California State Poker Championship Going Strong at Commerce Casino

CSPC

The California State Poker Championship is currently running at Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, California. The series kicked off on Friday, April 29 with a $175 buy-in No Limit Hold’em Double Stack tournament featuring a $50,000 guarantee.

Matt Savage

Tournament Director Matt Savage always runs tournaments that feature a mix of games that appeal both to the professional and recreational player. Savage says, “The Commerce California State Poker Championship is an annual series with 20 events and guarantees in excess of $1,000,000 with great structures you’ve come to expect at the Commerce.”

Savage continues, “The Cal State series is a great way for you not only to build your summer bankroll but to play many of the games you don’t see in other venues.”

The California State Poker Championship is also a great lead up to the World Series of Poker. It’s always interesting to follow the winners of the California Championship and see how they do at the World Series of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas this summer.

Paul Vinci

One such player to look out for is Paul Vinci, a familiar face on the Los Angeles poker scene. He won Event #8: $350 Pot Limit Omaha 8 or Better on May 3rd.  In 2014 he came in 5th in the same event.

Vinci is off to a great start in 2016. Back in January, he cashed in back-to-back tournaments at the prestigious Los Angeles Poker Classic (LAPC) at Commerce Casino. On January 20, he placed 7th in the $350 Stud 8 or Better, then came in 12th in the $350 Omaha 8 or Better/Stud8 or Better on January 21st.

His biggest score to date came in Event #19: $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha at the 2005 WSOP where Vinci’s second place win was good for $70,680. Barry Greenstein won his second gold bracelet in that event.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Vinci started dealer school across the street from the Bicycle Club in 1993. He burst on the poker scene in 1995 with his first cash in the LAPC IV when he placed 6th in a $330 Lowball tournament.

That year he continued to cash in tournaments in a variety of poker variants from Seven-Card Stud to Omaha Hi/Lo leaving dealing behind forever. The fact that he is still winning and cashing in tournaments twenty years later is a testament to his skill. He is definitely one to watch.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker. She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

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Before the Poker Boom: Poker in the 90s

Trump

In the 80s poker had become primarily a west coast phenomenon, but thanks to poker pioneers like Steve Wynn, Jack Binion, Lyle Berman, George Hardie and even Donald Trump, poker would expand across the United States in the 90s.

I became casino marketing director of the Bicycle Casino in 1991. Knowing I was from Alabama, the Bicycle Casino’s founder George Hardie sent me to Tunica, Mississippi, to scout the area for a large poker casino he had planned to develop there.

As I looked out at the cotton fields and the raging Mississippi river, I remember looking forward to running a poker room in the south; it would be going back home for me. I had hosted many games in that area for years and finally would have a chance to offer the players a legal and safe environment to play where they would not have to worry about law enforcement or hijackers.

Hardie had options on land around Robinson and the Tunica area, which would later be sold to Lyle Berman. Berman is one of the best Omaha players in the world. He would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Diamond Jim Brady tournaments and became good friends with Hardie. Hardie had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica.

Hardie had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Berman, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica in 1996, which helped establish poker in Mississippi. Jack Binion also purchased land to build the Horseshoe casino, which opened the previous year. Poker had finally arrived in the south.

Ken Lambert Jr., Regional Director of Operations for the Heartland Poker Tour, recalls opening day of Jack Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Tunica where he was director of poker operations, “We finally opened in February of 1995 to long lines of excited players. The lines extended hundreds of feet. It was a cold day, but to warm as many of the guests as he could, Jack emptied out his gift shop and began handing out any type of cold apparel that was on hand.”

Lambert continues, “I had 10 poker tables opened and ready to go as players rushed to the room to be the first to play a hand in Tunica at Jack Binion’s Horseshoe. Not long after opening, the poker room expanded to 12 tables and the rest was history. We had the biggest players in the world come play. The new dealers were dealing games they had only heard about, $4,000/$8,000 limit Hold’em and the Pot-Limit Omaha had a $75,000 max bet.”

When the poker explosion happened in the 1980s and 1990s, I felt like Forrest Gump. I was lucky enough to see landmark events in poker history firsthand and even established a record myself. I became the first player to have four consecutive cashes in the WSOP Main Event in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. My highest finish was 6th in 1994. Ronnie Bardah set a new record in 2014 with five consecutive cashes in the Main Event.

