Last weekend I played in a Southern California poker room I’d never played in before.
The weekend before I played at the Bike, as usual (see here). As I reported, they no longer offer free food for the game I play (or any game, as far as I can tell). Now, I don’t want to say that the only reason I tried a different venue was that they no longer feed me for free at the Bike, but….I suppose with all the other issues I have with the Bike, that may just have been the final bit of encouragement I needed to try something new.
For awhile now, I was aware of another poker room in a totally different area, a little bit farther away from where I live (as the crow flies) but in a totally different direction from where the Bike is.
The name is Player’s Casino. It’s in Ventura. It’s about 15-20 miles farther by car than the Bike. But I felt it might be faster to get to in most situations than the Bike. You see to get to the Bike, I have to drive through the heart of downtown Los Angeles. That’s one of the reasons I avoid the Bike during the week and prefer going there on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. Even in the middle of the day, traffic thru downtown L.A. figures to be nightmarish about 98.6% of the time.
Weekends, during the day, are better, but never really great. I almost always encounter some kind of traffic jam going thru downtown. According to Google maps, it should take me 45 minutes to get there with no traffic—assuming I keep pretty close to the speed limit. Typically, it takes me close to an hour. On particularly bad days, it takes more than an hour.
But heading out to Ventura, I figured that the traffic would normally be fairly light (on a weekend afternoon), and more than make up for the extra distance. I figured I could make to Player’s Casino in 55-60 minutes most of the time. So basically, the same commute time as the Bike even if I’d be driving a few extra miles.
Just that conjecturing would have made me try the place in Ventura a long time ago. But I knew that Player’s Casino was a much, much smaller venue than the Bike, and I was concerned that they might not have enough action. I’d hate to drive all that way out there and find out they only have one (if that) short-handed 1/2 NL game (or whatever game they spread that I would play). Once I went out there, I’d be stuck. There’s no other poker room anywhere nearby. The day would be shot. In fact, it is the only poker room in all of Ventura County. Doubling back to the Bike at that point would be out of the question (and I’d be out of gas).
Unfortunately, the room isn’t on the Bravo app, and they don’t use the even better Table Captain software marketed by my employer, PokerAtlas (see here). But I did a little more research and discovered they show their actual waitlist live on their website. I think most poker rooms would be doing that now if it hadn’t been for the Bravo app. Anyway, I started checking it out and they always seem to have a decent number of games going. The main game seemed to be 1/2 NL but they also spread 2/3 NL, which is what I play at the Bike. Checking online, they always seemed to have several 1/2 games going and a couple of 2/3 games.
And of course I checked out PokerAtlas and learned that the buy-in for the 1/2 game is $50-$100 and the buy-in for the 2/3 game is $100-$300 (same as at the Bike). The 1/2 game was different though. At the Bike, and at Commerce, the max buy-ins for 1/2 are like $40 or $60. They are a joke. I tried it once and hated it. They play smaller than a 2/4 limit game—and then every now and then somebody shoves. It’s the worst poker playing experience I’ve ever had. I would never play that again. $100 buy-in for a 1/2 game isn’t ideal, it’s half what it should be, but it’s better than $40! At least you can play a little bit of poker before you get to all fold-or-shove mode.
It was my understanding that the Bike was the only L.A.-area room that had a game as small as 2/3 where you could buy in for 100 big blinds, which always made me reluctant to play somewhere else. So if that 2/3 game was running at Player’s Casino, I’d be able to start with a full stack. And if I had to play 1/2, I’d still be able to start with a bigger stack than any other 1/2 game I could find in L.A.
So what the heck? I decided to give it a shot. If nothing else, I’d get a blog post out of it, describing a different venue. So I headed out to Ventura on Saturday. Now, my first assumption proved wrong when I ran into some heavy traffic in route. I never encountered any accidents but traffic became slow-and-go for about a 10 mile stretch. Might have been weather related. It was gloomy, windy and it even started drizzling as I was driving. The drizzling shouldn’t have affected traffic, but as I was driving I could tell from the wet roads that I was entering an area where it had gotten some significant rain. Whatever, even with that slowdown, it didn’t really take me more than an hour to get there. So hopefully the traffic was just a fluke and I can make it there next time in less time than it usually takes to get to the Bike.
