This month I had the pleasure of interviewing a Vegas grinder. We’ll call him VG to protect his identity. VG was kind enough to do this interview while he was taking a break from his $1/3 no-limit game at Caesars Palace. We chatted over dinner at the food court while he ate trail mix and a protein bar from his backpack.

Fox – “So, VG, thank you for doing this interview. I know a lot of Cardplayer Lifestyle readers are curious what the life of a Vegas book bag grinder is really like.”

VG – “Dude, stop calling it that. It’s a backpack.”

Fox – “Of course, my apologies. And you need this… backpack, because you bring a lot of things to the table with you for a long night of poker.”

VG – “Yeah man, gotta have everything I need.”

Fox – “And what kinds of things do you bring with you?”

To my shock, he now pushed the backpack over to me, clearly an offer to check its contents. What a coup! Now we would find out everything that was in the backpack of a legitimate grinder. The contents are listed below. Comments from VG about the items are in parentheses.

  1. $400 in cash, stuffed into the front pocket (Can’t be showin up broke yo; bankroll)
  2. One pair of Beats By Dre headphones with a very worn cord (Gotta have my jams)
  3. A dress shirt and a pair of True Religion Jeans (I go to the club sometimes after the grind.)
  4. A 10,000 MaH external battery with lightning cable for iPhone and micro USB for the headphones (Power needs)
  5. Two empty Tupperware tubs that had once contained nuts, trail mix, and honey nut cheerios (Gotta eat right to stay sharp)
  6. Approximately seven grams of high grade marijuana (Gotta stay chill)
  7. A marijuana vape pen (Super chill)
  8. A recent model iPad (I like to watch movies if the game is slow)
  9. A large assortment of casino players cards from around Las Vegas, some in other people’s names (Got my boy’s diamond card for free parking!)

Well, our subject was certainly prepared for a long night at the tables, but I had some questions.

Fox – “Do you ever think that maybe showing up with a backpack to a $1/3 game kind of gives away the fact that you are a poker pro and maybe makes the game tougher for you?”

VG – “Nah, fish don’t learn. You think I’m gonna be without my jams and my movies?”

Fox – “I guess not. The hoodie, headphones, and playing style would have given it away anyway, I guess.”

VG – “Gotta be comfy.”

Fox – “Yes, I see. Can we talk about the lifestyle that poker provides for you?”

VG – “Sure.”

Fox – “How much money do you make hourly in the games here?”

VG – “I do fine. Last night I made $400.”

Fox – “That’s not an hourly rate…”

VG – “I don’t know, like $30 maybe?”

Fox – “You really don’t know how much money you make per hour on average?”

VG – “Nah, not exactly, but I guess around $30.”

Fox – “And what keeps you at the $1/3 tables? With that kind of win rate you are definitely good enough to crush $2/5 for a lot more money.”

VG – “Bankroll man. And I run super bad. These fools get lucky on me all day long. Dealers hate me. Gonna start playing tournaments or betting on horse racing results or something.”

Fox – “I’m not sure that will help with the bad luck, but a little variety is always nice. What did you do before poker?”

VG – “I worked for a bank. Got a degree in Finance.”

Fox – “You have a degree in Finance? Interesting. And yet you have no idea how much money you make?”

VG – “My bills get paid, my Xbox subscriptions are paid, and I go to the club on comps whenever I want. Who cares?!”

Fox – “I see. How about a little strategy discussion for our readers?”

VG – “Since I’m gonna start playing tournaments, I’ll just give you the whole basic strategy. I’m tired of the grind anyway…”

Fox – “So you’re going to reveal the secrets to beating low stakes no-limit games for us?”

VG – “Yeah, take notes if you want.”

I did in fact take notes. Here, revealed for the first time, are all the plays you need to know to be a backpack grinder in Las Vegas.

  1. Get very high before you play. You gotta stay super chill.
  2. Raise to 10BB pre-flop anytime you are going to play a hand.
  3. Play ultra-tight.
  4. Keep betting unless you get raised. Then fold if you don’t have a pair or a draw.
  5. If you get to the river, overbet the pot whether you have a hand or not.
  6. Rely completely on combinatorics, but only develop a very basic understanding of it. If there are two aces on board, your opponent can not have an ace. It’s shocking if he does, even if he reraised you all-in on the turn. Call him an idiot.
  7. Switch tables whenever you are running bad. It helps.
  8. If you make $400, rack up and go home. There are always ups and downs, but if you leave on an uptick you will beat the game.
  9. Don’t play blackjack. (That’s how VG lost his car.)
  10. Don’t play slots. (That’s how VG lost his girlfriend.)
  11. Drive for UBER. It helps with the swings.

Overall, VG’s strategy seems remarkably simple. Of course, there are some flaws, but when I asked more questions about in-depth strategy, he told me that I now had everything I needed. I tried to point out that driving for UBER wasn’t a great choice if you are already making $30 an hour, but he just said “swings”.

VG left when he was done with his Honey Nut Cheerios. He walked off hitting his vape pen as he was headed back to the poker room to “bust some donkeys”. He left some of his Tupperware on the table, so I picked it up and headed to the poker room to make sure he didn’t lose it. When I found him he was in a $1/3 game, wearing his headphones, silently ignoring the player next to him who was urging the table to straddle and have a beer with him. A few minutes later the player left, and VG left as well.

“Table sucks,” he said, “Stupid fish left. Bunch of damn nits now. Poker is tough these days, ya know?”

Lessons from VG

This is really bad advice. All of it. Do not follow any of it. VG is not a real professional poker player. This is a guy who thinks he is a poker pro because he doesn’t keep track of his results.

Also, I made him up. But he’s a reasonable approximation of a common type of bookbag grinder in Las Vegas in a small no-limit cash game.

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