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Best of Dan Podheiser

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Top 10 favorite poker rooms I've ever played in

10 August 2015

Poker players have funny memories. Ask them to describe what they had for breakfast and they won't remember, because they probably ate "breakfast" at 2 p.m. the day after logging a 21-hour session at the tables. But ask them to describe a bad beat they took during that session and they'll provide every single minute detail, down to the speed and velocity at which the dealer peeled the one-outer on the river.

My memory functions no differently than the common poker player's, because that's exactly what I am — though I don't play nearly as often as I used to, or quite frankly, as I'd like to. But I reserve a special place in my brain for all the poker rooms I've ever played in; and I remember them all.

In addition to the dozens of home games and underground games I've been to over the past 12 years, I have played poker in 16 casinos and charity rooms since I turned 18 years old. I've played poker (legally) in eight different states and two different countries.

Last week, I detailed my top 10 qualities that every poker room should strive to have. And while I'm still looking for the perfect poker room, I have mostly fond memories of the venues I've played in, and not necessarily for any of the reasons I outlined in that piece. Sometimes you have a good time playing poker just because the people at the table are fun, or because you had a great meal in the restaurant in the casino.

The following are my 10 favorite poker rooms that I've played in.

10. Bally's - Atlantic City

In May 2014, I took a trip down to Atlantic City to check out the buzz surrounding the new World Series of Poker-themed poker room at Bally's Wild Wild West casino on the boardwalk. The room, which essentially replaced the poker room at Caesars Atlantic City, features 42 tables and a large section for tournament play.

After I completed my interviews with Caesars and Bally's officials and finished my work for the day, I decided to sit down and test out the $1-2 no-limit Hold'em action myself. And though I didn't have a winning session, I came away from Bally's impressed with what I had seen.

The WSOP-themed room does its best to imitate the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during the annual World Series of Poker. There are banners everywhere of bracelet winners and past Main Event champions. The felt on the tables and the chips are branded with WSOP design. It's pretty cool.

I also found it interesting that Bally's spreads $1-1 no-limit Hold'em tables, giving low-stakes players an alternative to the standard $1-2 games. You rarely see that in a casino poker room.

Still, I think my experience at the WSOP poker room will be my first and last time playing poker anywhere in Atlantic City other than one place. More on that later …

9. Foxwoods Resort Casino

If I had to designate one poker room as my "home turf," I guess I would begrudgingly give Foxwoods that honor. My Boston-area apartment is a 96-mile drive from Mashantucket, Connecticut, but that still makes Foxwoods the closest casino to me, besides a few dumpy charity card rooms in New Hampshire (that will change when Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island, opens its 12-table poker room in mid-October).

If there's one thing Foxwoods has going for it, it's game availability. The poker room boasts more than 100 cash game tables and spreads every game and limit imaginable. The longest I've ever waited for a seat at a $1-2 table is 25 minutes.

But that's where the fondness ends for me. The chips at Foxwoods are dirty, and the cards are flimsy. The dealers are completely hit-or-miss, even at "peak" hours. You're not allowed to eat at the poker table, and when you do want to use your comps to grab a bite, your options (especially somewhat healthy ones) are fairly limited.

On the one hand, if you're all business about poker, Foxwoods isn't a bad place to play. But if you want to at least do your business in comfort, there's a lot to be desired.

8. Blue Chip Casino, Hotel & Spa

In the summer of 2011, my wife (then girlfriend) and I went to Valparaiso, Indiana, for her family reunion. That sounds like a terrible time for me, right? Luckily, her entire family loves to gamble, so it was planned in advance that the site of the reunion would be within driving distance of a casino.

Blue Chip, in Michigan City, Indiana, was a 40-minute drive from our hotel and had a poker room with about 10 cash tables. I was able to sit and play $1-2 no-limit Hold'em for a few hours, and I remember the locals thinking I was a professional because I knew how to shuffle chips in my hands. I love "locals" casinos like this, and I wish there were more of them in the Northeast.

7. Aria Resort & Casino

At the end of my first trip to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker, I had a couple days off before my flight home (well, more like a day and a half, when you consider that I slept for roughly 14 hours after the final night of coverage). The first thing I did was head to the Bellagio, where I logged a 17-hour session playing $1-2.

After the Bellagio marathon, I checked out of my hotel, grabbed a bite to eat, and still had about eight hours to kill before I had to go to the airport. So I went to the Aria, of which I had heard nothing but rave reviews.

The Aria was very nice and certainly kept up with the high standards set by its fellow "luxury" competitors in Vegas. But my favorite part, besides the amenities, was that I had the chance to play at the craziest cash game table of my life.

The $1-3 pot-limit Omaha games at the Aria are absolutely absurd. On this particular night, I played at a table where every hand saw at least six players to the flop, often in 3-bet pots. The average pot must have been over $1,000.

