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California Poker Scene, Part 1

by Ashley Adams

What’s the poker capitol of the world? For my money, the honors have to go to the entire state of California. This state’s rich poker legacy goes back to the 1930s, a time when gambling was banned everywhere in the United States, but in Nevada. But in California, poker clubs were legal and thrived in those municipalities that allowed them (if only for draw poker games).

Poker continues to thrive in California today, with 104 rooms listed on www.pokeratlas.com. Having played in just about all of the poker rooms in Southern California, I decided to explore the vast sea of poker rooms in the northern and central part of the state. My buddy Andrei (a limit hold’em specialist) and I managed to hit about 25 of them on this five day trip. In this and my next few articles, I will tell you, at least briefly, about the rooms we visited—as well as a few of the highlights and lowlights of our excursion.

We flew into San Francisco and immediately rented a car and left the Bay Area. We could have played in the four rooms that ring San Francisco: The Oaks in Emeryville, Artichoke Joe’s in San Bruno, Palace Poker in Hayward, and Lucky Chances in Colma. All are fine rooms, worthy of at least a visit. But I had played in each of them in the past and decided that we would spend our limited time in rooms to the east that I had yet to visit. So off we were for points east.

Our first stop was the California Grand (5988 Pacheco Blvd, Pacheco, 925-685-8397) about 45 minutes east of San Francisco. This is a very nice room. It dates back to 1979 but has been in the current building for five years (the older one is now an historic landmark). Owned and operated by the Wilkinson family, it retains the touches of the original card rooms that have their roots in the early days of draw and low ball, with numerous house-funded jackpots and promotions (like $50 in chips for $20 for new players), as well as nearly free food for seated players ($2 breakfast and lunch specials). Their 14 poker tables were full when we arrived at 3:00 PM on a Saturday, with $3/6, $6/12 and $15/30 limit games; $2/2/3 blind and $2/3/5 no limit hold’em; and a $4/8 Omaha8 game with a ½ kill. The house drops $4 on the lower staked games and $5 on the bigger ones, but funds all of the promotions themselves—including a bad beat that was up to $85K when I was there. The room was filled with locals. From my limited sample size and conversation, I’d say that at the no limit and lower limit tables, there were an average of one or two very good players per game, making this a profitable place for the skilled poker player.

We left the Grand and drove to Casino Royale, (500 Leisure Lane Sacramento, CA, inside the Red Lion Hotel (916) 929- 7529) one of three rooms in Sacramento. This is a new space for them, having moved in August from their downtown location. It is a very convenient for a poker traveler, as it is one of very few California card rooms with a hotel for guests, as well as a fine dining restaurant. (I can attest to lakeside beauty of the setting and the skill of the chef, who prepared a magnificent sea bass for me). The poker itself is just beginning to rebuild, with lots of house-funded promotions including Aces cracked, bad beats, $1 an hour comps for seated players, and a $500 for bonus 200 hours of play (with lots of ways of earning additional hours at different hours and with different hands). My impression is that this is a room that’s doing everything it can to attract a strong customer base for the future. I saw the hands-on attention from the floor that all players enjoyed (there was just one game going when I was there on Saturday night). The players seemed to be there to enjoy themselves more than to play skillful poker. With the hotel and fine restaurant—as well as the plethora of promotions, this would be an ideal place to come for a weekend of poker and relaxation.

Next up: Capitol Casino, Limelight, Cache Creek, and Colusa

Ashley Adams is the author of Winning No Limit Hold’em and Winning 7-card Stud, both available at Amazon.com. He is also the host of the popular poker radio show, House of Cards. For listening times and stations, to get a podcast of the show, or to check out the blog, go to www.houseofcardsradio.com. You can email Ashley at asha34@aol.com.

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