On the east coast, poker was also having its own boom. In Nolan Dalla’s article “The Early Years of the Atlantic City Poker Scene,” Dalla says, “The epicenter of the East Coast poker universe instantly became the Trump Taj Mahal, which opened the sparkling 50-table room in the Summer of 1993.”

Poker Hall of Famer Jack McClelland was hired by Donald Trump in 1996 as poker tournament director to establish a major poker tournament on the east coast. Trump created the United States Poker Championship tournament, which was a prestigious stop on the professional poker circuit for years and was televised on ESPN. McClelland recalls Trump as a no-nonsense, get-it-done-right kind of guy. He really enjoyed working for him.

I remember going to the opening of most of these new poker rooms in the south and on the east coast. Poker now had a showcase across the United States. This developed thousands of new poker players. Poker had arrived as a must-have amenity in casinos to reach out to a new demographic of gamblers.

The 90s was a great decade for me personally, as I found success both in casino boardrooms and on the felt. In part 2, I will discuss the poker boom in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn, with the help of Bobby Baldwin as his president, opened Bellagio, which would be a game changer in the history of poker.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.

Pot-Limit Omaha: Poker’s Next Big Thing

PLO

I’ve been teaching my wife Patty how to play Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO) this week, and it got me to thinking about the differences between PLO and Omaha High-Low, which I taught her how to play two years ago.

PLO is an entirely different game than Omaha High-Low because you have to manage the betting so as to draw as cheaply as possible or attack the pots aggressively as most European players do. The British have a perfect name for the game–pop it up or fold Omaha.

When you switch to Omaha from Hold’em, you’ll notice it has so much more gamble while at same time it’s a game of the nuts with back door outs which creates a lot of action. Like any poker game, the best players will win the most money.

You must have more discipline in Omaha poker. Just because you have four private cards doesn’t mean you should play more hands.

Starting hand selection is a key feature of any poker game. My friend Greg Gensicki, a specialist in mixed games, puts it this way: “To the unsuspecting, it would seem every hand is playable. ‘How can I miss when I am getting four, count ’em, four cards?!’  Years spent playing seven card stud instilled in me the importance of appropriate starting hand selection.  The same holds true for Omaha.”

Greg continues, “Well coordinated hands (e.g. KQJT, T987) fare much better than uncoordinated ones (e.g. KQT6, T945). Coordinated suited and double suited hands can provide redraws for the win when your less discerning opponent has the same hand. They can be the difference between having a lowly open-ended straight draw or a powerhouse having 20+ outs.”

Secondly, you want to get in the pot as cheaply as possible to see the flop. I like to say No-Limit Hold’em is played before the flop and PLO is played on the flop. Just like any poker game, you can expand your hands selection playing short-handed versus a full game.

Lastly, the real finesse of Omaha begins after the flop. Since it’s usually a multi-way pot, not only are you analyzing multiple hands and players, but you must decide how fast and furious you want to proceed. You must continuously evaluate what to do since so many changes occur in Omaha on every street.

As my friend Greg says, “Whereas Texas Hold’em is often a game of pairs and position, Pot- Limit Omaha is apt to be about straights, flushes and full houses due to each player holding four starting cards. Experienced Hold’em players new to the game quickly learn, to their chagrin, top pair top kicker doesn’t have the same value.”

In the book “Mastering Hold’em & Omaha Poker” by Mike Cappelletti, Mike Caro writes, “It would not be surprising if Omaha surpassed hold’em in popularity sometime within the next 40 years.”

I agree. I predict this is the year that Omaha will explode in popularity, especially at the World Series of Poker this summer, where I believe the cash games will double in number. It took a while, but Omaha is growing on the West Coast faster than any other poker game.

Omaha has really grown in the Southern California. The most popular game played is a mix format of eight hands of Omaha High-Low and eight hands of High only. High only is a much easier transition from Hold’em than Omaha High-Low; it’s Hold’em on steroids.

In Los Angeles, PLO has quadrupled in the past year with more young players stepping up from No Limit Hold’em. It seems they are tired of coin-flip poker and want a better game to protect their money. Mastering Omaha will open lots of opportunities for your poker earning power.

As Mike Cappelletti writes in his book, “For many players, it is much easier to win at Omaha than hold’em simply because few players play Omaha correctly. Even most decent-to-good Omaha players cost themselves money by playing incorrectly both before and after the flop.”

Every game has its learning curve. I recommend you read all you can on the subject then choose games with players entering many pots and raising a lot of hands. To get better, you have to practice.

