Bright light city gonna set my soul…

gonna set my soul on fire. Thursday was the day that we headed to our final road trip destination: Las Vegas, Nevada. We got out of our motorway service station digs early and chose to forgo the free breakfast there in favour of a stop along the way. Ever since Kansas City, we appear to have encountered Fred Harvey’s name everywhere we went. Harvey cornered the market for catering in the railway stations served by several different rail companies and, in so doing, invented the concept of the restaurant chain. One distinctive aspect of his eateries was the wait staff. He recruited young, single, intelligent women “of good character” who, as part of their contract, had to agree not to marry during their first year of employment. The Harvey Girls, as they were universally known, became a byword for quality hospitality. They even inspired a movie, starring Judy Garland.

Harvey expanded his empire to include hotels and recruited an architect and designer called Mary Colter to provide a distinctive style for his buildings. While we were in the Painted Desert, we had visited the Painted Desert Inn which was a Colter designed Harvey Hotel now operating as a museum and craft centre. A Park Ranger there had told us of another Colter designed hotel in Winslow, AZ regarded as her masterpiece. That’s where we decided to stop for breakfast.


La Posada is a beautiful building inside and out. It is positioned perfectly to serve travellers, with the old Route 66 passing by its front door  and the train stopping at its back door. We enjoyed a magnificent breakfast in The Turquoise Room restaurant. We went for a wander in the grounds afterwards, and witnessed first-hand what a major factor the railways are in America’s freight industry.

After La Posada, we were back on the road for the final push to Vegas. As we got back in the car, we noticed that we had now managed to add 5,000 miles to the clock. Sorry, Avis.

We had adjusted our schedule somewhat because we wanted to play in a special tournament at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). This year marks the 50th occasion on which the World Series has been held. To mark this milestone, the WSOP is running a tournament called The Big 50. It’s a $500 entry fee, you get 50,000 chips to start, and the blind levels are 50 minutes. What this all means is that you get more poker play for your money. We had already heard that the tournament was attracting large numbers of players. There were four starting flights scheduled: one on each day from Thursday to Sunday. Each Day 1 had a separate Day 2 before entrants were combined on Day 3. We decided we wanted to play Friday’s Day 1 which, if we survived, would mean us playing our Day 2 on Saturday. This meant we wanted to arrive on Thursday to register for the tournament and relax before sitting down at the table to play poker.

Our first Vegas residence of this visit is the Flamingo Hotel, part of the Caesars chain. We’re in the city for over five weeks so there will be some moving around to try to take advantage of available offers and bargains where they exist. We arrived late afternoon which meant we encountered the disgorgement of the inebriated clientele from the pool parties. Drunk twenty-somethings in swimsuits abounded but we weaved our way through them and used the straightforward automated check-in machines to get our room. The Flamingo has a recent reputation for being a bit run-down but we were lucky enough to have been allocated one of the refurbished rooms which is very nice and quite spacious.

After checking in, we drove over to the Rio to get our first taste of the WSOP and to finalise formalities for our Big 50 registration. Friends who had arrived in Vegas before us were providing updates on the registration process for this tournament and it wasn’t sounding good. We had decided to try to avoid the worst of the chaos by registering onine in advance of our arrival. This meant we simply had to verify our identities and credit cards with the organisers to pick up our seat allocations. It didn’t take long and we were now proud possessors of our first 2019 World Series seats.

Our Day 1B was due to start on Friday but play was already well underway in Thursday’s Day 1A. Every available corner of the Rio had as many poker tables as possible crammed into it. The organisers later confirmed that 6,095 players had enetered Day 1A and 1,579 of them survived to return for their Day 2A on Friday – the same day as our Day 1B started. 

We were back at the Rio in plenty of time for our 11am start on Friday and ensconced ourselves at our tables to receive our 50,000 chip starting stack. We were scheduled to play 12 levels of 50 minutes each today, so 600 minutes of poker, or ten hours. With the 20 minute breaks every two levels and a 75 minute dinner break in the evening, the expected finishing time for our flight would be some time after 11:30pm, if we were able to survive that long. At some point during the day, Ishbel bust out of the tournament but, amazingy, I survived with 180,000 chips to bring back to Day 2B. The organisers did spring a little wrinkle on us towards the end of the night. They added an extra level so that we played a total of 13 levels on Day 1, then told us that we would be starting at 7:00pm the following day instead of 5:00pm but playing only 7 levels instead of 8.

