Stars & Stripes
While other poker rooms have seen tournaments attendance soften, the Bicycle Casino
's Stars & Stripes tournament series
kicked off last week with 615 players (60 tables!) showing up for the first event. With buy-ins of $120 to $545 and $260,000 of guarantees in this series, the Bike recognizes what poker players want in a weak economy—bankroll-friendly value—and like locusts, players swarmed to it.
In the old days, the Stars & Stripes was a mid-summer series extending over the July 4th holiday. The Bike moved it up a few years back, most likely to avoid the WSOP, and in an endearing, demented twist, dropped it smack in the middle of tax season. It’s been an April routine for me for the last couple of years—file an extension on my taxes, resolve to sort out my receipts at some later date and head over to the Bike to play poker. Pretty much the story of my life—procrastinate, let my conscience bother me for a few minutes and then cave to my basest instincts.
One of the things I like about the S&S and all the other tournaments at the Bike is that you can register online
. I, for one, like a tournament I can register for with a laptop in one hand and a DirecTV remote in the other. More poker rooms should offer this option.
I was planning on playing a couple of the $335 and $545 events and wanted to see how they were setting the tournament up this year. In any event, I called a friend of mine over at the Bike to fax a copy of the structure sheet to me, but she didn’t have a copy of it handy so I headed over on Monday night to pick one up.
Sketchy? Compared to what?
For those of you who haven’t been, the Bike’s located in Bell Gardens, California directly off the 710 freeway at the Florence exit. The area, the corner of Eastern and Florence south of LA, used to be seedy when Stuey hung out there in the 80s and 90s, but now it looks like every major intersection in Los Angeles with strip malls on each corner. Except in this particular case, the second biggest and nicest card room in the city sits on one of the four corners.
Every so often, I’ll be reading a thread on a poker forum and some dude will comment about the Bike being in a bad area. That’s nonsense. I’m not saying you’ll find Whole Foods and the Apple Store nearby, but compared to its peer group, the Bike’s located in the middle a thriving village. At the Commerce, you’re pretty much stuck there unless you’re willing to drive. That’s not all bad, of course, but at the Bike, you can go outside, wander around and have something to visit other than the freeway on ramp and vacant lots.
Meet the neighbors
Need specifics? Directly across from the Bike, you’ll find Appleby’s, Ross, Marshall’s, Washington Mutual, Jamba Juice, some coffee shop called It’s a Grind and a trippy mariachi joint that’s a free-for-all on weekends. You’ll also find the Bell Gardens Hotel, formerly a Ramada Express. It’s not my favorite hotel, but if you’re looking for a shower and a bed, it’s fine. And it’s literally across the street. You could stumble out of the Bike, trip, roll down the driveway and, subject to cross traffic, come to rest at the bottom of the stairs to the hotel lobby. I’m not recommending that commute, of course, but it’s an option.
Across the street to the north is an IHOP (go hungry, leave happy!), Citibank, Big 5 Sporting Goods, RiteAid pharmacy, and a Food 4 Less grocery store. Across the street to the northeast is a Toys R Us, Hollywood Video, Starbucks Drive-thru, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. You get the idea. Anyone who tells you the Bike’s in a lousy area is the kind of guy who orders a no foam chai latte and has a bottle of Purell next to his chip stack. Are you seriously taking advice on poker rooms from that guy?
Oh, the places I've been
You want sketchy? Try Inglewood (Hollywood Park) which lies in the direct landing path of LAX or Gardena (Normandie Casino) where the attendant in the fast food place serves you from behind bulletproof glass. Or maybe even my home poker room, Club One, where our neighbors include an odd mix of banks, bailbondsmen, ethnic markets, former theaters now serving as churches, homeless shelters, the county courthouse, a bunch of gutted buildings and a minor league ballpark. Trust me, we’d kill to be able to walk across the street to grab a decent cup of coffee or some Extra Crispy with 0 trans fat!
Ok, enough of that rant. I parked the car with the valet and wandered up to the Welcome Desk.
Welcome to the Bike, sir!"
The Bike has the nicest entrance of any casino in LA with marble and chandeliers that rival a Las Vegas casino. As you enter, you’re directly in front of a marble podium with a cascading waterfall directly behind it.
They usually have tournament info right at the front desk, but tonight the girl on duty directed me to the tournament room to the right, down a long hallway past the lottery kiosks.
