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"Then find a poker room where there's a lot of young people drinking a lot and making a lot of noise. I recommend Hooters."
My cultural aesthetic standards are pretty low when it comes to Vegas. But that low? I was so resistant to the notion of Hooters that I slowly worked my way down the Strip sampling other rooms.
The posh poker palace inside the Venetian has high, recessed ceilings, ornate chandeliers and sand-colored felt on the tables -- all of which reeked luxury. I bought in for $100 worth of chips in the no-limit $1 to $2 game and soon found a rich mix of players. Unskilled tourists, some seasoned locals and a few who, without a doubt, were pros. No thanks.
Next, I tried the room at the aging Riviera that was, in reality, just a roped-off space inside the larger casino. A friendly game with lots of player bonuses for good hands, but not much excitement. By midnight, I had succumbed to temptation, braced myself and strolled into Hooters on the southern end of the Strip, just across from the MGM Grand. Truth is, compared with the sea of kitsch around it, the Vegas Hooters isn't that bad. OK, I actually liked it.
And Ruhlmann was spot-on about Pete's Poker Room inside. Tiny, with only three tables and its knotty pine walls, plywood floors and bright yellow table felt, the room seemed more like an adolescent clubhouse. The noise coming from the adjoining sports bar was ear-splitting. Just as Ruhlmann predicted, the younger players at the table, all wearing caps and shades, were more interested in slugging back another round of brewskis and cheering the basketball game on the bar TVs than they were in their hands.
Twice as old as the average player there, I put my shades and cap back on, slowly -- very slowly -- nursed a Bud and bought in for another $100. Well, move over Johnny Chan! I was immediately on a roll, stacking and racking up the chips, playing my rush and getting reckless: going all-in on marginal hands such as small pocket pairs and A-9. And winning. It's easy when everyone is a worse player than you.
Well, not everyone. I soon realized that as different players busted out and new ones cycled into the nine seats, there were always two or three who were there for the same reason I was: to feed off the kiddies.