ROAD TRIP: Connecticut Poker

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The Constitution State has two strong options for the poker player, and they’re just a few miles apart: Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

FOXWOODS

By Christopher Cosenza

Every time I navigate the winding curves of Route 2 through the tranquil forests of Eastern Connecticut I’m always taken aback by the sheer size of Foxwoods as its aquamarine rooftops rise out of the horizon. This must be what a poker player feels the first time he enters the World Poker Tour Poker Room at Foxwoods.

At 97 cash-game tables this poker room is a behemoth, easily the largest on the eastern side of the country, and with a 50-table tournament room right upstairs that expands to 60 tables for larger events, Foxwoods can accommodate just about anything.

“Our poker room is an established room,” director of poker Terry Chiaradio said. “When you’re coming in you know what you’re going to have. We have a good variety of games in this room. People come in and can get into their games. You’re not sitting around waiting for a game to open. That’s one of our pluses, your ability to get into games.”

The most popular game is $1-$2 no-limit hold’em, and it’s a pot-raked game (10 percent up to $4), which didn’t always used to be the case. The larger limits still have a timed rake. And this is the Northeast after all, so yes, stud games still light up the board.

“We have stud games with quite a few different buy-ins starting at $1-$3 all the way up to our $75-$150,” said Chiaradio, who has worked in the Foxwoods poker room for nearly 19 years. “And then also our lower limit hold’em games are popular, $2-$4, $4-$8. But we have a variety of games we spread throughout, including $2-$5 and $5-$10 no-limit.”

There’s also a $20-$40 limit hold’em game that runs around the clock. I sat in on a well-run $5-$10 H.O.R.S.E. game for a bit, and it was a pleasure not having a dealer accidentally put a flop in the middle of the table during stud games. Chiaradio’s staff of 470 (374 dealers) was well-trained and friendly.

You can expect the usual amenities of a modern poker room when you play at Foxwoods: Genesis-Bravo tracking system, automatic shufflers, 42-inch flatscreen TVs (more than 50 of them). And don’t forget the promotions. Two bad-beat jackpots (stud and hold’em) keep the players coming in, but for hold’em (quad eights) it’s limited to $2-$4, $4-$8, $5-$10 and $10-$20 limit and $1-$2 no-limit. At the time of this interview the hold’em bad beat was more than $300K.

“We have a royal flush giveaway,” said Chiaradio, who took over as director five years ago when Kathy Raymond left to run the Venetian poker room in Vegas. “Any time a patron makes a royal flush they get a choice of gift, including a $50 gas card. We also have black-cardholders, which are any patron who plays 75 days and 500 hours within a 12-month period. (It) doubles up their comp points and gets them offers for show tickets.”

Speaking of comps, it’s a tiered system: low, medium and high. The low rate is a dollar an hour for the lower limits, followed by $1.50 for medium limits and $2 for high.

But you can’t talk about Foxwoods poker without mentioning the WPT, which used to hold two events a year there but has scaled back to just one in November, the World Poker Finals. Its deal with the WPT is about to come up for renewal and Chiaradio said Foxwoods has no plans of separating from the WPT. And it’s still one of the few $10K events left in the country.

“We have remained a $10K buy-in when most places have dropped down to $3,500 or $5K,” she said. “We decided to keep it a big event.”

Big event for a big room, but just because it’s a big room doesn’t mean you will feel lost, Chiaradio says.

“At Foxwoods we strive for five-star service. Our staff is willing to help out and explain procedures and how it all works. We know it’s intimidating walking into a poker room, and we want the guests to feel welcome when they come in. We’re willing to spend the time to make them feel comfortable.”

MOHEGAN SUN

By Christopher Cosenza

You often hear players speaking of timing when it comes to success in poker, being in the right place at the right time with the right hand.

If you looked at the history of the Mohegan Sun poker room you might feel it was on the wrong side of that scenario. Its original poker room opened in 1996, but closed down just before the poker boom. A few years ago it returned with electronic tables before finally giving way to the beautiful 42-table room that stands today. But the boom had ended and the economy had sagged by the time the room returned. And with the World Poker Tour entrenched just up the street at the massive Foxwoods poker room, the Sun needed to hitch its wagon to a star … PokerStars to be more exact.

But again, timing wasn’t Mohegan Sun’s friend, as Black Friday essentially put an end to a three-year North American Poker Tour contract with one year remaining.

Yet this gem of a room, in Uncasville with a staff of about 360, continues to buck the timing axiom and thrive under the helm of director Rick Landry.

“We’re gonna start looking at other circuit events,” shift manager Rob Staehle said of likely losing the NAPT deal. “But we emphasize on customer service (to attract players). We’re going to go above and beyond so you enjoy your experience here. We want it to be a friendly atmosphere, like your home games. We treat everyone right. Our motto is as soon as you walk in the door you are our guest, not just a customer.”

And for what are the guests walking in the door? Well, when it comes to cash games the most popular is no-limit hold’em, specifically $1-$2, but the room also spreads $1-$1 up to $10-$25. The $2-$4 and $4-$8 limit variety runs consistently, as does $1-$5 stud. As for tournaments, Staehle says that’s its bread and butter.

“The daily tournaments are probably our most popular,” said Staehle, who has been in poker for about 20 years. “Wednesday night we run a $120 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament that has a $10K guarantee and that draws about 160-200 players. Friday afternoon we run a $15K guarantee with a $200 buy-in. Every night of the week we run a tournament except Thursday. We run one stud event, which is Monday morning.”

And if all of this isn’t enough to get you interested then the room has its promotions and amenities. The Genesis-Bravo tracking system, dozens of TVs and automatic shufflers make sure you can maximize your time there. And speaking of time, you’re paid a dollar an hour in comps if you play lower limits, and that rate increases all the way to $6 depending on how high you play.

“We have our giveaways, too,” Staehle said. “They’re Sunday-Thursday from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. If you’re in a seat and your Players Club card is selected you win the giveaway drawing.”

In May they gave away iPods, and this promotion runs until September.

“We have a good room and a good clientele base,” Staehle said. “We try to get new players all the time. It’s the type of room where a player might have a bad day, or a losing day, but walk out that door and say you know what, it was still an enjoyable day.”