Independent Pursuits: Poker

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The Independent Culture
THIS IS the season for travelling to Las Vegas. The World Series of Poker satellites begin on 27 April, and the World Championship itself runs from 10 to 13 May. How successful it will be this year, with Binion's Horseshoe under new management, we shall see.

People often ask me where to stay and where to go in Vegas. Here is my happy survivor's guide:

1. Where to stay: Bellagio is the hottest property on the Strip - marble to die for and water displays everywhere. $99 a night and upwards for a double room. The Mirage, with white tigers and dolphins, is more amusing but crowded. Caesars Palace is the mock-classical extravaganza with gold- plated bath taps and mirrored ceilings. If you want a cheap and reliable hotel-casino, the Stardust or Flamingo would be fine; downtown is the excellent Golden Nugget.

2. Where to eat: The revolving restaurant at the Stratosphere Tower is brilliant, especially at night. Picasso in Bellagio, with artists' work close enough to breathe garlic at, is haute cuisine with prices to match. The Italian restaurant at the Mirage, if you can get a reservation, is tops. Try the buffet at Caesars for quality and value.

3. What to play: Don't go for roulette with its iniquitous double-zero (house advantage 5.3 per cent). Best value are poker slots, best fun the million-dollar slots. Blackjack is a slower way of losing your money. May I respectfully advise that whatever your gambling limit is, say $1,000 for the trip, it is prudent to divide it into half a dozen tranches. Play $100 in a morning or pre-dinner session, and another $200 after dinner. Stop at the prescribed loss limit!

4. Sightseeing: If you can't manage the Grand Canyon, try Death Valley (about 2-3 hours by car or bus), a fine example of the early settlers' struggle to survive. Caesar's trompe l'oeil Shopping Forum is also a must. Other casinos: New York has the wittiest architectural exterior of any building in America; also the Pyramid. Downtown, take a stroll to see glitter gulch, including the Fremont Experience sound and light show.

5. Shows. The Cirque du Soleil at Bellagio is wonderful, a kind of circus- ballet in water. Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage offer magic and illusion in high camp. Look at what's on in town in case some ageing Hollywood vamp you have always wanted to see is performing - book through your hotel desk. Personally I prefer the Comedy Store, stand-up comics for the price of two drinks.

6. Tip everyone in sight - a dollar will do.

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