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VP AND ME DO LV--PART ONE By Terry Murphy and MATROS' MAKING OF A POKER PLAYER LEADS THE WAY, Book reviews by Howard Schwartz (Manager of the Gambler's Book Shop in Las Vegas)


By Terry Murphy

"I just flew in from Las Vegas and boy are my arms tired. "Bud-Dumph!"

Las Vegas is not real. It's just one humongous spectacular action movie set where the actors and actresses are you and me, only we don't get paid, we pay them! But we do get a few perks in the form of food comps and cash backs from the casinos, which seems to satisfy most visitors who gamble there.

So, why do people keep going back time after time and spending all that money? I think it's because our normal lives are so hum-drum and routine for most of us, that we're willing to pay almost anything to escape for a while and pretend to be someone special, just like the movie stars that we see on the big screen and in the news everyday. And the casinos are more than willing to help us in this "I'm a VIP" charade just as long as we keep gambling and spending our money.

My trip, last fall, was no different. From the minute I arrived until the minute I left, I felt like this wonderfully, overstated, gaudy town was created just for me for my own private use. As I wandered around the streets in and out of casinos each day, oohing and aahing and sampling the culinary and liquid delights with my wife Dolores and friends, I took notes and finally, with the help of old VP Pappy, I've gotten around to putting them together for this accounting:

"Las Vegas is also a cultural center, featuring extravagant theatrical productions in which world-class performers express the artistic concept: "Get a load of those hooters."

--Dave Barry

"Las Vegas encourages the illusion that adults can act like children and be excused from the consequences."

--Hal Rothman

It's 2:00 a.m. and Dolores, VP Pappy, ( my unseen mentor and best friend) and I are up and running. Were packing our bags and checking them twice. We're gonna find out whose casino is naughty or nice cause VP Pappy's coming to town. "Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas everyone!" Wait a minute, I think I'm getting off track here. It's not Christmas yet, and I'm not Santa Clause, even though I'm getting a pot belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly and my hair is turning gray from all those losing streaks playing video poker, and I do need a shave, and... Where was I? Oh, yes, We're catching a plane for Vegas in a couple of hours and I'm all pumped up.

After taking our charted bus to the airport with some friends from the Rochester Elk's here in Michigan, our group of Nick The Greek wanabees, boarded our plane and headed for "Sin City" to do some sinning of our own. During the three and a half hour flight and squeezed between Dolores and some guy wearing headphones eating what looked like bird seed out of a large plastic bag, I was cramped and bored, although I did have a gourmet meal provided by the airline, consisting of a cup of Pepsi and a tiny bag of pretzels. To break the monotony, I decided to ask the stewardess some very technical questions about the plane. "Miss," I asked, "What are those long pointy things sticking out the sides there outside the window?" "Those would be the wings, sir." She said sweetly. "Oh, and what is that roaring noise I keep hearing from somewhere?" I asked again. "Those would be the engines, sir" she answered a little less sweetly. "And why are those...?" She quickly turned and ran to the back of the plane and never talked to me again for the rest of the flight. I figured she must of been very busy and had a lot work to do. After all that complicated technical stuff, I was all worn out and slept most of the way there.

As we got closer to Las Vegas, I glanced out the window and noticed how bleak and barren the landscape looked. It reminded me of the pictures that the Mars' Rovers were sending back from the Red Planet. But as we got even closer, all that begin to change. Patches of green started to appear here and there in the shape of fairways and greens on golf courses, then the housing developments, and finally Las Vegas itself. As we touched down at McCarron International Airport, I'm sure all the passengers thought; "Look out Vegas, here come some more winners!" And I'm sure that all the plane personnel thought; "Look out Vegas, here come some more losers!"

"Losing like death, is never convenient."

--VP Pappy

"If nothing else, you have to admire a loser's consistency."

--VP Pappy

After collecting our bags and an unusually long delay waiting with some friends while they got their rental car from Alamo, we made our way to our hotel/casino on the strip. At the Flamingo, our rooms were ready, which at 10:00 a.m. was a nice surprise. The only problem was that it was on the twelfth floor and it took at least five minutes of walking through the halls to get to it. I thought of renting a couple of those little scooters that the handicapped people use to get around with, but figured maybe it was a good thing as we could use the exercise each day.

Lunch was at Lindy's in the Flamingo where I had a huge plate of fresh fruit and yogurt, followed by Dolores playing da slots and I played video poker. Although the Flamingo doesn't have a great inventory of video poker, playing for quarters even on a 98% pay back machine isn't going to hurt you all that much if you don't play it too long. In the short term, anyone can get lucky at any game they play. But play a lousy paying game thousands and thousands of hands and the losses can really start to add up. The outcome was that Dolores won a couple of hundred and I lost a few bucks.

Around 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon and with the temperature in the nineties, I decided that we should walk to the Rio from the Flamingo. Yes, I know you regulars in Vegas must be chuckling at that, but I could see the Rio from our hotel room window and it didn't look all that far. So off we went, hell bent on a mission that I would soon regret. We walked and we walked over hot concrete coals, I mean sidewalks, and we sweated and we sweated. Through construction sites. Across expressways, highways, and byways. Over bridges and ramps. By the time we got there we were beat and Dolores was not to pleased with my decision. At this point we were in need of some liquid replenishment. A couple of cold beers at one of Rio's bars did the trick for me, and a large rum and Coke did it for Dolores.

