What happens in Vegas? Packed clubs, glitzy shows and gambling still reign on the Strip, but today’s Sin City offers a whole lot more than just sin.
Image – Brad Swonetz
DAY THREE Late nights at the club are always easier when you’re staying right upstairs. Such is the case this morning at Encore Las Vegas, Steve Wynn’s newest tower. The room is all white, cream and chocolate brown. Floor-to-ceiling windows afford a seductive view of the early-morning Strip, which, in the half light, is barely stirring after the evening’s festivities. You, however, are up. Today you’re going to do what made Vegas famous. But first, to clear your head, you drive out to the Red Rock Canyon scenic drive (1), a 13-mile loop of road that affords picturesque views of scrubby desert and the Spring Mountains. Desert willows, gnarly Joshua trees and scrub oak line this stretch of blacktop, but don’t let them distract you from the roadrunners known to dart across the road.
You wonder what it feels like to go all in at the poker table, but you want an edge. So you take a ride over to the Panorama Towers (2), a luxury high-rise near the Strip, where David “The Maven” Chicotsky lives and teaches poker. Named online player of the year by Bluff magazine in 2008, Chicotsky spends two hours (at $300 an hour, which poker players will tell you is a bargain) helping you hone Texas Hold ’Em strategies, find edges and correct mistakes. He’ll get you primed for the daily 1 p.m. tournament in the sleek poker room at the modern Aria Hotel & Casino.
Exotics Racing School
Image – Brad Swonetz
Following a fortifying paella at the gleaming lunch counter of the whimsically designed Julian Serrano (3), right near Aria’s entrance, you head to the poker room, find a comfy swivel chair at the table and fork over the $125 entry fee. With 50 players competing, first place pays around $2,000, and the bottom prize money for finishing fourth is $200 or so. Once cards are in the air, you follow The Maven’s advice, choosing spots for splashy plays and trying to sneak in cheap with small pairs. But even the legendary Doyle Brunson can’t fault you for getting excited, shoving all your chips forward and announcing “All in!” with a pair of kings. And being called by a pair of aces.
Game over, wallet a bit lighter, morale laid a bit low, you make your way back to the Hard Rock’s Rare 120 (4) for dinner. But before you finish your New York strip you start itching anew. Maybe just a shoe or two of blackjack. You skip dessert and wander out onto the floor. Remembering to always split eights, you’re back in the black in no time. As your winnings mount, you consider a return trip to Crystals. Hey, it could happen. After all, nothing says Vegas like blowing your spoils in style.
MICHAEL KAPLAN once beat Howard Lederer in a heads-up game of poker. He received a bottle of bourbon for his trouble.