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.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Trip to Canterbury Park's Fall Poker Classic

On October 1, 2011, I made the three-hour drive between my house and Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota (just South of the Twin Cities). Canterbury was actually the first poker room I was ever in, way back in 2002. I hadn’t paid a visit in over five years, but I thought I’d head up there for their annual Fall Poker Classic, which has grown in both size and prestige in the past few years.

The Fall Poker Classic is Minnesota’s premiere poker series, spanning 16 days and 32 events. For a look While I wasn’t able to stay for the entirety, I took a few days off to play in some events and try my luck in their clever “Survival tournaments,” which are designed to offer a no-limit/pot-limit cash-game like experience in a state that allows neither version (more on this later).

I arrived at Canterbury Park about an hour before the first tournament, Event #1 $300 No Limit Hold’em, and promptly made my way to the cardroom, which is inside a massive race-track facility (Canterbury Park is a premiere horse-racing track). After registering, I made my way to the tournament floor and was immediately impressed. They had a nice spread for the players that included a continental breakfast, quality tables, professional dealers, and cultivated a comfortable space for a poker tournament. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck in that tournament. I got off to an early start, but then I picked up pocket queens and called in opponent’s all-in preflop bet. He held 10-9 of diamonds and ended up hitting trips to take a chunk of my stack, which was followed closely by my elimination.

That evening I tried the $100 NLHE bonus event, which was essentially a Turbo. I have a lot of experience in those and did quite well. However, all my hard work was for naught as they paid 30 spots and I busted in 32nd place. I nursed a short stack for a long time before trying to steal with A6o only to run into pocket queens in the big blind. I was pleased with my play, but bubbling is very demoralizing.

The following day I played Event #2 $150 NLHE, but it was fairly uneventful and I busted in Level 4. Since I couldn’t play the evening’s Seniors Event, I decided to try out the “Survival Tournaments,” which are essentially a no-limit hold’em cash game with a twist. You see, in order to satisfy state requirements, the game must be a tournament format. So, each player would buy in for a predetermined amount (i.e. $300, $500, $1,000, etc.) and would get chips totaling that amount. The game would then begin and would last for a predetermined time (two hours, three hours, etc.). When that time is up, the game is over, and players cash out whatever amount they have in front of them.

It is a really intriguing and clever concept, and it worked really well. I usually don’t like playing with a time limit, but in this instance it seemed to inspire action. My opponents had the mentality that they needed to see as many hands as possible because the clock was ticking, which proved especially true in the last half hour. Basically, they were playing a turbo tournament strategy in a cash game. Not a good idea. I employed the standard cash game strategy of playing tight and waiting for a hand, and I got paid each and every time. I ended up playing two of these Survival Tournaments, and that ultimately contributed to me coming home with more money than when I left.

On Tuesday, I played Event #3 $200 NLHE and was doing quite well. I slowly chipped up, hit a couple sets, and then received a crucial double when a short stack moved all in with A6, I shipped all in over the tops with queens, and a guy holding AK called. My queens held and that pot put me right back in it headed to the dinner break. An hour later, we returned and I proceeded to lose every single hand I played, busting in 33 place when 20 got paid. Another close, demoralizing finish.

I should also note that there were a few notables in attendance in CardRunners’ Michael Schneider and “Minneapolis” Jim Meehan, the latter actually finishing as runner up in Event #7 for $9,533. My visit to the Fall Poker Classic came to an end after that as some pressing matters caused me to leave a couple days earlier than expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Thanks to the Survival Tournaments, I returned with more than I took, and I had the chance to meet a lot of fine people, like Michael Hochman, Senior Director of Card Casino Operations (you can check out my interview with him on PokerNews).

Here are the results for the first week of the Fall Poker Classic:

- Event #1 $300 NLHE / 244 entries / $71,004 Prize Pool / Henry Holderness ($17,680)

- Bonus Event $100 NLHE / 256 entries / $24,832 Prize Pool / Mike Levine ($6,186)

- Event #2 $150 NLHE / 235 entries / $34,193 Prize Pool / Aaron Johnson ($8,513)

- Bonus Event $100 Seniors NLHE / 153 entries / $14,841 Prize Pool / Al Giardina ($3,857)

- Event #3 $200 NLHE / 219 Entries / $42,486 Prize Pool / Adam Dahlin ($11,047)

- Bonus Event $100 Ladies NLHE/ 91 entries / $8,827 Prize Pool/ Lori Cosner ($2,471)

- Event #4 $200 Omaha Hi/Lo / 131 entries / $25,414 Prize Pool / Casey Schams ($6,608)

- Bonus Event $100 NLHE / 233 entries / $22,601 Prize Pool / Eric Eelkema ($5,628)

- Event #5 $200 Mix Limit O8/Hold’em / 81 entries / $15,714 Prize Pool / Doug Fink ($4,400)

- Bonus Event $100 All-in or Fold NLHE / 74 entries / $7,178 Prize Pool / Keith Lindgren ($2,010)

- Event #6 NLHE $200 NLHE / 244 entries / $47,336 Prize Pool / Nate Fair ($11,787)

- Bonus Event $100 Mix Limit O8/Hold’em / 127 entries / $12,318 Prize Pool / Ryan Pick ($3,202)

- Event #7 $300 NLHE / 234 entries / $68,094 Prize Pool / Blake Bohn ($16,955)

- Bonus Event $100 NLHE / 300 entries / $29,100 Prize Pool / Gerald Cunniff ($7,239)

If you ever get the chance to go to Canterbury Park, be it for the Fall Poker Classic or just to play, I highly recommend it. They run a nice poker room and it proved one of the most satisfying poker experience I’ve had. If you’re interested in keeping atop the Fall Poker Classic, be sure to follow them on Twitter @CanterburyPoker. You can also follow @ChadAHolloway as I’ll be tweeting the results daily.

*Picture courtesy of Minnesota Poker Magazine.