IMG_4764 I was too tired to care and just quietly bagged my chips and went back to the Flamingo for a nightcap to cool my fevered brain and a well deserved sleep.

During the day on Saturday, I looked up my table assignment and did some research on my opponents. There is a site called Hendon Mob that publishes results from all major tournaments which allows you to get an idea of the relative success of individual players. This is me. Any information is better than none so I felt this was a sensible use of my time before the tournament restarted. From the 5,972 that had started Day 1B, 1,269 of us had survived to do battle again today.

Although our start had been pushed back to 7:00pm, it was delayed further because of the huge number of people who had registered for Day 1C. Eventually, we got going at about 7:45pm and with play scheduled to run for around 7 hours, survivors wouldn’t be finished until 3:00am at the earliest. 896 players would be paid from our group, so we had to lose over 400 to get into the money. When you get close to the money, play stops and every table deals one hand at a time until the 897th player is eliminated – a phenomenon known as bursting the money bubble. The bubble burst towards the end of the third level of play which meant everyone still in the tournament was guaranteed to win at least $796 – a profit of just under $300 on their entry fee. As play continues, the prize money increases, although quite slowly in the early stages. Prize pools are usually very top heavy, with the winner of this tournament being guaranteed $1,000,000.

The good news is that I was one of the 321 players who survived Day 2B.

IMG_4516 3

I bagged just over 1,000,000 chips and now have a few days off before returning on Wednesday when survivors of all four Days 2 will be combined. At the moment, we’re all guaranteed a payout of around $1,500 but with lots more to play for.

After all four starting days were completed, it was confirmed that this is the biggest live poker tournament of all time. In total, there were 28,394 entries, with 6,455 surviving into Day 2. We don’t yet know how many players are in Day 3 but I would guess that it will be around 1,500. And the size of the Prize Pool for which we are all competing?


Wish me luck!

In the desert, you can remember your name

…as America sang in A Horse With No Name, although i didn’t really have any difficulty remembering my name before we got  to the desert. We left Santa Fe early to cover the 270 miles to our penultimate road trip stop in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. Our route took us past Albuquerque, so we decided to stop there to fill the car’s tank and have a coffee.


Like the old part of Santa Fe, Albuquerque has embraced the pueblo revival architectural style. It’s very pretty and I expect very practical in the climate both cities enjoy.

From Albuquerque, we set off west on Interstate 40, which has largely replaced this section of historic Route 66.


We had plenty of time on our hands to cover the distance required today so we decided to take a bit of a diversion and headed south off of I-40 towards El Malpais National Monument. We stopped at the Visitor Centre there, where they pointed us in the direction of the El Calderon Loop Trail, an easy 3 mile hike across the lava flows that give El Malpais its name – it’s Spanish for Badlands.

From there, we carried on along the road and stopped off at the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano. This involved another short hike, with a 500 foot ascent to see the crater of the dormant volcano. We then went down to take a look at the ice cave. This is an odd little quirk of topology. The cave is shaped in such a way that it doesn’t have warm air circulating through it so melt water that seeps down through the rock and freezes at the bottom of the cave. Native Americans knew about it and used the cave as a food store for centuries.

From here, we completed our journey to our home for the next two nights: a Days Inn motel at a motorway service station back up on I-40. We just had a relaxing evening here and ate motorway service station food.

On Wednesday, we drove to the Petrified Forest National Park. This place is full of logs that, 200 million years ago, fell down and were washed along a river bed and then were quickly covered by sediment. The anaerobic conditions meant the decay of the wood was slowed and minerals were absorbed into the porous wood, gradually replacing the cells of the wood altogether while retaining the original shape of the logs. The quartz that now carries the tree shapes has been discoloured by various impurities, producing a rainbow of colours in these fossils.


It’s an amazing place and, delightfully for us, the petrified forest is also part of the painted desert. We spent some time driving in the National Park and also had a couple of small hikes so that we could enjoy the scenery at a more leisurely pace.


On one of the hikes, we encountered a lizard who was kind enough to hang around and let Ishbel take a great close-up shot of it.


We had a great day here and after the largely urban tour we’d taken across America, it was wonderful to see some of the country’s true wilderness.