South Florida poker continues to expand

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With the return of one of Miami’s major poker rooms, expanded hours at another, the opening of two teaching academies (one for women and one for dealers), a growing list of high-profile tournaments and the possible addition of a cruise ship poker room in Palm Beach, the scene in South Florida is expanding exponentially.

With Casino Miami Jai-Alai’s $87 million expansion unveiled to the public at the late January grand opening came the return of the Crystal Card Room, with 24 poker tables and four tables for dominoes. The poker room is a part of the massive 40,000-square-foot casino floor, so with its current configuration, players must be 21 to play poker. Casino officials have been pleased with the public’s initial response to the sparkling new facility. Poker manager Joe Rodriguez, who needed to close the room in March to make way for the new facility, said the turnout was outstanding in the opening week.

“We had over half the tables going during the opening weekend, all without any advertising, since we didn’t know until the last minute what day we were going to open,” he said. “When you consider it was all through word-of-mouth, the response has been phenomenal.”

Rodriguez hopes to institute some major tournaments, possibly with an affiliation with an established tour, to capitalize on the influx of tournament players to the area.

STUDZ 24 HOURS: Across town the Studz Poker Club, fresh off its first poker series known as the Miami Gardens Poker Open (see results on Page 12), has expanded to a 24-hour schedule on the weekends. The 29-table room at Calder Casino & Race Course will continue with9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, but will no longer close at 5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. When the room opens at 9 on Friday mornings, it will not close until 3 Monday morning.

“We got a lot of positive feedback from our players when we tried it in 2011,” director of poker Chris Trabue said. “We tested 24-hour operations on several holiday weekends in 2011, and after looking at our table counts, we decided it would be the right thing to do.”

POKER AT SEA: If you look back fondly to the days when you had to climb aboard a cruise ship and travel into international waters to gamble, you might be pleased to hear Port of Palm Beach officials have approved an agreement for a new ship called the Black Diamond Casino to sail twice a day, replacing the Palm Beach Princess, which ceased operations two years ago. No confirmation on whether the boat will have a poker room or strictly electronic machines, but CEO Jonathan Greene said the refurbished vessel (formerly SunCruz Casinos) can hold 550 passengers and could be ready to sail by the end of this month.

DEALER SCHOOL: The most recognizable face of South Florida poker, Michael “Grinder” Mizrachi, is teaming with older brother Robert for another business venture, the Mizrachi Dealer Academy. Future poker dealers can receive expert instruction at the academy, located around the corner from the Seminole Hard Rock Casino at 6770 Stirling Road in Hollywood.Interested parties should check out MizrachiAcademy.com.

ACADEMIES: WSOP ladies champion Marsha Wolak and Abbey Daniels, who made the televised final table at the WPT Hard Rock Showdown in May, are capitalizing on a big 2011 to encourage more women to take up tournament poker. The energetic pair will host their first U.S. Women’s Poker Academy on March 17 at the Isle Casino in Pompano Beach for players of all skill levels. The daylong boot camp will include classroom study, hand analysis and a tournament, and will be limited to 20 players.

“We’ll cover everything from cash games to tournaments, and from basics to brilliance,” said Daniels, a successful businesswoman from Coral Springs. Cost of the program is $295 with a portion of the proceeds going to the Poker Gives charity.

“We want to share our passion for the game and look forward to the day when female attendance at the WSOP reaches double figures,” said Wolak, who is from Sarasota.

Women have made up about 3 percent of the main-event field in Las Vegas over the past couple of years.

SHIFF WINS ISLE CLASSIC: With the Isle Classic trophy in the hands of Israeli native Danny Shiff of Aventura (click here for more tournament details) after a nice turnout of big-name players such as Noah Schwartz, Matt Gianetti, John Dolan and the Grinder, the Isle poker staff turns its focus to the next big event on the schedule. The Battles at the Beach starts March 1 with the first of 16 events, culminating in the $3,300 main event (March 23-26).

MORE TOURNEYS: Seminole Coconut Creek hosts the WPT Stax Showdown March 8-14. … The Players Poker Championship, a four-event series, is May 3-7 in Aruba. The series, which All In Free Poker created, features a three-day $3,300 main event that starts players with25K units on May 4. Other events include a $350 mega satellite on May 3, a $550 re-entryevent on May 5 (20K units) and a $550 re-entry turbo May 7 (18K units).

— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at bigdave@pokeractionline.com.