"There are people whose sole job is to design casinos, from the carpet colors to the type of lights to the slot-chair upholstery. The mission is always the same--seduce the player into leaving his previous life behind, abandoning whatever constraints his real life imposes, trick him into gladly and happily shoveling his money into casino vaults."

--Barry Meadow

During the walk, the thing that struck me as being really weird, (only in Vegas) was all these card-sized pictures of mostly naked women lying all over the sidewalks and stuck in the fences along the way. I guess they were advertising some kind of escort services. Wink. Wink. VP said to me that it felt like he was walking through a porno snowstorm with these huge fleshy flakes covering the ground. I started singing, "Dashing through the porn in an one-horse open sleigh, or'e the porn we go sweating all the way. Oh jingle bells, jingle bells dee dee dee dee dee." Dolores did not see the humor in this.

At the Rio, Dolores went off and played her usual slots again and I sat at the bar and played another poor paying vp game of some kind and won a few bucks when I got a quad. When Dolores came back, she said she hit something or other on a Double Diamond machine for another $300 and then proceeded to hit a straight flush playing dollar video poker for $250 more. So far Dolores is up about $700 and the trip has just begun. Good for her as she has taken some big hits over the years playing those metal, money munching, monsters of financial mayhem.

Next, we headed for the Rio buffet to meet "The Frugal Gambler" herself, Jean Scott and husband Brad for dinner. Jean is the author of several top-selling books on getting the most out of the casinos. We had talked on the phone earlier and she offered to pick up the tab for the meal on her comps of which I suspect she has tons of. It was fine with me as I never look a comped meal in the mouth or pass on a chance to spend some time conversing with a couple of nice people like Jean and Brad.

"Gamblers everywhere are eating better these days; even the buffets--some of which barely used to count as edible--are serving top-notch nosh."

--Buster Phillips

"The comps and the food that's being served in the casinos are making it impossible for non-gambling food outlets to operate."

--Thomas Grey

Stay tuned for PART TWO



 By Howard Schwartz

Mark Matros plays well and writes well. His new poker book, The Making of a Poker Player: How An Ivy League Math Geek Learned to Play Championship Poker (286 pages, paperbound, $14.95) is a new arrival at Gambler's Book Shop along with Glenn McDonald's Deal Me In! Online Cardrooms, Big-Time Tournaments, & the New Poker (254 pages, paperbound, $19.99) and The Russ Bailey Guide to Limit Texas Hold 'em Poker by Dan Krier (100 pages, paperbound, $8.95).

Matros, who has won more than a half-million dollars on the World Poker Tour, finished third in the World Poker Tour Championship in 2004 is a Yale University graduate with a degree in mathematics. (He is working on his second poker book and a novel.)

"My passion for poker has allowed me to make money and travel the country meeting intelligent players of all kinds--old and young. ...This book tries to create the same passion for the reader, and allow him or her to become a winning player," Matros says.

This is a strategy book through and through. The first five chapters teaches the basics. These are followed by instructions on how a beginner should approach the game. In this section, Matros also explains how a tournament works and how new players can survive. Using his own experiences, explains the differences between limit- and no-limit play, how to set up a home game and how to interpret opponents' body language. He moves into intermediate play strategy, then follows with more advanced material including game theory; hand analysis, online poker and how to learn from losing.

This smooth-reading, fact-packed, thinking-man's guide to hold'em reflects the energy and love for the game that many player-writers have difficulty relating. Matros succeeds. He is familiar with other poker books and authors, their style of writing and playing, their attitude toward the game and how the game is ever-changing. You'll like this book and learn from it. Kensington Books published it at a marvelous price.

Deal Me In! by McDonald focuses on online poker in 18 chapters, most of which are geared to this form of Internet wagering. For the beginner, it's a must-read, to prepare, hone skills and to answer a truckload of questions regarding tournaments; the types of games played; setting up accounts; table etiquette.

Interspersed with charts, tables, cartoons, illustrations and quotes, the advice is both informative and entertaining. Poker terms are explained, samples of what you can expect to see when playing online are shown and it's a smooth read from start to finish.

The Russ Bailey Guide to Limit Texas Hold 'em Poker by Krier is dedicated to an old-time player (Bailey, who died in 2003) who taught the author a good deal of what he knows today.

This is not as fancy book but it's well priced and packed from cover to cover with advice and strategy for the player who already knows the basics but needs some "filling in" type of tutoring.

The book contains major sections on pocket card ranks; game play and advanced strategies and bluffing. This is a book which directs its attention not only to what's important, but why it's important to make certain moves.

(The books mentioned here are available from Gambler's Book Shop, 630 South 11th Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101. Call l-800-522-1777 from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday Pacific time to order, using only MasterCard, VISA or Discover card (no Amex accepted). You may order through the store web site at www.gamblersbook.com and view the store's 1,000 books, videos and computer software. You may also call or write and ask for the free 80-page catalog to be sent to you. The store, founded in 1964 by John and Edna Luckman, is located about two miles from Downtown Las Vegas, and the same distance from where the Strip begins, a block west of Maryland Parkway, just off Charleston Boulevard.)