I'm proud to say I booked a solid win in this PLO game. Unfortunately, I also lost the biggest pot of my entire life in a hand where I flopped the stone cold nuts. Such is life in PLO.

6. Caesars Windsor

Before Detroit built its three major casinos, the Caesars across the river in Windsor, Ontario was the place to be for gamblers. Today, Windsor is still where East Michiganders have to go to get action – if they are 19 or 20 years old.

My college roommate is from a nice Detroit suburb, and I went to visit him a few times over the years. Caesars Windsor was our spot. We probably crossed the border a total of eight times over the course of two of my trips to play poker in Canada, and often ended up eating breakfast at the Canadian McDonald's the morning after an all-night session. Those were great times.

5. Bellagio

I still don't remember much from that aforementioned 17-hour session at the Bellagio. By the end of it, I could barely see straight. But that session marked one of the biggest overall wins of my poker career, and it really made me want to stay in Vegas a little bit longer.

What I do remember about the Bellagio was that it was the first poker room I'd ever been to that had USB outlets in the tables. Brilliant! As I noted in last week's column, I hate having to suffer through low battery on my phone at the poker table, or being forced to plug my charger in at the other side of the room. A USB in the table solves all of my problems.

The Bellagio also has amazing food options that can be delivered straight to your table. What's not to love?

4. Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino

Unlike the Bellagio, Aria and the Wynn, the Rio is absolutely pathetic when it comes to amenities. The Pavilion Room during the World Series of Poker is a filthy mess, and you can forget about comps — you're lucky if you can "earn" a $10 food voucher every couple of days.

But my God, the cash games at the Rio in the summer are unbelievable. If your sole purpose in poker is to make money, the Pavilion at the Rio during the WSOP is the place to be. In fact, if you played high enough stakes, you could probably make a career of grinding cash games at the Rio during the WSOP – if you can handle the variance.

Of course, I prefer to play at other places in Vegas. But not playing at the Rio during the WSOP is like flushing money down the toilet. And nobody wants to do that.

3. Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort

Remember when I said that Caesars Windsor was the place to be for 19- and 20-year-old gamblers in Michigan? When my roommate and I originally planned our first trip to his house in Feb. 2008, I was still 18 years old. He thought I was 19, though. And I thought the gambling age throughout all of Canada was 18.

It wasn't until we were boarding our plane in Boston that we both realized we weren't going to be able to go to Windsor on this trip. So my roommate came up with plan B: Soaring Eagle in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, a two-hour drive from his house.

Soaring Eagle was my very first experience in a casino, and it was amazing. I also ran red hot in my very first session of $1-2, building my $200 buy-in up to $1,400 before we headed off to dinner. And I still remember that dinner – we had prime rib and lobster bisque at the Siniikaung Steak & Chop House, all courtesy of my roommate's generous mother (thanks again, Kim!).

Soaring Eagle is not the nicest or most luxurious casino I've ever been to. But it was the first, and it made an impression on me that I'll never forget. It deserves to be high on my list.

2. Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa

If Foxwoods is my home turf, then the Borgata is my home away from home. I'm from South Jersey, and my parents have a beach house in Brigantine, which is literally a five-minute drive from the Borgata. So when I visit my parents during the summer, I invariably drive over the causeway at least once to play some cards.

The Borgata is my favorite poker room on the East coast by far. The chairs are incredibly comfortable, the cards are firm and in great condition, and the chips are impeccably clean (though they are magnetic and stick together, which is annoying). The food options are great, and the cocktail waitresses are always at your service. What's not to love?

The Borgata – and New Jersey in general – also has the added bonus of offering regulated online poker, which you can enjoy from the comforts of your own (or in my case, my parents') couch. Now that's living.

1. Wynn Las Vegas

The best hot chocolate in the world is at the Wynn Las Vegas.

The best hot chocolate in the world is at the Wynn Las Vegas. (photo by Dan Podheiser/Casino City)

I detailed my love for the Wynn pretty well in last week's column, but I'll reiterate my sentiments. The Wynn poker room features top-of-the-line comfort, world-class dealers, premium beverage service, incredible food options, USB chargers in the tables, and excellent cards and chips (except that the green $25 chips don't stack properly next to the other chips). It's just about everything you could want in a poker room.

It's my impression, too, that while the Wynn has pretty good action year-round, it also serves as a decent competitor to the Rio during the WSOP. I know that when I played there for the first time this year, there was plenty of money flowing at the $2-5 no-limit tables. And a lot of it was there for the taking.

One final note: Just look at this hot chocolate I ordered at the Wynn. It's the best hot chocolate in the entire world.
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Best of Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser

Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.
Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.