 lbs that I gained for the trip. Great food and there is so much variety, you have to eat some of all of it. We then retired to the roulette table and did ok. I walked away with about $30. We then went to the Keno lounge.

The Keno lounge is infamous in my circle of friends. This is due to several reasons. 1) Keno is the slowest paced game in Vegas. There is one game every 5 or 10 minutes. 2) You can bet as little as $1 per game. 3) They still bring you drinks while you are playing this slow paced game. 4) You don't even really have to play to get drinks. Just play once or twice and then keep the slips of paper on your table and look like you are playing. Tip your waitress well and you will be hammered in no time. 5) All of this adds up to a hilarious story that happened on a previous Vegas trip that I cannot relate here because what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. ANYWAY, the Keno lounge has become the last stop of the night for our crew. The first night went very well, we played a few games and then all 3 of us played the same numbers (the numbers on the outside edge) and hit for $25. We decided to leave while we were ahead.

Ace was actually in Vegas for work, he was going to classes and the NAB show. Friday, Chuck and I walked with him over to the MGM Grand so he could catch the monorail. Chuck stopped by his personal slot machine and won back the $20 that floated away the day before. They had told me all these stories about how they constantly would win money from this particular machine. Since it seemed to be in the mood to hand out money, I stuck $20 in. I actually won $12 my first spin, but Chuck had as well and he had pressed on and eventually won about $20. So I pressed on. Roughly 45 seconds later, my $20 was gone. It just confirmed my hatred of slot machines.

Chuck and I wanted to see Grindhouse and since spending $7.50 for 3 hours of entertainment is hard to come by in Vegas, a movie sounded like a good idea. So we took off down the street where Chuck said the theater was "right down there." There was a sign with the movie times over one of the buildings and he remembered that you had to walk down a side street and the theater was behind a building. We looked and walked and walked and looked. We finally decided we must have passed it and turned around. As we were walking back, we noticed the sign that we had walked right by close enough to touch. The one that was at eye level, about 5 feet high and 40 feet long and said "Some name Theater Now Open" and had ginormous arrows pointing down the street. We followed the arrows and sure enough, there was the theater. After the movie, Chuck and I stopped at this cantina we had spotted on the way to the theater. We got a margarita which was awesome. Of course, it cost $9.50, so it should be.

That night, we all decided we wanted to get drunk. We had drank Thursday, but just a bit. After dinner, we decided to walk to the liquor store. It was much further than it looked. Since I had been drinking margaritas that day, I bought some tequila and margarita mix. We hung out in the room for a bit and drank and then went down for more roulette and Keno. We accomplished our mission to get hammered. At some point in the night, I was having a very raunchy conversation via text messages with a certain someone here. As I told her (to explain my willingness to say anything), I had drank so much tequila that I could now speak Spanish.

The next morning, I was amazed. I had no hangover whatsoever. I've never drank that much tequila and not woken up with at least a headache. I also realized that I had been in Vegas for 2 days and had yet to play a hand of blackjack, which is pretty much the only game I like playing in Vegas (liking keno has nothing to do with the game itself). So that afternoon, I setup camp at one of the tables. I switched back to screwdrivers (my regular drink of choice). I played for several hours and stayed about even money-wise.

I had seen a TV show about the Freemont Street Experience and really wanted to go. Tammy and John had went when they were in Vegas and said it was a must-see. So, we mixed some drinks to go and caught The Deuce (a double-decker bus). Our driver was officially the grumpiest man in Las Vegas and he honked and maneuvered the bus between cars so close that I couldn't see pavement between the bus and the cars. We talked to a woman from Greece on the bus and she was very nice and after listening to her description of Greece, I am ready to go. There was also an older woman on the bus who's son is a police officer in Hendersonville. I told her that he has probably given me a ticket at some point. We finally made it to Freemont Street in one piece. My first order of business was to secure orange juice and vodka. Ace kept talking about eating dinner, obviously ignoring priorities. Of course, he still had some of his drink since it was in a 10 gallon cup. One of the great things about Vegas is that you can buy just about anything in just about any store. We went into a store that within the first 10 feet of the door had 1) souvenier t-shirts 2) cokes/water/orange juice (woohoo, we're halfway there) 3) poker chips 4) chips and last, but definitely not least, bottles and bottles of liquor. So I purchased a 20 oz orange juice and a half pint of Skyy. NOW, we can find dinner. After watching one of the overhead video shows, we ended up at Binion's having a great steak dinner that was $6.99. We all upgraded with a salad and clam chowder. I had gone out on a limb ordering the chowder, since I have a hard and fast rule about eating soups I can't see through. I dislike opaque soups. But this stuff was awesome. I'm now rethinking my soup transparancy scale.

After dinner, I made 2 drinks with my OJ and vodka. I poured half the OJ in a glass and about 1/4 of the vodka. that was an average screwdriver. I then poured the remaining vodka into the 1/2 empty OJ bottle. That wasn't a screwdriver, it was a fucking hammer. By the time we made it back to The Deuce, I was doing great. Since a co-worker of mine has several inside jokes about "The Deuce", I thought he would find it humorous that I was riding on a bus called that. So I text messaged him letting him know I was riding "The Deuce." It was somewhere around 12:30am in Las Vegas. Which made it 2:30am here. I didn't get a reply til morning (surprise). He correctly guessed that I was "hammered" because I misspelled "duece" and didn't message again to correct it (I'm a stickler about spelling).

Part 2 coming soon. I promise it will be shorter.