I had checked their site before leaving to see that they were busy. They had a bunch of 1/2 games going and I think one 2/3 gaming, and both games had waitlists. They were spreading other games as well. So I was confident I’d be able to play. I was a bit disappointed with the parking lot, it was pretty full, and I had difficulty finding a place to park, not something I’m used to—for a casino, that is. In L.A., having trouble parking at most shopping centers or businesses is a common as finding a would-be actress with fake boobs. But park I did and I proceeded to head around to the entrance.
It is a rather unusually looking poker room, at least to me. It appears that the room took over the location of a defunct car dealership—it’s surrounded by car dealers and the address is on “Auto Center Drive.” The front “wall” is glass and you can look out and see outside—not something you can do from a Vegas poker room (or an L.A. one, for that matter) unless it’s near an open door. The room you enter is all poker tables, about 16, and although it’s pretty crowded, there is room to walk around. It really is a vibe I’ve never experienced before in a poker room, I dunno if I can adequately convey this. But it’s sort of like something you’d see in a old movie, just a relatively small room filled with absolutely nothing but poker tables.
What I’m getting at is, the front room is just really small to be a big poker room, if that makes sense. It’s small to be all poker. The Bike and Commerce have areas that are all poker, but they are huge, really big, with poker tables galore. In Vegas, there are small poker rooms to be sure, but when you’re in one, it’s a totally different feeling. I played at the Linq when they had a five-table room. But the feeling is totally different because even if you were in that small poker room, you were also in this huge casino, you couldn’t escape that. And there’d be the noise from the rest of the casino and all the people from the rest of the casino all around you. Here, it’s nothing but poker and it’s just different.
Behind the main room is a smaller room that has a bar and a few table games. I didn’t even notice what they were—blackjack I assume and a few others maybe. Since it’s not an Indian casino, there are no slot machines. Beyond that is a restaurant. You can eat there, or you can order food to be delivered to the table.
And the place was packed! This was about 1:30PM on Saturday. There were at least five or six 1/2 games going and two 2/3 games going. They also had 3/5 and 5/10, at least one each. There was a 1/3 PLO game and to my total surprise, a 3/6 Big O game. All the games had lists, some of them very long. The lists for both the 1/2 and 2/3 were both so long I couldn’t see the bottom of them. So I certainly didn’t have to worry about there not being enough action. No, I had to worry about how long it would take to get into a game.
My original thought was that I would try the 1/2 game first. I figured it was a brand new venue for me, get a feel for the action and the players and all the little idiosyncrasies of the room at the lowest possible risk. I anticipated moving up to the 2/3 after I got comfortable with everything. But the long lists gave me pause. I decided to get on the lists for both games and if I had to start with the bigger game, so be it.
I found a seat at an empty poker table and waited. There were only two tables not in use, and I think within an hour of my arrival they were using them all. My name moved up pretty fast on that 1/2 list with all the tables of it they were spreading. But then they called a new game of 2/3, and I was the first person on that list not called to it. So a few minutes later I got called to a different 2/3 table and I bought some chips ($300) and took my seat.
Ah, the chips, the chips. A couple of things. I had noticed that the 1/2 game used $1 chips, not $5 chips. I guess that’s not surprising since that’s what they do at Bike and Commerce (Bike actually uses $1 chips even in its 1/3 game!). But I thought that maybe they’d use the $5 chips there since the buy-in is bigger. Nope. Now, for the 2/3 game they used $5 chips but boy, I think someone made a blunder with those $5 chips. The $1 chips are not white, they are pale/medium blue (not unlike the $1 chips they use at the MGM (or the Bike). But the $5 chips are not red, like in any Vegas poker room, nor are they the ugly puke yellow they use at the Bike. They are green. Yes, green. Not quite the shade of green you see on the Vegas $25 chips, more of a lime-green. The problem is that they look incredibly similar to the $1 chips. Honestly, you really have to look closely to tell them apart. And when you put them both on the blue-green felt, they really, really look alike.
