After my visit to Ocean's 11 Casino
, I headed back north toward LA and worked my way over to Hawaiian Gardens Casino
for a brief look at their set-up. HG is located about 35 miles southeast of Santa Monica, about a mile off the 605 freeway in the city of, well, Hawaiian Gardens. The casino (actually, two Sprung structures www.sprung.com*) is spartan by LA cardroom standards. In its current state, there are two main structures, one for California games (blackjack variants, pai gow, etc.), one for poker action and a smaller structure sandwiched between. You can get an idea of the setup from a satellite image of the facility below...
The casino has about 190 tables in total, of which approximately 140 are oriented to poker games. The two main rooms are wide open rooms (from above, pai gow, blackjack, etc. in the tent on the left and poker in the one on the right) filled with tables with admin areas (brush, cage, etc.) along the perimeter. Imagine an airplane hanger with a Hawaiian theme that happens to have 140 poker tables and you get a sense of the poker room. Although Spartan and very active, HG is surprisingly comfortable with well-maintained equipment, flat screens everywhere and first-rate customer service.
The main poker room is partitioned into the general area and a VIP or higher stakes area with 15/30 limit and above and $300 NL and above. Note to the hungry: food is free in the VIP section. The smaller stakes limit, $100 NL, Omaha and stud action fill the remainder of the room and are scattered liberally around. You can check it out in a lousy camera phone photo below.
The main room
The smaller, middle "tent" used to house the Lahiana restaurant (among other things) but to accommodate HG’s growth over the last few years, management opted to replace the restaurant tables with baby NL games. HG was the originator in So Cal of the fixed buy-in NL game and, as with Ocean’s, they’ve seen tremendous demand for them. You can imagine the management meeting. “Well, the restaurant tables are busy twice a day with an average ticket of $8. If we took them out, we’d have room for about 30 NL tables generating about $100+ per hour an average of 18 hours per day.” It was probably an easy decision.
Low Stakes NL…Hawaiian G-style
As I mentioned above, the small stakes NL games are held in the room which used to house the Lahaina restaurant. There were roughly 30 tables in the room of which 16 were in operation on Thu night at around 8p. The majority, 11-12 were 1/1 blinds, $20 min-max buy-in tables; another 6 or so were 1/2 blinds, $40 min-max tables.
I wanted to try these tables, checked with the brush person and was immediately seated at a $20 table. The clientele at these tables seemed to be mostly social players with fewer of the older limit players I’d see at Ocean’s. The demographics pretty much mirrored the surrounding area—Hawaiian Gardens is an Asian community; Oceanside comprises more of an older, retiree market. Of course, given the So Cal locations, both have a strong complement of Hispanic patrons.
In the baby NL room, the tables themselves are quite close together and have an unusual nylon “felt”. I’m not a big fan of the faux felt—it makes me feel like there should be drains in the floor so they can just hose the whole room down at the end of the night. It wasn’t grungy by any sense, but it was definitely barebones and set up to accommodate lots of turnover with several staff persons focused on filling open seat and chip runners with $20 stacks of chips to facilitate the frequent reloads.
Although it’s a $20 min-max buy-in, it’s not uncommon to see players sitting relatively deep with 5-6 buy-ins. And as you might expect, you can see some very interesting hands at these levels with varying stacks and skills. Within moments of my arrival at the table, there were 5 limpers (including the two big stacks at the table, both sitting with $1000+) to me with some junk hand in the BB. The flop came 5T5 rainbow, and I folded to the small blind’s $6 lead. Both of the large stacks called. The turn was a blank completely the rainbow. The small blind again bet out, this time for $12. Call. Call. “Ok, someone’s lying.” I thought. The river bricked and the small blind shoved. When the first big stack called, the small blind announced, “Well, I think I’m beat. You must have a five.” I thought, “You led all three streets, OOP, on a non-draw board without a five? Bless your heart.” Oddly enough, the other big stack insta-called as well. Both big stacks showed T5o for flopped boats. The small blind tabled QTo and was promptly reloaded by one of the roving chip runners.
