Four Winners in Las Vegas

photos courtesy of Howard Hian

Our guest post and monthly column comes from Howard Hian who was recently awarded a Gold Medal/First Place Award from the North American Travel Journalists Association’s annual international writing contest.  His prize winning story, Houseboating with My Pirate Pals, was in the Intergenerational Travel category.  In 2010 he also received a second place award in the Cancun International writers competition for his feature, Quintessential Quintana Roo. Hian was recently named as the San Diego Hotel Motel Association’s “Allied Member of the Year” for 2011 for his ongoing contributions to the city’s tourism industry through his travel writing.

When the chance arose to participate again in the World Poker Tour Boot Camp, I doubled checked if my wife/in-house editor was OK with a bit of wandering on her own. When she said yes, I jumped at the invitation. What I learned is that what happens in Las Vegas doesn’t have to stay there.

Our short trip to “Sin City” provided us with a new view of the town and the discovery of four winners.

We stayed at the historic El Cortez Hotel & Casino. It recently celebrated its 70th. anniversary making it one of the oldest gambling establishments in Las Vegas. Over the years, it has changed hands a few times (including a group headed by Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky) but it has consistently been voted the locals’ favorite. I stayed in their new, free-standing Cabana Suites. After check-in, guests are offered an opportunity to enter a daily free slot promotion. I stepped up to the one-armed bandit and frantically pounded on the play button for a minute. The result: I finished third and won $100. Talk about a free roll. We had giant sandwiches for lunch at the Café Cortez and that evening had dinner in their 50’s throwback restaurant, the Flame Steakhouse. It features a “Vintage Menu,” including classics like Oysters Rockefeller, Tornados Rossini and Chicken Kiev. I was well-fed and rested for the upcoming poker workshops. The El Cortez was Winner One.

We had time to wander around the regentrified Las Vegas Fremont East Entertainment District. It features pedestrian walkways, glitzy vintage neon signs, restaurants, bars, and lots of entertainment choices (there’s even a zip line). The redesigned Emergency Arts Building, formerly the Fremont Medical Center, houses small offices and studios featuring art, music, film and photography. The Beat Coffeehouse,, is also located inside. It is an urban, 60’s mélange of food, coffee, books and vintage records, with the big plus of free Wi-Fi. The Entertainment District was Winner Two.

Cash game Hold ‘em was at the heart of the intensive two day training at the WPT Boot Camp. The instructors were Linda Johnson (the First Lady of Poker), Jan Fisher, Nick Brancato and Rick Fuller (co-authors of the course). The class content included theory, calculating odds and old-fashioned advice from the pros. Both days incorporated lectures, Q & A sessions, betting strategies and playing time; all focused on winning, whether in a casino or at home games. The teachers were entertaining, knowledgeable and approachable; the workbook well written and easy to follow. The biggest challenge is breaking old habits and implementing the newly learned skills. If you are serious about improving your game while having fun, the WPT Boot Camp is the place for you. You will “graduate” a better player. For a schedule, locations and more information, look online at or call 1-866-978-2668. Note: both cash game and tournament options are offered. The WPT Boot Camp was Winner Three.

I’ve played poker since my early teenage years and I’m convinced that gambling is DNA-linked. 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. My thoughts about DNA were confirmed during a lunch date with Mike Linn, a 2011 WSOP bracelet winner. Mike graduated as an English major from Cal Poly Pomona and calls himself the “Poker Poet.” DNA?  His Mom teaches English at the college level. He had a couple of interesting poker related comments. Mike believes that everyone takes risks but they don’t recognize it as gambling. Good point. When I inquired about the large amounts of money bet, he reinforced something mentioned at the WPT Boot Camp, namely, “One can’t think of the chips as money.” Mike’s used the term “detachment.” DNA?  His uncle is top pro Barry Greenstein. Mike Linn was Winner Four.

Bottom Line: my Las Vegas trip taught me new poker skills and about new places and interesting people; everything travel should be about.

More Information: The boutique style Cabana Suites has a friendly, quiet atmosphere and all 64 stylish, comfortable non-smoking rooms and suites feature 42″ flat screen TVs and iHome iPod docking systems; there is also a nice fitness center. It is located across the street from the main entrance of The El Cortez Hotel & Casino; a calm oasis in the desert. The casino has 240 slots, table games and a full race and sports book. There are no resort fees, parking is free and Sunday through Friday, a courtesy airport shuttle is available to guests. Make sure you join Club Cortez; lots of goodies are included.

Safe travels and enjoy the journey…

Howard Hian