As I entered the fabled Mecca of high stakes poker, Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas, a few of the players in the poker lounge looked puzzled. They had never seen me on TV or playing in high stakes games around town. So, what was I doing there? The story begins earlier in the week when I attended the two-day World Poker Tour Boot Camp. I’ve played poker since I was an early teen and I’m convinced that gambling is in my DNA. My Mom and her sisters were serious card players; an uncle was a regular “guest of the casino” in Las Vegas, and my grandmother died at the poker table during her weekly game. When the prospect arose to attend the boot camp to write a story, I jumped at the opportunity.
Hold `em was the focus of the event, which was attended by over 70 people. Our instructors were Linda Johnson (the First Lady of Poker), Kenna James (lead coach) and Jan Fisher, as well as Nick Brancato and Rick Fuller, co-authors of the course. The content included theory, calculating pot odds and old-fashioned advice from the pros. Both days incorporated lectures, Q & A, betting strategies and playing time; all focused on winning, whether in a casino, online or at home games. The teachers were knowledgeable, and the workbook well written and easy to follow. The biggest challenge for me was to break old habits in order to execute newly learned skills.
For my overnight stay, I split my time between the classy Bellagio, host hotel to many of the WPT tournaments, and its sister property, the exciting MGM Grand. Access to Bobby’s Room, where the minimum buy-in is $20,000, was one of the perks of being a writer. With the help of Scott Ghertner, PR guru for the parent company MGM-Mirage, I was able to interview Doug Dalton, who runs the poker operation at Bellagio. Doug was raised in Las Vegas (his mother was a showgirl) and is a well-known and highly respected member of the gambling community. Bobby’s Room was named as a tribute to Bobby Baldwin, the 1978 World Series of Poker Champion. On any given day, highly recognizable top players can be seen at one its two tables where some of the highest limit poker games in the world are hosted. While I was there, noted pro Eli Elezra walked in to say hello.
Bobby’s Room, the Mecca of high stakes poker in Las Vegas.
During our conversation, Doug reflected on the changes in poker from seven card stud, the game of choice until the mid-1990’s, to the current popularity of Hold `em. The phenomenal growth of poker was fueled by the invention of the “pocket” or “hole card” camera by Henry Orenstein. His creation allowed poker to become a worldwide spectator sport. As a result, TV networks now broadcast games regularly, professional and home-game players have multiplied exponentially, the number of tournaments has exploded, poker books have become best sellers, and millions of dollars are bet online weekly.
The Internet has made it possible to play hundreds of more games in online sessions than in a live setting. What has evolved is a new generation of players, including our instructor Nick Brancato who, in a few short years, has played more hands of poker than the legendary Doyle Brunson has over his entire career. As we were finishing our conversation, I asked Doug for poker advice. He smiled and said “Never sit at a table where five guys are wearing hats; it’s going to be a very tough game.” So noted.
IF YOU GO
Once you’ve stayed at the Bellagio, it is easy to understand how it has earned a AAA Five Diamond rating for eight consecutive years. Where else can one find a conservatory and botanical garden in the lobby? Or, an 8.5 acre lake featuring over 1,200 dancing fountains? Their Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts exhibits work by some of the world’s most influential and renowned artists. The resort features luxurious rooms, a spa, fitness center, shops, access to championship golf, Cirque du Soleil, nightclubs, lounges and bars plus five pools. For dining, don’t miss Sensi or Yellowtail. Go online, http://www.bellagio.com, for specials or call 1-888-987-6667 for reservations.
The high energy MGM Grand has earned the AAA Four Diamond Award for the past two years, quite a feat for a hotel with over 5,000 rooms. There is a spa, shopping arcade, five pools spread over 6+ acres, nightclubs, bars and lounges and a live lion exhibit. It features a Cirque du Soleil show along with the Crazy Horse Paris Review, as well as over 15 restaurants. Don’t miss Fiamma Trattoria’s seasonal tasting menu. Also worth mentioning is that the MGM Grand is a stop on the monorail system connecting the Strip to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Look for packages online at http://www.mgmgrand.com or call 1-877-880-0880.
These placards go on the poker table to remind the players of the game they are playing (Bobby’s Room)
Transportation opportunities abound in town. Here are a few that saved me time and money: I took a shuttle to the Convention Center from the airport ($6); the monorail to the MGM Grand ($5); and the Deuce Bus to the WPT Boot Camp in downtown Las Vegas from the Bellagio ($7 roundtrip). Of course, taxis and limos are also available. Find out more through the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority online at http://www.visitlasvegas.com or call 1-877-VISIT LV (847-4858).
If you want to further develop your poker game, the WPT Boot Camp is the place for you. For information, look online at http://www.wptbootcamp.com or call 1-866-978-2668. Note that there are both cash game and tournament camps. You will “graduate” a better player!