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Room Reviews 1: Hustler, Lucky Chances
CTO "Maniac" 04.11.2007

Hey now! I almost never donk off all my money drawing dead. Almost NEVER!

OK, whatever. Looks like that nickname is going to stick. So anyway, I've been to a few casinos in California, Nevada, and New Orleans. We'll start with two California casinos:

Hustler Casino
Gardena, California

First things first: sadly, there are no naked women anywhere at the Hustler casino. The cocktail waitresses wear mini-dresses but that's as good as it gets there.

The Place: The casino is a huge circular building, and the gaming areas are arranged around a central circular core. There's a large poker area, another card game area, and an inner glass-enclosed card game area (no poker) in the central core for smokers. I smoked a cigar there after my poker session, but there are only 2 or 3 chairs for non-players.

The poker area itself is nice, with dark wood paneling and some tasteful paintings by either Paul Klee or Gustav Klimt. I always get those two confused. But hey, I'm an engineer not an art historian. The chips are real clay, you are given $5 chips for your benjamins, which I think is a good thing, and I seem to recall that the tables had built-in card shufflers.

There's a decent restaurant upstairs but you can order food at the poker tables so the restaurant is irrelevant. At least you can watch about 6 different sporting events on the big screen tvs in the restaurant. I tried to find some cool logo wear in the gift shop but it was either too corny or too ugly. All I wanted was a simple "Hustler Casino" cap.

At one point the lone floor manager left the room for at least 10 minutes. Empty seats weren't being filled, table change requests weren't being handled, disputes weren't being settled, etc. In a room that size there should be multiple floor people.

The Games: I played the $100-$200 $1/$2 no-limit hold'em game, but there were all kinds of games, from stud to omaha to hold'em. Limit hold'em from $2/$4 through $25/$50 and up, no-limit from $1/$2 and up, and the rake is taken from the pot. Pretty much like most other casinos, as you'd expect.

The Players: There were some tight ones, loose ones, talkative ones, quiet ones, experienced ones, newbies, but no maniacs. I'd say that the median age was probably about 29 or 30, and that most of them were locals. Gardena is not a paradisical vacation spot.
A guy to my right said he flew to Vegas early one Friday after a business meeting, played 36 hours straight at the Palms $500 buy-in NLH table, and quit +$7500 winners. I wish I could do that. (Note: I later saw this guy, Russ, playing on the Bicycle Casino's "Live at the Bike" cash game webcast.)

Apparently Larry Flynt himself plays high-limit stud there on occasion, against the likes of Johnny Chan and Barry Greenstein. But there's no separate high-limit area. They just play in the main cardroom off in the corner.

The Verdict: Great place. I want to go there again next time I find myself in SoCal.

Lucky Chances Casino
Colma, California

This is one of the more well-known casinos in Northern California, and it's only about a 20 minute drive from San Francisco. I've been there several times, for tournaments, limit, and no-limit. Just make sure you don't follow the driving directions on their web site. Completely wrong.

The Place: It's nestled up in the hills among all the cemeteries, there's valet parking as well as outdoor and underground self-parking areas. There is a generic Asian theme to the decor and the casino is a single large room divided in two by a walkway. On one side it's all poker and on the other side it's all Asian games and maybe blackjack too.

The food service is quite good, and it's inexpensive. The "wor" won-ton is one of my favorites. They'll even come around occasionally with free canapes.

The Games: There are quite a few tables, probably about 30 or so, and they spread $3/$6 limit up to $40/$80. They used to spread $1/$1/$2 and $2/$2/$5 no-limit, and also a $25/$50 uncapped no-limit big game on Mondays. I say "used to" because the local politicos forced Lucky Chances to eliminate all no-limit games. The maximum bet is now $200, and it's called "spread-limit hold'em" now. I'm pretty sure this rule is still in effect, but I have heard rumors that they may be going back to no-limit. (San Jose also has an anti-no-limit law, so Bay 101 has "spread-limit" as well.)

This may be the reason why Lucky Chances is no longer a stop on the World Poker Tour circuit. If you saw any of the WPT shows filmed at Lucky Chances, you've seen the cardroom in the footage of the early stages of the tournaments.

Another negative is the time collection at the NLH (now spread-limit) tables. Instead of raking a few chips from every pot, everyone sitting at the table pays a fee every half hour. For example, I had to pay $6 every half hour at the $1/$2/$2 baby NLH game, for a grand total of 12 bucks an hour. That's pretty expensive in addition to paying the blinds, so it tends to crank up the action a bit. You need to win pots just to stay ahead of the fee.

Also, you'll see people quitting on dealer pushes so they can avoid paying $6 for the next half hour. I hate the time collection scheme, and the dealers probably hate it too. I noticed that people tipped them less.

The Players: The baby no-limit game was what I'd call a "juicy" game. Plenty of bad players with lots of money. The trouble with that situation is that there are plenty of really good players there to exploit the bad ones. So there seem to be a combination of good and bad players at the tables, as you'd expect.

Here also, none of the players are tourists. Colma is fairly close to San Francisco, so all of the players are either Colma locals (seemingly mostly Asian) or San Franciscans.

I railed the big game once or twice while waiting for a seat in the baby NLH game, and saw some local pros including Sam Batshon and Shandor Szentkuti. They seemed to play for only a few hours, usually quitting by 8pm.

The Verdict: Great place, good action (probably even since the $200 max bet spread-limit rule has been in effect.) If they go back to no-limit and switch to a normal pot rake I'll go back there for sure.

In the next installment in this "Reviews" series, I'll review some Vegas casinos.