How to Win Money in Vegas without Gambling
At the end of December 2012 we drove our kids to the North American Open Chess Tournament in Las Vegas -- just like we did at the end of December 2011. And like that previous time, we got to see exciting nature wonders on our way and enjoy Las Vegas sights and entertainment.
It’s our third time in Las Vegas, and in all these times we didn’t gamble even once. However the chess tournament does have money prizes -- and Ethan won cool $800, plus $125 in blitz! Adding 2011 North American Open Naomi’s $1500 and Ethan’s $173 prizes and subtracting both 2011 and 2012 car trips and registrations costs, we’re about breaking even ;)
Of course, the kids get to keep the prizes they deserved and worked for so hard. Playing chess 2 times a day, up to 6 hours each game means possible 12 hours a day of extreme mental effort. Adding meals and very little rest in between finishes the waking hours completely. I couldn’t do it, while they can!
Initially we planned the trip route to include also the Bryce Canyon, the Antelope Canyon, and possibly even the Crater Lake, but eventually we had to adapt it to the harsh winter weather.
Here is the resulting route organized by dates in December - January in the text below:
We drove from our Bellevue home to Boise, Idaho and stayed there for one night. We arrived to Boise at 10pm PST, which turned out to be 11pm MST, so we had to wake up the motel owner.
We saw a bit of Boise downtown in the morning, then learned about a snow storm coming in Utah and instead of driving to Bryce Canyon as planned, we drove to Ely, NV and stayed in the historic Hotel Nevada.
Photos: 2012_12_23 Boise, Twin Falls, Hotel Nevada (very authentic interior)
We drove through beautiful snowy valleys and hills to the Great Basin National Park, and saw the Lehman Caves. Before entering the caves, we had to be disinfected -- because in November 2012 we visited the famous Postojna Cave in Slovenia, where Naomi played in the World Youth Chess Championship. Turns out that North American bats who hibernate in caves are affected by a recent epidemic of the white nose syndrome fungal infection, thought to originate in French caves. To be sure, they make you wipe cameras and dip shoes for 5 minutes into Lysol.
We drove to Las Vegas on US Route 93 in the evening and got an Executive Suite upgrade for one night, because Bally’s didn’t have other non-smoking rooms.
The most heartwarming day of the whole trip was spent with Luda’s friendly and cheerful cousin Simon and his wonderful family - wife Diane and their 3 great kids: Mitch, Marla and Mae. From Bally’s we explored to the north on the Strip: Flamingo, Harrah’s, Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, Encore and back: Treasure Island, Mirage with the volcano show.
Kids have been preparing for chess games during the day. The North American Open Chess Tournament has started at Bally's, Las Vegas in the evening. Round 1: Ethan won, Naomi lost.
Round 2: Ethan won, Naomi won. Round 3: Ethan won, Naomi won.
At the tournament hall, we met fellow chess parents Lena and Zhenya from Tucson, AZ, whose son Daniel was also playing. We spent much of the tournament hanging with them.
Round 4: Ethan won, Naomi won. Round 5: Ethan won, Naomi lost to the player who eventually took the 4th place in her section.
Luda and I got 10pm tickets to the “V the Ultimate Variety Show” (3 hours of extreme pleasure) by attending a timeshare presentation (3 hours of mild suffering). The show was really great, intimate, funny, and at times extremely physical. It’s a much better fit for an adult couple than all the tiresome Cirque du Soleil technical extravaganza at the most expensive shows like “Ka”.
Round 6: Ethan lost for the first time, to Angelito Aguilar Abella who took the first place in his section; Naomi lost too. Round 7: Ethan drew with his fellow Northwest player Quentin Chi, Naomi won.
In the end, Ethan won 5.5 points, took the 5th place in the Under 1900 category and got an $800 prize. That night, he also went to play in the blitz tournament and won another $125. Good job!
Naomi won 4 points and took a respectable upper half position in the final standing in her Under 1700 category, considering her rating of just 1532.
Right away, I deposited the checks with my smartphone banking app. However, on Jan 1 the organizer posted this update: “...a forger deposited a counterfeit check into his account, attempting to steal a huge portion of the prize fund. Fortunately, this criminal effort did not succeed, but Vanguard reacted on Dec 31 by freezing our account as a precaution against further attempted fraud. We will mail out replacement checks when possible, but it may take a week or two.“ So Ethan’s initial $800 check bounced, but the replacement check cleared OK.
During the day we took a long walk with friends through the south part of the Strip and explored some new resorts.
We drove on US Route 95 and through snowy hills to the vacation town of South Lake Tahoe, CA and stayed there in the Beach Retreat & Lodge at Tahoe for 3 nights with our friends Vova and Oksana and their son Vova. It was really cold. Luda and I caught a flu, but still tried to enjoy some winter activities and the New Year’s.
In the morning we enjoyed sledding and tubing at the Adventure Mountain. In the evening we celebrated the New Year's Eve in the Heavenly Village with large crowds and live music, and witnessed “dropping the ball” at the ski gondola. Then we met the New Year at the hotel restaurant, with some champagne.
Early in the morning we drove the kids to full-day ski lessons at Heavenly. The full-day ski school for the two of them cost almost $400, but who counts ;) We took a walk on the pier that runs from our hotel far into Lake Tahoe, and enjoyed astonishing views of the lake and surrounding mountains. We slept off the flu for the rest of the day, until the kids finished the ski school at the late afternoon, and then showed them the cold and windy lake.
Drove from South Lake Tahoe through Sacramento, CA (to avoid snow and ice on roads) to Eugene, OR.
Drove from Eugene, OR back to our Bellevue home, finally. It took me and Luda a couple of weeks to fully recover from this highly enjoyable vacation ;) The kids loved the whole trip.