I ordered a Jack Daniels on the rocks to keep my head from exploding and settled in for some more of this dark comedy. Within another orbit or so, there were 5 limpers to me in the BB with 8
. The flop was 8J6 rainbow, checked around. The small blind led out at the 8
turn and, with trips, I shoved for my all $18 or so of my stack. It folded back to the small blind, he called and showed J2c. Top pair, no kicker—I’ll take it.
A few hands later there was a min-raise with two callers to me in LP with TT. I raised to $10 and got one caller. Checked to me, I shoved the J high flop and the caller abandoned his hand.
One of the problems with multi-way pots with lots of limp calling is that you sometimes get sucked into being a calling station. A few hands later I played one of those hands and I still feel the shame of it. An UTG min-raiser made it $2 (Is there a book or something that advocates min-raising? If not, why on Earth do guys do so much of it live?) and there were four calls behind to me on the button with 33. In a limped pot, I sometimes re-pop this and take down a nice pot with a continuation bet, but that min-raise UTG had me beat and I knew it. I called for set value, and when the flop fell 245 rainbow, I started to hear a vague sucking noise.
The original raiser then bet $3 into the $12+ pot, leaving himself $8 behind. Everyone called to me and I considered shoving but thought all I’d accomplish was getting heads up with a short stack (the original raiser) who had me beat. I called the $3. The turn brought an eight (no flush draw) at which point the UTG raiser shoved and the vague sucking sound turned into a full on ship rattling maelstrom. Call, call, call, call. $8 to me into a $50+ pot in with two of the callers and myself sitting with chips behind. It occurred to me that a made straight (67) was a definite possibility and at a higher level I’d likely fold. But here, in the low stakes NL abyss, ANY HOLDINGS are possible and the thought of an A rolling off and a horribly played ATo taking this pot forced me to call the 8 bucks.
As it was, a second eight rolled off on the river and the hellish whirlpool stopped. Check check check check check. TT > 45 > A4 > 33 > 23 for a $60 pot at $20 min-max NL. God help us.
A few hands later I saw another fine play by one of the large stacks at the table. Six limpers to the BB (the big stack at the table with $120ish) who made it $10 to go. There was a call behind here, and then a shove for another $15 (?). What is the call then shove in MP—88…AQ? In any event, the table folded back to the BB. She called and big stack behind her called for a $75+ pot. Flop came 5
. The original raise then bet $10 into the $75 pot, but the other stack was obviously not going anywhere with that bet. Call. Checked it down from there. AKo < A
Bigger and better things
At this point, I’d seen enough carnage, racked up (ok, so I picked up my $18 in chips) and went out to put my name on the list for the $500 NL game, played here with 5/10 blinds. Within a few minutes I was seated at what looked to be a pretty good table, lots of limp/calling, a strip-club obsessed “money manager” (henceforth, “Suit”) sitting with about a grand and just enough table passivity to be interesting.
Within minutes of sitting, I witnessed the following hand. Suit min-raises UTG to $20. Middle position player sitting $500 deep raises to $75. DB calls in position, and Suit folds. Flop 992. MP raiser fires $125 bet. DB calls. Turn is a blank. Check. Guy behind pushed for $240. Original raiser labors and calls with 88. 88 < TT. Suit shakes his head and shouts “I had A9!”.
A few hands later there are six limpers to me (and yes, I’m still at the 5/10 table) on the DB with AQo. I bump it to $50 and get two callers. Checked to me, I bet $100 at the A high flop. One player folds, the other one shoves for another $50 or so. Turn, river…blank, blank. AQo > POS.
I didn’t have too many more hands to report. Called in position with JTs, multi-way pot. Whiffed the flop. Folded to action in front of me. Later, I'm in middle position with AA and raised two limpers to $40. Everyone folded. Whatever.