Over the past three years I had the opportunity to teach my wife not only about Omaha but about poker and the poker life. She made me look at poker through new eyes and fall in love with the game all over again.

I want to dedicate this article to my wife who has helped me take a long look at my poker career and help me put into words the experiences of playing for over 50 years.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

Omaha Poker: Best Places to Play in the West

Omaha

If you’re traveling to the western part of the United States and are ready to practice playing the game of Omaha in a live setting, here is a rundown of the action and where to play.

Many consider Los Angeles to be the center of the poker universe, and Commerce Casino, located about 30 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport, features the largest card room in the world and the best range of Omaha games and limits from which to choose.

Beginning with $4/$8 Omaha Hi/Lo (O8) games and Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) with a $100-$300 buy-in all the way up to a $2,500 buy-in PLO game that is spread every day in the high limit section, the non-stop action at Commerce Casino makes it one of the top spots to play in the world.

Other Los Angeles-area casinos also spread Omaha daily. The Bicycle Casino located in Bell Gardens also features a $4/$8 Omaha Hi/Lo game and a mix game of Stud Hi/Lo and Omaha with a $20/$40 limit. A Pot Limit Omaha game is also offered on certain days. They also have a weekly Omaha tournament on Mondays.

The Garden Casino in Hawaiian Gardens offers a variety of games including $4/$8, $6/$12 Limit Omaha and also a Pot Limit Omaha game with a $100 to $300 buy-in. They have also added a Seven-Card Stud 8-or-Better mix game and will join Hollywood Park Casino and Commerce Casino in offering  a mix game at the $6/$12 limit.

My favorite place to play Omaha in Southern California is the Hollywood Park Casino located just minutes from the Los Angeles Airport. Their offerings include $4/$8 Omaha Hi/Lo, $6/$12 Big O (5-card Omaha), $40/$80 Omaha Hi/Lo and a $20/$40 mix Omaha and Stud Hi/Lo.

Hollywood Park also has added a high stakes PLO game. Hollywood Park Casino hosts a $60 buy-in $2,500 guarantee Big O tournament every Saturday at 3 p.m.

Several Native American casinos in Southern California offer limit Omaha. Pechanga Resort and Casino, the largest casino in California in Temecula, spreads a $3/$6 Big O game daily. Agua Caliente Casino near Palm Springs spreads a great $6/$12 Omaha Hi/Lo game.

Just outside Los Angeles, The Players Club in Ventura, California, offers small limit and pot limit Omaha games full of great action. Omaha on the West Coast is growing, and I predict the amount of games will double in the near future.

Las Vegas is a great place to play Omaha and has some legendary spots like the Orleans Hotel and Casino, which is famous for its low-limit Omaha games and large jackpots. If you need to build a bankroll, one of the best places to play is Boulder Station which features a $4/$8 limit Omaha high only game with some of the best action in Las Vegas. It seems like there are always six people going to the river.

For bigger action, the most consistent place to find it is at the Venetian Las Vegas, which features $4/$8 Omaha and $8/$16 Omaha along with $15/$30 and Pot Limit Omaha. Aria spreads Pot Limit Omaha daily, and Bellagio has some middle limit Omaha if requested.

As far as tournaments go, the LA Poker Classic running now through March 3, 2016, at Commerce Casino is a great place to try your hand at playing mixed games in a tournament setting. Tournament Director Matt Savage and his staff, including tournament coordinator Jeffrey King, have done a great job creating a new tournament schedule with less rebuy and less re-entry events.

The LAPC has a great mix of events that will appeal to both recreational and professional players. Several Pot Limit Omaha and No Limit H.O.R.S.E and other mixed games are featured. I was fortunate to play in several of these events.

Matt explained his philosophy this way: “I have always believed that there is much more to poker than just No Limit Hold’em, and I think it’s important to keep mixed games available not only to play but to introduce to the next generation of poker players.”

He continues, “The last thing I want as a player that loves mixed games is to see Limit Hold’em, Omaha/8, Stud/8, and Razz go the way of Lowball and Draw. I feel really fortunate to be the Tournament Director for a series like the LA Poker Classic where I can be creative with the schedule and even try new variations and games like No Limit H.O.R.S.E., Crazy Pineapple, and Triple Stud.”

I really like when casinos do things that put customers first like Commerce does, such as the Player of the Series with $25,000 added money and food vouchers for all tournament players.

The bottom line is Omaha and mixed games are becoming more mainstream in the Southern California poker scene. If you want to become a professional poker player, it’s time to master these games.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.