In a previous post, I announced my intention to visit every legal poker room in the country. Since I was going down to AC this weekend, it seemed natural to knock them out. There are, by my count, 10 poker rooms in Atlantic City, although one is used for tournaments only. These would be:
The Taj Mahal
The Wild, Wild West (adjacent to Bally's used for tourneys only)
I was able to visit 7 of these and get my obligatory dollar chips from each one. In addition, I played at least one button round at each casino, booking an 'offical' visit. I even got photo of all of the poker rooms, except for Harrah's where the security guard told me he would have to "break my camera and confiscate the film" if he caught me taking a photo. Um, number one it's digital so there's no film, you gangster. Number two, if you take the 'film', isn't breaking the camera going a little overboard, you nazi ape? Just saying…
So, the 7 casinos I visited during the trip were The Hilton, Borgata, Harrah's, Resorts, Showboat, Tropicana and The Taj. Incidentally, I will, at some point soon, be putting up a website with a custom google map and links to all my reviews of the different poker rooms I'm visiting. Watch for the link in an upcoming post sometime in the next few weeks. In the meantime, here's the poor man's version of the poker room reviews.
The Borgata is the nicest hotel, and the poker room is on par with any of the big ones in Vegas, but it's SO big that it loses points with me. The room is slightly cramped (though the very tall ceilings give it an airy feeling) but the tables are top notch, the dealers are excellent and the chairs are by far the best in the city. But, on Labor Day Weekend of all times, the waitresses were insanely overworked. There were only 2 girls working about 30 tables in my section of the room and getting a drink was a major hassle. But the action at the Borgata is hot. It attracts all the tourist players, so the play is very weak and loose. There are also a good variety of games going, but it's mostly geared toward high limit players. There were no low-limit Omaha games going, but there was a 30-60 Omaha game and there was a waiting list for the active 200/400 Stud table! Also, I *hate* the brush desk at the Borgata. You come to the front of the room and wait in line to give your initials to the woman to be put on a list. There are so many games going that the screen showing the games sometimes has to cycle for 3 minutes before the screen with the games you're interested in pops up. Then, they call your initials out on the floor, but it's so loud on the floor, you sometimes can't hear it. Then you have to flag down somebody who works there and lock the seat up for you, but sometimes they only give you 25 seconds or so to find them, then they go to the next person on the list and you're outta luck! Once you've sat down though, the experience is pretty enjoyable. All the tables have in-table shufflers, which speed the game up a bit, and the chairs are a wonderful change from the other rooms. In addition, the waitresses are "Vegas-Quality" in terms of looks and can make for some nice eye candy. Also, since the room attracts young and hip tourists, the players themselves can be very attractive. The only other detraction I would note are the chips. I HATE them. The chips are plastic coated, not the traditional clay chips, with a weighted insert to give them some heft, but they are a bit on the light side. The worst part of the design is that the middle circle of the chip is ever so slightly recessed, and the resulting gap forms an airtight seal when the chips are stacked. This has the effect of the chips sticking together. Most people think, as I once did, that there is a magnetized chip of some sort which makes the chips stick. But I broke open one of the chips this weekend and it just ain't so. But shuffling the chips is a pain as a result and if you can't chip shuffle, what are you going to do when you don't have a hand, godammit?!? I rate the Borgata an 8/10 overall. They lost points on their chips, the brush desk and the noise level in the room.
The Hilton is a perfectly fine room, except that most night I go there, there isn't a decent game to be found. Usually, in my experience, there are only 2 or 3 tables going and the action on them is anemic. I do like the tournaments though, because they're relatively cheap and they don't have antes, which makes for a longer tourney and give players much more play. The tables have recently been upgraded, but the players are generally older and crabbier and the dealers tend to suck. The room does have 3 outstanding features though. The first is the huge bay window which looks West out over the city. It's not a beautiful view or anything but it's a welcome sight to see the sky at all in a poker room, which are usually dungeon-like affairs. The second great feature is a noodle bar, adjacent to the room, which serves up pretty decent noodle bowls, though you have to get them yourself. The third great feature, for me anyway, is the Asian gaming pit which is about 10 steps away from the poker room. Since the main gaming floor is downstairs from the poker area, having the Pai-Gow tables (my favorite non-poker gaming activity) nearby is a big boon to me. When I'm not feeling it at poker, and I want to de-stress from a bad beat, Pai-Gow can't be beat. I rate The Hilton a 5/10 overall. They lost points on their lack of ability to pull players into the room as well as their generally crappy dealers and non-existent floor staff.
Harrah's is in the marina area, and is the next casino over from Borgata, although you can't really walk there. The hotel is equivalent to the others on the boardwalk but the poker room is pretty unique. Instead of being one large room, the room curves and undulates so it feels more like a whole bunch of small and intimate pockets where poker happens to be played. The tables are perfectly nice although the chairs are on the cheap end. I never had a problem with the dealers there, and they are generally talkative and friendly. The play is pretty weak overall although I hear whispers that it gets sharky at times, though I've never seen that. The room is very pretty, with lots of pretty tiling to be distracted by as well as TV's, framed photos, etc… But the room is fairly small overall. Unlike other rooms, where being small feels like they stuck a poker room in as an afterthought, the room has the feel of being homey instead. I like the concept. I rate Harrah's 6/10. They lose points on not haivng enough types of games and on being at the ass-end of AC. Also, the security guard is a nazi pig who threatened to break my camera if I took a picture.
