Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

No More Hard Rock Poker

The Hard Rock Casino is Las Vegas is closing its poker room. It was never one of the most popular places to play (it was off the strip, and there was always more action at Bellagio, Aria, Venetian, Wynn, etc.), but I had a few good experiences there back in 2008-9, when it was called the Hard Rock Poker Lounge.

It was nicely designed, had some of the most comfortable chairs I've found around a poker table, and the tables were each covered with different rock-and-roll-themed felts. The music was pounding, the staff and players were younger than in other rooms, more alcohol was consumed, and the whole atmosphere was much more relaxed -- which explains why, one night, I noticed the players at a table using a Magnum condom as the dealer button.

The first time I played at the Hard Rock, it was in a "Trash Talk Tuesday" game. The blinds were $2 and $5, with a mandatory straddle on the button of $10 (or up to $100), deep stacks (buy-in up to $3,000) and, as the name implied, trash talking and slow-rolling encouraged. Even the dealers that were assigned to the game would poke fun at the players -- in a joking way, and only with locals they knew because, after all, they depend on the kindness of strangers for their tips.

The game also included the seven-deuce prop. That meant that if anyone won a pot while holding a 7 and a 2 (the worst starting hand in hold'em), everyone else had to pay them a $10 bounty. This encouraged a lot of wild bluffs and attracted lots of super-aggressive action. Twice during the evening, some young guy bet a lot of chips to get me to fold to his seven-deuce but, unfortunately for him, I had a big hand each time and just check-called to the river. I was more than happy to let him try to win $80 on a prop bet by losing $1,500 to me.

When I got home, I tried to get a Trash Talk Tuesday game going at one of the local casinos, but the Missouri Gaming Commission got in the way, as it so often does because it doesn't know anything about poker. They didn't understand the seven-deuce prop or some of the other aspects of the game, and without those, it never took off.

On another occasion, I was in Vegas when a friend called to tell me that Jamie Gold, who won the World Series Of Poker Main Event in 2006, was in town for a promotional appearance and playing in a cash game at the Hard Rock. I made my way over there and got a seat at the table, where there was plenty of money being pushed around. We didn't get tangled up in any big pots, but Jamie and I did talk between hands.

I asked Gold how often he went out to play in live games. He said it wasn't that often, but he played in a Hollywood home game with several guys with very deep pockets who want to play higher stakes than they can in a casino. Plus, in their private venue, they didn't have to worry about gawkers and other distractions as they played, ate, and drank whatever they wanted.

Side note: years later, I had a great on-air conversation with Molly Bloom, who ran the game Jamie was talking about, which also included Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gabe Kaplan, and Guy Laiberte. She recounted many of those stories in her book, "Molly's Game," which is being turned into a movie due this year, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, starring Jessica Chastain, with Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O'Dowd, Graham Greene, Bill Camp, and Brian D'Arcy James.

Then Jamie explained that winning the WSOP and appearing on "High Stakes Poker" on GSN had put a target on his back and forced him to modify the way he played. Because so many people had seen him bluffing on TV, he had locked down his game and almost never bluffed anymore. He said that loud enough that everyone at the table could hear him, and I caught several of the other players rolling their eyes and replying, "Yeah, right!"

Then, over the course of a the next couple of hours, I watched Jamie take several big pots off exactly those players, because they believed he was trying to bluff them when, in fact, he had the nuts. Each time, he exclaimed, "I'm telling you, I don't bluff anymore!" But it fell on deaf ears.

Jamie was interesting to watch, he was fun to talk to, and I won a few big pots of my own, so I was in a good mood, too. Considering how many people showed up in the Poker Lounge that night to try to get into the game with him, I'd say that whatever the Hard Rock gave him in exchange for his appearance was worth it.

Sadly, the Poker Lounge didn't last long because there just wasn't enough business. The young demographic that the Hard Rock attracted was more interested in partying in the pool, hitting on members of the opposite sex, dancing in its nightclubs, and playing drunken blackjack. Within a couple of years, the casino closed the lounge and opened a smaller poker room with fewer tables, but it was never a success, either -- I haven't heard anyone mention going there during a Vegas trip for at least seven years -- and now it's gone for good.

Previously on Harris Online...