Heartache? That's down the hall...
Tonight’s event was the $100 buy-in with one rebuy and 353 entrants showed up. I wasn’t into playing the re-buy so I just grabbed the structure and looked around. In the main tournament room, there were twenty-five tables, all full, and there was spillover in the hall and other rooms.
I like the Bike’s tournament room—it’s smaller than the caverns over at the Commerce or Hustler, but you can actually hear announcements and it’s harder for waitresses to ignore you when you’re in the mood to eat or drink. You can get a sense of it from these pics…
I looked around and didn’t see anyone I knew, so I headed back to the main poker area to see what was happening there.
Be honest, Ed, you're broke again, right?
The main poker room is to the left of the Welcome Desk and the high stakes poker room is located directly behind it.
If you’re ever looking for lakong
, you’ll find him camped in a 5/5 NL game, making ill-advised plays out-of-position and scamming free food (all the yellow chips games are comped). I hadn’t played the Bike in a while and tried to keep a low profile, but a grey-haired dude with a voice recorder is an easy target.
“Ed! Where’ve you been? You’re not broke again, are you?”
I tried to convince my friends on the floor that I’d been living 5 days a week in Fresno running a card room and my table time was limited to propping 2/5 NL. The tale was so absurd they shook off my explanation as a complete sham. I had been grinding in the 2/4 over at Hollywood Park. They could smell it.
In an attempt to save face, I put myself on the list for 5/5 NL. The list was five deep, but there was a good chance another table would get down as the tournament coughed up victims. Here’s a look at the action in the high stakes room at 8:00p on Monday night:
Two tables 20/40 hold’em
One table 300/600 hold’em (the big game in the room)
Three tables 2/3 $100 NL
Two tables 3/5 $200 NL
Two tables 5/5 $300-$500 NL (with a list 5 deep)
Two 5/10 $500-no max NL
One 20/40 stud hi/lo
One table of pot limit Omaha 5/5 $500 min buy-in
Interest for pot limit mixed game
The Bike recently opened up the wall between the high stakes poker area and the Bar & Grill so you can get toasted waiting for a seat. That was, of course, a legitimate option, but I hadn’t been down to the Bike in a while so I figured I’d wander around, sober for once, and make some notes. It was certainly better than sitting on the rail being mocked by my peers.
Listen, when that seat opens, you know where I'll be...
Boldly going where more men go
The high stakes room is on the same level as the lobby but a step or two above the main poker room. The step acts as an ego boost for guys like me and a subtle obstacle to keep the riff-raff like LakeofFire
sequestered in $40 NL and 2/4 limit where they belong. Tonight, though, I was a man of the people and wandered over to the main poker room to check the board.
Editor's note: immediately to the left of the Welcome Desk is the Bike's Cafe/Deli. Great sandwiches, good coffee--it's easily the best poker room deli in Southern California.
Past the 2R editor drooling in front of the deli, there’s a set of four huge monitors surrounded by four smaller ones and typically, a good-natured Asian guy on the desk ready to match you with your game. Signing up for $40NL via this set-up is a little surreal—it’s kind of like wandering on the bridge of the USS Enterprise and asking Sulu for directions to the head..
Aye aye, Captain! Warp Factor 4!
Had I been so inclined, there was plenty of action to choose from:
One table 3/6 limit
Three tables of 4/8 limit
One table of 8/16 limit
Seven tables of $40 NL
Three table of $80 NL
Two tables 8/16 with a ½ kill
Interest for a $20 sit-n-go
One table of 3/6 crazy pineapple with interest for another game
Two tables of 3/6 Omaha hi/lo
One table of 6/12 Omaha hi/lo
A typical Thursday or Friday night will show roughly twice the action. If you haven’t been over here, the main room is big and there’s another tournament area for the dailies.
The main room
What I really want to do is direct...
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The daily tournaments area
I was just a tourist in these parts and moved on. I headed past the Mexican poker area (about 6 tables running), past another of the million or so bars on the property (side note: the Bike has bars everywhere. We applaude the practice), over to the blackjack, pai gow and baccarat area.
What’s that? Over in the corner, I saw a brand new craps table. Apparently, the Bike will soon start offering craps using the cards, somehow corresponding to dice. I haven’t played it, but once they start running the game, I’ll give it a shot. I like craps almost as much as IHOP.
Hard eight dealer! One time!
