Sunday, March 5, 2017

In Memoriam: The Hard Rock Poker Room

The Hard Rock is closing their poker room.  And I’m pretty broken up about it.  It’s a devastating loss to the Vegas poker community.

OK, I’m kidding.  It’s not really a loss at all to the Vegas poker community.  The Hard Rock poker room never left much of an imprint on the poker scene in Vegas.

Still, I shouldn’t be flippant.  It always makes me a little sad when I hear of a poker room closing.  I know it means that some people will be losing their jobs and that’s always a devastating thing to happen to anyone.  I feel bad for any of the Hard Rock poker employees who are now out of a job.

The good news for them is that, if you’re a Vegas poker dealer, this is pretty much the best time of the year to get laid off.  The WSOP will be hiring temp dealers for that little shindig they’re having over at the Rio in a couple of months.  And the other rooms that have their summer series at the same time will also be looking for additional staff. Even rooms that don’t have a summer series, the busier ones, will be looking to bring in temp dealers to handle the busiest time of the year in the Vegas poker world.  If you know how to pitch cards, you should be able to find work, at least thru mid-July.

But I digress. You haven’t heard me talk much—if at all—about the Hard Rock poker room in all these years.  Although I did recently publish arniejoken’s excellent guest post about his session there not too long ago (here).  I only played there twice.  But I actually have a bit of a story from one of the times I did that I’ve never related here.  So why not now, as a tribute to the room?

The poker room at HR actually has gone through three incarnations.  After I’d been playing poker for awhile but long before I started the blog, they opened up a really nice room to much fanfare.  But they didn’t call it a “poker room.”  I believe they called it the “Poker Lounge.”  It was quite separate from the casino and it had its own bar and its own restrooms and I believe it had couches you sit on to take a break from the poker.  It was a really nice venue.

I only saw it once.  I went to check it out and the place was very dead.  I think there might have been a 1/2 game or two going but this was so long ago that I was playing nothing but 2/4 limit back then (or 3/6 if I had to).  So I didn’t consider playing the 1/2.  I think I went there knowing that they were unlikely to have a 2/4 game but I also wanted to just see the lounge for myself after hearing about it.

A few Vegas trips later, I was starting to test the waters of no-limit tournaments.  I’d played a few at the Bike (the $40 buy-in ones) and eventually cashed a time or two (min-cashes, of course).  I vaguely recall that on one Vegas trip I played mostly tournaments during the day (and then 2/4 limit at night at MGM).  I researched the tourneys available and found ones at Imperial Palace (now the Linq) and Planet Hollywood that seemed reasonably priced (ie, under $80 buy-in) and with what I somehow determined were reasonable structures for the price.

I remember that the first tournament I ever cashed in was at the Imperial Palace.  I think I played the same small buy-in tournament three days in a row before getting the min-cash there and I was pretty happy.  This was before I had “scored” at the Bike and also, before I had done any real study of no-limit hold’em—either cash or tournaments.  I had only been studying low limit hold-em.  That’s why I wanted to keep the buy-ins low, I knew I didn’t have a great shot at a cashing.

To my untrained eye, all I was looking for was the tournaments that gave you the biggest starting stack for the lowest buy-in.  So one trip, I noticed the tournament at Hard Rock seemed to be the best tournament by those parameters.  Also, they gave you a bunch more chips for a relatively low add-on and also gave you extra chips for registering an hour early for the tournament.  I don’t remember  the details of course, but as I recall the tournament started at Noon and so you had to register by 11AM to get the bonus chips.  So, one day I got my ass moving early enough to register by 11AM and get the bonus chips, however much it was.

When I got there, I was surprised to see that the Poker Lounge was gone and the poker had been moved.  It was still in a separate part of the casino, not that far away from where the Lounge was. It had less than half the tables of the old place and was not nearly as nice.  Apparently the Poker Lounge got off to a strong start but couldn’t maintain it and they weren’t getting very many poker players to come to that beautiful poker room they had built—which I heard had cost them north of $10MM to build.