I couldn’t believe it. When someone from across the table bet, it was nearly impossible for me to tell the difference. Very bad design. I realize that I had to make sure I asked whenever somebody made a bet exactly what it was, with no exceptions. And when I bet myself, I was always extra careful to make sure I had the correct chips.
I tried to take a picture of the two chips together to give you an idea, but I couldn’t really capture it without standing up and hovering over them, something I didn’t want anyone to see me do. I grabbed pics of the web of them, but I don’t think the separate pics I found really illustrate how similar they look.
That was really the only issue I had with the room. It was at least as comfortable as the Bike, similar chairs, tables were fine (9-handed). They had auto-shufflers, tho the one at my game was broken. Chairs about the same as Bike. No cup-holders, just plenty of portable carts for both food and beverages. No “hot” cocktail waitresses. The food servers also brought drinks, alcoholic or otherwise.
Ah yes, beverages. I’m sure my readers are all eagerly waiting for my report on how difficult it was to get a drink, and if they took it away before I was done with it. Well, I did indeed order a diet Pepsi. When the server brought it in one of those large paper Pepsi cups, she told me it was $1.50. She added that it was free refills all day. OK, but now someone really had better not take my cup away before I was done with it! I assume I could have gotten a glass of water for free, and I didn’t even notice if they were offering bottled water. Fortunately my Pepsi cup remained untouched by the staff the entire day, and I even got my free refill once (note, it was the large size cup, so I got a lot more soda than I usual get, not really a bad deal).
I was curious about the rake and the jackpot drop, was it similar to the Bike? Actually, no, not at all. There was no slot for a jackpot drop! I vaguely remembered hearing or reading that they have a house funded bad beat jackpot, and don’t take a jackpot drop.
As for the rake, that was weird. I noticed that they always took exactly $5—when they took a rake. There were a lot of pots, especially at the beginning, when they didn’t take anything. Those were small pots of course. I really couldn’t figure out what the deciding factor was, but finally, when I won a $21 pot, I saw the dealer count it before shoving it to me (and she took a $5 chip). So I asked. The break point is $18. If the pot is less than $18, no rake. At $19, they take $5, and it’s always $5, never more, never less.
Interesting. If you’re used to the rake in Vegas, that sounds terrible, right? My $21 pot was raked $5, in Vegas that would have been $3. Worse, if it had been $19, Vegas would have taken out $2 and here it would still be $5.
But compared to the Bike, and the other L.A. rooms, it’s a bargain. First of all, no jackpot drop. Second, the Bike takes the rake right off the top. Say there are three limpers who see a flop. I bet $5 on the flop and no one calls. I get my $3 back. Six bucks is dropped ($5 for the rake, one for the jackpot). So this is a lot better than the other L.A. rooms. Before $19 it’s better than the Bike, after, it’s the same (except for two things—no jackpot drop and no extra dollar that the Bike now takes when the hand goes to the river).
I was also curious to see if they allowed chopping of the blinds and if so, how they do it. Recall that at the Bike, in the 2/3 game, if the blinds chop they still take $1 from the small blind for the rake. So there’s no pure chop. But here’s the funny thing. In the the 3+ hours I played, it never came up. That’s right, there was never a situation where it folded to the small blind and there was a possibility of a chop.
I guess that should tell you something about the game itself, but not really. I never could get a real feel for the game. There were times when it came close to a Bike-style game, lots of loose action. Other times, it played very tight. There were quite a few hands that weren’t raked because they never got to $19. I didn’t see any players who I thought were especially good—or especially tricky. A few players seemed less than mediocre, but I couldn’t smell any outright fish.
And…..I’m going to stop here for now. My usual succinctness has deserted me and I find myself with too much to say about this day. So come back in a couple of days for the rest of the report, which will include the results of my poker session there. (EDITED TO ADD, THE WAIT IS OVER, SEE THE FOLLOW-UP POST HERE!)