Resorts is the cruddiest and crappiest poker room in the entire city. I almost can't count the number of things wrong with it. It's tiny (maybe 8 tables) and it's adjacent to a smoking area in the casino and no there's no partition. About 10 minutes into my session, my eyes started to water up and I could only stand another 30 minutes or so before I picked up and left. The tables are just average and the chairs about the same. The dealers suck and couldn't care less, in addition to not knowing what they're doing. A guy exposed his winning cards on a hand but didn't show all the table before he mucked. The dealer took the cards and I asked to see them while they were in his hands. The dealer mucked the cards, started shuffling again and said to me, "He had a King". That's it?!? I continued my inquest. "What else, what suit?" Nothing from the dealer. He didn't say anything else and just kept dealing. It sucked donkey dick. I rate the Resorts room 3/10. They lost points on the size of the room, the location next to a smoking area, the crappy equipment, the piss-poor dealers and the lack of anything but 2/4 limit and 1-2 NL. They only got a 3, rather than a 2, because they're *right* on the boardwalk, which is within sight of the poker room, and you can even catch a view of the boardwalk if you're angled just right. Plus, the only Pai-Gow table in the entire casino is 15 feet away from the poker room.
Showboat is quickly becoming my favorite room in the city. It's relatively small, maybe 24 tables, half of which are usually used in tourneys, but the tourneys are top-notch and the staff is super friendly and competent. The tables are wonderful, with in-table shufflers, and the chairs are almost as nice as the Borgata. The room is across from the House of Blues concert venue, so on rare ocassions, you can actually hear some good tunes coming through the wall, like the night I was there and Twisted Sister was playing. :-) The tournaments are the big draw at the Showboat. $125 on Saturday night gets you 10,000 in chips (or was it 15,000) and 25-30 minute blind levels. The Wall Street crew usually has at least one member cashing in these tourneys and the structure allows for a lot of play. Cash isn't quite as good, with 2/4, 3/6 and 1-2 NL being the only games offered, BUT, it's adjancent and adjoining the Taj, which has every low limit game under the sun. The only other detraction I can think of for Showboat is the low ceiling which give the room more claustraphobia than is strictly necessary. I rate the Showboat 7/10. They lost points for the small room, the low ceiling and the dearth of games.
The Tropicana (or 'The Trop') is my favorite card room, but only for sentimental reasons. This was the first place I ever played in AC and was my 'home casino' for many years. There are some very good points to the room though. Their brush desk is the best in AC. Instead of using the newfangled Queue computerized system, they use the old school dry erase board with overhead cameras trained on it. The camera feeds are then fed to monitors in the room so you can see where you are. Floor staff promptly seats players whose names get called and it's actually audible! The dealers are competent and friendly (I even got asked out by one once! A woman no less!!!) and the room has a huge number of tables. The equipment is only so-so, with the tables showing their age and the chairs in bad need of an upgrade, but the sheer size of the room compensates. In addition, they're good about getting lots of different games going and it's not too hard to get a table. Plus, the Trop offers, in my opinion, the best game in the whole city, which is the 'Pink Game'. The Pink Game is 7.50/15 Limit Hold'em and is so named because the only chips used to bet are $2.50 chips, which are Pink in color. Bets are called out not by their amount but by the number of chips bet (3, 6, 9, etc…). Action is loose and there is just the right mix of sharks and tourists to keep it fun. Also, though it rarely runs, the Trop is one of the few rooms in AC to run Omaha/8 AND low limit at that. So it has a leg up on some other rooms in that respect. I rate the Trop 7/10 overall. The lose points because the room is somewhat grimy and crowded and the waitresses are notably slow.
Which leaves The Taj Mahal. The Taj is an interesting case, because until Borgata came to town, they were the biggest and best poker room in Atlantic City, or even the East Coast. At one time, they were considered among the best in the world. It's no mistake that in the movie Rounders, when Mike and Worm go to AC for a night of poker, they end up at The Taj. It was the gold standard for many years, but times have changed for the worse. Gone are the days when high-rollers would play at The Taj ("where the sand turns to gold"). I remember seeing roped off areas featuring small tables of 300-600 limit when I went 10 years ago but I haven't seen a game over 20-40 there for a while. Dealers at the other casinos point to a change of management as the issue. I don't know what it is, but it's a damn shame. The tables are old and creaky, the chairs are crammed in way too close, and the clientele is much older and creakier than even the tables of chairs! The few saving graces are the sheer number of tables (over 80 at last count) and the sheer number of possible games they run. When I showed up on Friday, Darko, Paulie and I all played in a 3/6 2 way rotation game of Omaha/8 and Stud/8. Good luck finding that anywhere else in Atlantic City! Everything else about the Taj pretty much sucks now. The dealers are surly, the wait staff overworked and the floor people mostly clueless. Oh, did I mention at that same rotation game, a brand new dealer, on her very first night, was placed at our table? She was overwhelmed. It was like throwing chum to hungry pirahnahs. I rate The Taj Mahal 5/10 overall. They lose points on their incompetent management, their prickish dealers and the general dirtiness of the room.