I wish I had real notes about that tournament.  Well, I guess I do somewhere, handwritten on one of those pocket notebooks I used to use.  But I have no idea which notebook it would be in and even if I found it, I doubt I’d be able to read my handwriting.  And this was not the type of story I would have emailed my friends about as it was strictly a poker story.  The stories I emailed to my friends were generally the ones that were more of a salacious nature since they don’t play poker.  Those emails I sent to my friends back then became the basis of many of my earliest blog posts. 

I think it was like a $60-$70 buy-in, probably around 8K starting stack (after the bonuses and the add-on, something like that).  I’m sure it had 20-minute levels.

But even many years later, I do recall some things about that tournament that I can report.  For one thing, almost no one showed up for it. I think I was the only person who got the bonus chips for signing up early.  When the tournament started, we had less than a single full table.  It was bad.  I think if I had known I could have asked for my money back, I would have. 

I recall that the table eventually filled up—and then overfilled.  We were at 10 players and at one point they scrunched us together and fit an 11th person at the table! My recollection is that they had an alternate and after the first hour, where the first break hit and which was also then end of the registration period, no one had busted out.  So we came back from they break and they decided to add the alternate to the game rather than refunding his money or perhaps just waiting for him to play until someone finally busted. I recall it was really cramped.  Never in my life have I been more eager for someone to bust out this early in a tournament.

As I said, I don’t have access to any written notes I may have made about the poker.  In those days, I virtually never wrote down hands during sessions, I would try to remember them the next day when I did my notes.  I dunno if I bothered to record any interesting hands for this. 

I do recall one interesting moment before the end, however.  There was a guy at the table who was approached by a couple of his buddies. I don’t recall if they had played in the tournament and busted or not, but they started telling this guy still playing about another tournament at some other room in town that they were going to go play in.  It was about to start.  So the guy playing said, “Wait up, I want play in that too.”  On the next hand, he shoved.  I don’t know if he looked at his hand or not.  Actually, I don’t know that it was preflop—it’s possible he had had a hand and had seen the board and saw that he had nothing and decided to give away his chips so he could go to the other tournament with his friends.  But he lost all his chips and took off.  I don’t think he had a big stack left, and the player who was the beneficiary of his largesse wasn’t able to take advantage.  He didn’t make it to the money, even with this gift.

You know who did make it to the money?  Your humble scribe.  Somehow, I actually made it to heads-up play, without really having much idea of what I was doing.  I guess it was just super nitty play among the maniacs.  I think if I had any really miraculous, memorable hands, I’d recall that, but who knows.

What I do know was that this was the first time I’d ever played heads-up in my life (at least live).  And the funny thing is, the guy I was heads up against was also a nitty, fairly new player (at least, not an experienced tournament player).  I don’t recall who had the chip lead going into heads-up, but it didn’t matter because it was very clear early on that neither one of us had the slightest clue as to how to play heads up!  Seriously, we were just playing our “normal” games, and waiting for a reasonable hand to play.  Which means that the blinds and the antes were just going back and forth between us.

It went like that for awhile.  I think we would have played for days, or until we got a cooler hand (like Aces vs Kings).  And I don’t think I even knew that we could make a deal (or maybe, I did know that but was too shy to bring it up).  I can’t recall if we were both in the money or they were only playing one spot.  With 11 players, it could go either way.  I guess it was more likely that we were both in the money. Perhaps they even paid a third?

But fortunately, the other guy finally suggested that we chop.  Not a chip-chop, just split the prize pool 50-50.  I agreed.  I could see that neither one of us knew how to play in that situation and we’d be there forever otherwise.  I have no idea who had the chip lead.  I am pretty sure though that it was very close and a chip-chop wouldn’t have made much difference.

So I walked away a winner.  Technically I could say I won the tournament.  I think I got like $260 for the effort.  I think after that, I was finally inspired to buy some books on NL tournaments and started learning how to play them.

And that was the last time I played poker at Hard Rock for a long time.  Despite my success, I was in no hurry to go back because I was so disappointed in the number of players.

