Sunday, October 30, 2011

Visiting the WSOP-Circuit Hammond


When I heard that PokerNews would be live reporting the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, I knew I’d be selected as one of the bloggers; after all, I lived just a hop, skip, and a jump away in central Wisconsin. I'd never been to this particular venue before, which is basically in Chicago, so I was more than willing to go. In fact, if I've never been somewhere before, I'm always willing to depart on a new adventure.

After making the three-and-a-half hour journey, I arrived at the Horseshoe on Thursday, the day before the Main Event. I got there at noon for the sole purpose of playing the $350 buy-in Omaha Hi/Low event, which I consider to be one of my stronger games. I promptly registered in the lobby and made my way into The Venue, the Horseshoe’s gigantic theater. When I say this place is big, it’s an understatement. It was like being in a stadium, and believe me when I say everyone who is anyone has played on their stage. Some of my favorites who have performed there, as evidenced by the framed photos in the lobby, are Joel McHale, Tracy Morgan, Hank Williams Jr., and Brad Garrett, just to name a few.

Once I tracked down my seat among the 99 tables, I unpacked my things and settled in for a day of O8. Unfortunately, my tournament proved to be very uneventful. I had no significant hands and pretty much blinded away, with my elimination coming just shy of the dinner break. While I hated to bust, it opened up my evening, so I decided to head to the hotel (the Horseshoe Hammond does not have a hotel on their property) and meet up with my co-worker for the event, Paul Oresteen.

I’d like to say that something interesting happened that night, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Instead, I got a good night’s sleep and prepared for Day 1a of the Main Event. Now, I’ve been to quite a few WSOP Circuit stops before, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the large turnout that piled into The Venue. An astounding 912 players threw down $1,600, already surpassing the field from 2010. Not only was I impressed by the field’s size, I was taken aback by the quality. Some fairly big names turned out for their shot at WSOP Circuit gold including Kathy Liebert, Allen Kessler, Chad Brown, Dwyte Pilgrim, Josh Brikis, and Mark “Pegasus” Smith (check out my interview with Pegasus here).

I also enjoyed seeing a lot of poker players from my regular circle. Being so close, plenty players from Wisconsin made the trek to Chicago, including Mark “P0ker H0” Kroon. For those who don’t know Kroon, he is an old-school player who jumped on the online poker fad early on. If there were godfathers of the online realm, he would be one of them. Kroon was actually eliminated on Day 1a on the third hand when pocket kings cracked his pocket aces. Lucky for him, there was a rebuy option and he tried again on Day 1b.

Even though it was smaller than the first flight, Day 1b still attracted 703 players, bringing the total to 1,615 players — the largest turnout for any Main Event in WSOP Circuit history. I must admit, I am a big fan of the re-entry. Not only did it increase the field and juice the prize pool, it allows players who’ve suffered a bad beat to give it another whirl. Kroon was the perfect example of this. As previously mentioned, he busted early on Day 1a from a sick beat and then reentered on Day 1b. He ended up finishing in 16th place and totally redeem himself, all thanks to the re-entry option. Without it, Kroon would have traveled all the way to the event, played three hands, and then likely have been so tilted as to never return. Can't say that I'd blame him.

For a look at the WSOP-Circuit Hammond results, click here.

Now, I wish I could relish you with tales of intrigue and entertainment from Hammond, but the life of a poker blogger is not always glamorous, especially when a tournament is in full swing. I worked a lot, and used any downtime to sleep. However, there were certainly a few things I enjoyed during my visit. Here are some cliff notes and random thoughts regarding my time in Hammond:

- The staff was great. Friendly and courteous, they weren’t shy about handing out comps. As far as the tournament goes, the staff at the event was comprised of the best professionals in the industry. That includes floors, dealers, and everyone else involved with putting on the almost two-week long affair.

- Speaking of comps, we ate the buffet for free every night. The food was good and there was a great selection, which isn’t always the case with casino buffets. I really liked the fact that their selection was broken down into five categories: Asian, Latin, Italian, Seafood, and American Grill, not to mention the desert bar.

- The Horseshoe Hammond is huge. Riverboats casinos tend to be a little cramped, but this one was bigger than some land-based casinos I’ve visited. Tons of slots, dozens of table games, and a nice poker room made this a top-notch gaming establishment.

- I didn’t like the fact that the property charged for alcohol and other beverages like juice and Red Bull. One of the cocktail waitresses even told me that they’re likely to start charging for soda and water soon. I understand wanting to maximize profits, but I spend enough in casinos without having to fork over $3 for a glass of orange juice.

- I almost forgot to pick up a $1 chip for my collection. You see, I grab a chip from every casino I visit as a sort of souvenir. Luckily, I remembered on the last night there and grabbed a white $1 Horseshoe chip.

While the venue was great, the city of Hammond itself wasn’t very impressive; in fact, I found it to be a little grimy. Being situation on Lake Michigan, the Horseshoe Hammond is nestled among factories, a marina, and railroad tracks. The combination of factory fumes, pollution, and aquatic life didn’t soothe the senses, and it wasn't exactly easy to get “a breath of fresh air.” Add to the fact that the area was a bit dated and rundown, and there didn’t seem to be a lot to do off the casino property. While this certainly bodes well for the casino, it wasn't exactly conducive to someone looking to get away from the constant chorus of slot machines. Anyway, this was rendered a moot point given my busy schedule, but I still labeled Hammond as derelict.

All in all, my jaunt to Indiana wasn’t that bad. The poker scene in the Midwest is second to none, and I expect the Horseshoe Hammond to continue setting the standard for WSOP Circuit success. Large fields, lucrative prize pools, and a well-run event makes the WSOP Circuit Horseshoe Hammond a must for any poker player. While I wouldn’t go to Hammond for a vacation, I’d head there for the poker action any day of the week; with that said, I’m sure I’ll be back sooner than later.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @ChadAHolloway.

Picture courtesy of Cake Poker Blog.

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