The laugh-out-loud hand of the session was the following. Limped all around, six players (including me in the BB with 8
) to the flop. KK5. Checked all the way around. Turn is a K. I check. Suit (to my left in the BB) pushed $20 into the $60 pot. Called all around except for me. River is the case K, at which point, three players jump up out of their chairs. Only two players show—JJ and QJ. Q takes the pot and the JJ player throws his hand to the felt shouting “JJ never wins for me!” Gee, I can’t imagine why.
The action was good enough that I came back down on Saturday night to check it out again. I poked my head in the low stakes NL room and it was PACKED. All 30 or so tables and some overflow tables running. The atmosphere was again pretty raucous—it’s more like a party than a poker room. I spent a little time watching and it’s obviously more of a social event than hard-core playing. I guess it has to be. At the $20 min-max tables, there’s only $180 on the table to start with and HG is pulling maybe $75/hour out of that economy.
In any event, I sat in a $300 NL table (3/5 blinds) that was much tighter than the one I’d played the Thursday before. Players were much more cautious—still limping, but fewer to the flop. I promptly blew off a buy-in in the following hand.
I’m in middle position with A
. UTG limps to me, I bump it to $20. DB and UTG both called. I totally whiff the flop T
but when UTG checked to me, I fired $35 at the pot. DB called and UTG folded. Turn was another T and I checked. DB checked behind. River was A
which I checked hoping to get him to stab at it. He did that and then some, shoving for $200 and standing up. WTF? My immediate thought was that I didn’t have much in the pot so I should abandon the hand, but I couldn’t make sense of the bet. A big pocket pair re-raises PF or on the flop. A set, straight or T bets < pot here usually. He didn’t look particularly comfortable, showed way too much strength and over bet shoved the pot at the river. Sure looked like a busted flush draw to me. I called and it wasn’t, of course. He showed AQo but whatever. More than 50% of the time, that’s a busted draw. I’m more ticked off that I didn’t fire a second bullet at the turn.
In retrospect, that hand opened the table up considerably. The guy I doubled up promptly (next hand, in fact) donked off 80% of his stack to another player’s AA. As for me, I ended up getting action on AA, QQ (2x) and took down a nice pot with a straight flush draw shove into a multi-way pot. I’m pretty sure the table labeled me as a loose player, but I really only played quality hands (and not many hands overall) all night. I ended the session off a $100 and happy with my play.
A note on the service. The dealers and floor staff were, as at Ocean’s, noticeably friendlier than those at the Bike or Commerce. None of the thinly veiled contempt for players that you’ll often experience from dealers in the bigger LA rooms. Considering HG’s size and activity level, that’s impressive. As for table service, the $300+ NL games are played in the VIP section. Food’s free and quite good. I didn’t ordered food but several players had hamburgers and fruit plates that looked very good. As with all LA rooms, drinks are not free, but the cocktail service was responsive.
Overall, I think Hawaiian Gardens Casino
is a nice alternative to the Commerce or the Bike. There’s bigger action at both those rooms, but plenty of action for mid-stakes players at HG. There’s plenty of parking, easy access from the 605 freeway, minimal wait times, decent food for $300+ players and guys that are willing to call off $200 with a pair of aces, jack kicker. What more could you want?
*Sprung structures are typically used for semi-permanent facilities that needed quick construction—military installations and Indian gaming facilities, for example. Hawaiian Gardens was one of the last (if not the last) California card room to be licensed prior to the moratorium on card room licenses and started up with five poker tables set up in trailers in December of 1997. It used the sprung structures thereafter add capacity cheaply and quickly. For a thorough account of the history and breadth of gaming in California, see Gambling in the Golden State – 1998 Forward by Charlene Wear Simmons, Ph. D, May 2006.
Gambling in the Golden State 1998 Forward - pages 1-92
Gambling in the Golden State 1998 Forward - pages 93-176