A few years later, after I was a bit more of a tournament player, I went back there to try the afternoon tournament again (it had changed the structure by then, I’m sure).  There was a reason I wanted to go back to the Hard Rock that day, I can’t remember the details.  I think maybe I heard about some giveaway they were doing but it turned out that only locals were eligible for the giveaway.

Anyway I was there.  And at first I couldn’t find the poker room.  It had moved again.  I finally found it.  It was not even a room—just three poker tables set up in the far side of the newest part of the casino, very close to the newest parking structure.  It was sad (this is the currently location as they close it down).  So was the tournament.  At least it had two tables.  But neither was full.  And it was pretty obvious that most of the players were regulars in this tournament as the dealers all (all three of them) knew them.  I think I lasted a fairly long time but didn’t cash.

Those were the only two times I played poker at Hard Rock.  So I never played in a cash game there.

I wish the Hard Rock poker room employees good luck in finding new jobs.

Hard Rock poker room. R.I.P.


  1. Their poker Lounge really was nice in many respects, though the garish, multi-colored table surfaces (not actual felt) made the board hard to read at times. I never needed to put in my earbuds, since the in-house music is what I typically listen to anyway. I think that if they could have put that area in the Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip, it probably would have been a huge success, but it's just too far from the Strip.

    1. I don't recall what the tables looked like, I may not have actually gotten a close look at them.

      The other problem they had was I think the basic clientèle of the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel is not that compatible with poker. Also, the casino is usually dead most weekdays.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for the link.

      Man, that's busy! I can see where it might be difficult to see the cards.

  3. Sad day for TBC. One of the very few places left in Las Vegas where he was allowed in to play poker.

    1. Wow, Pete...I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're right.

      AND...he left town just a day or so before the high hand giveaway started, otherwise he could be grinding there right now getting some free promo money.

      Bad timing.

    2. I had to look at a strip casino map to confirm if the Hard Rock was the poker room that I played with TBC a fair number of years ago and determined it was actually Bally's that we were at that our Hero got into a beef at the table before he even had his chips in front of him. Short recap was that we both sat down and he was dealt in at an EP and when somebody asked him how many chips he bought in for and the reply back was not taken well by the gentleman from Brooklyn and the floor had to come to the table to calm things down. To our Hero's credit we did do some retrospection afterwards where he asked me if what he did was wrong or right and my response at that time was related to picking what battles you want to fight and that chip question in my mind was not one of them to fight.

    3. Thanks, Lester. Not sure what his issue was, but I know he wouldn't like to be dealt in in early position, he'd want to come in behind the button.

    4. Tony's reply to being asked how much he bought in for was "How much is your stack?". Then an argument proceeded with the man from Brooklyn about whether or not Tony did or did not have to say how much his pending delivery of chips was worth.

    5. I don't get his argument at all. If he was dealt in to a hand, every player at the table needed to know how much he was playing.

    6. I am going to go out on a limb here...

      Our Hero likely thought that the question was "rude".

    7. It's a necessary question under the circumstances. But I've given up trying to figure out how his mind works.

  4. I guess this is weird question, but it seems like you just floating when it comes to playing poker. You very rarely have winning sessions. I don't play as much as you but I win about 70% of the time. Also, my wins exceed my losses. I don't see myself as a better player, but money talks. I think the big difference is that I have been at better tables than you. In the end it is just a roll of the dice....

  5. I played a couple of times at the Poker Lounge. They had a huge button straddle option; first time I'd seen a button straddle. Action was always juicy, but they never seemed to have more than one or two games going.

    1. Thanks Grange. I believe I recall Grump saying that was the first time he saw the button straddle.

      It was a super nice poker room (the original) but I don't think the Hard Rock was ever a good location for a poker room....wrong clientèle for it. And they could not get a steady stream of locals to show up.

    2. Yeah, you're exactly right. They opened at the peak of the poker boom. Even with overlays they could never get a tournament to fly. Just too far off Strip for tourists, and nothing to offer locals.