Behind the California games area, there’s smoking/gaming area called the Freedom Court where the Bike has managed to work around the state’s no smoking law by having a patio area with a vented roof. There’s no poker here, but eight or so tables of no bust blackjack, pai gow poker, super pan 9, pai gow tiles and Chinese poker. I’m not a smoker, but there seem to be plenty of people who think the Surgeon General is over-reaching. The room was packed.
Smoke 'em if you have 'em, fellas!
On the way back around, I took a couple of shots of the Bike’s high stakes Dragon Room. The décor is pretty staggering and our shabby little faux Buddha up at Club One is laughable by comparison.
Action? You have no idea...
At the time, the Bike was filming for some commercials for local TV and posted a disclaimer near the entrance of the Dragon Room:
“Filming and photography are taking place beyond this sign. By entering these premises, you hereby grant the Bicycle Casino the right but not the obligation to photograph and record you and your likeness, voice and other sound effects in the production, exhibition, distribution, publicity and advertising of the program without compensation in all media (including interactive media, internet and digital) throughout the universe in perpetuity
You’ve gotta love the lawyers. “Why would you limit it to just the Milky Way? There are a hundred billion other galaxies. You can’t say for sure there’s no life there, can you? And make it good forever, ok?”
Seat open? Why not?
I circled back to the high stakes room just in time for the tournament run-off to spawn some extra tables in the high stakes room. Even though I had a 5:00a run up to Fresno scheduled, my instincts took over, and I plopped into an open seat at a new 5/5 $300-500 NL table.
As I stood over my seat waiting on chips, I looked over in the corner of the room and caught a glimpse of Barry Greenstein and Frank Mariani (Jerry Buss’s long-time partner) sitting in the 300/600 mixed game behind velvet ropes. I also saw a couple of guys I know sitting well-rolled in the 5/10 NL game. It’s always fun to see two guys, both of whom owe you money, sitting 300BB deep in a game bigger than the one you’re in.
On the very first hand, I didn’t even have chips yet and picked up AKo. I raised to $20 on my good credit and got two callers anxious to stack the crazy old guy who just arrived and started raising with any two.
The flop came A
and I shook of the notion of one or both of my opponents hitting two pair. I bet out $40 and a doughy Asian kid in seat 7 called. When the turn blanked, I fired out another $100 and Asian kid insta-pushed for $180. I snap-called expecting to see AQ, but my AKo > AJo and I was up $325 without a chip of my own yet to touch the felt.
If there was ever a spot for a hit-and-run, that was it--up $300+ without posting a blind or putting chips on the felt--and I'll be honest, I thought about it. In fact, I'm still thinking about it. And to be even more candid, if that perfect storm ever strikes again, you can bet I'll be checking my cell phone and pantomiming an urgent call I need to take. "Sorry, fellas. I know this looks bad, but there's been some sort of accident..."
After that hand, I went card dead of course. Fortunately, the high stakes room has comfy chairs and food comps in the yellow chip games ($200NL and up). I spent the remainder of the session stuffing myself with the best card room food in the city, attempting to collect from my deadbeat friends in 5/10 via text message and watching rodeo on the flatties scattered throughout the room. I did manage to go up another $100, but gave it back with AQs and finished the night up $296.
Sleep deprived tomorrow morning, I'd no doubt be cursing the Bike, it's staff and the printers they send their files to. But for now, up three hundies and a batch of good photos, I was fat and happy...literally.
"Who are you calling sleazy, Ed?"
’s a modern, standout property, and with the most bars of any So Cal room, it's a favorite of discerning players like me. It's come a long way since the 60 Minutes segment in which the late Ed Bradley called it “a sleazy second-rate casino on the outskirts of Los Angeles.” That's the kind of description that would leave us beaming with pride at Club One, but it's nowhere near accurate for the Bike. The Bicycle Casino
's one of the nicest casinos you'll find in any jurisdiction and any serious poker player should put it on his must-play list.
In another post, I compared the Commerce/Bike debate to other classic match-ups like Sox v. Yankees, USC v. UCLA or Ginger v. Mary Ann. But those comparisons suggest that you need to pick a side and make a stand. More accurately, the Bike and the Commerce are the Grey Goose and Belvedere of So Cal poker and everything else is just a generic brand that will leave you angry you got seduced into trying it. Take it from someone who's tried them all and suffered the consequences. Stick to the premium brands!