I’ve been here a couple weeks, covered a lot of ground and will share some thoughts. More than any summer I can remember there are so many tournament poker options this year. The venues are not all created equal though.

Ballys/Paris:

A lot of people are saying its a big upgrade over the Rio and they are probably right. Logistics have been reasonably smooth so far except for a catastrophic color up break yesterday in the Housewarming that turned into an hour wait. A dealer made a terrible blunder (and I heard was fired on the spot) for pulling in all the players’ stacks resulting in a long effort to recreate the stacks. That kind of random thing aside so far parking (you need platinum or better to park free), funding my Bravo account, registering through the app and printing out tickets at the kiosk (for a fixed $3 if you use TBIC option) have all been smooth. There may be a lot of pressure on the parking this weekend so we’ll see if it holds. They had a dedicated cage in each of the big rooms to facilitate reentry for those using cash and I never saw a notably long line yesterday. The quality of the dealing has been fine considering the scale. 

If I’m going to nit pick (and you know I am :)) I miss easy access to fresh air. I know this isn’t a priority for many and with the heat coming on maybe others never hung out outside anyway but I always found it important to take my breaks in the fresh air. On the Paris side you can go to the parking lot, on the Ballys side you can get outside to Flamingo through the smoking area out from the ballroom. This is a good entrance/exit to know about because when its busy on break the hallway out of the Ballys convention area is really crowded. If you can deal with the heat its easier to walk outside through the smokers and around to the Ballys side entrance if you are trying to get to the main casino or walk through to Paris.

Probably the biggest improvement over the Rio days is the restroom situation and that’s a pretty big deal

The covid situation has been serious though. I personally know of dozens of players who have tested positive within days of playing here. The Ballys side in particular is packed really tight and they had problems with their hvac system that probably contributed to a rate of air exchanges that can’t safely accommodate the number of people. Play at your own risk and consider taking the same kind of precautions you would if you were visiting a covid ward in a hospital (and that is not a joke). I’m one of a small number of people wearing a well fitting n95 and so far it hasn’t got me but I’m not confident it will hold. Would be a nightmare to fall ill a couple days into the main event or something.

Wynn/Encore:

Encore is just the best place to play tournaments in Vegas and by a pretty long distance. They have the best floor staff, great atmosphere with lots of natural light (a feature unique to this venue). There is easy access to outdoor spots for breaks. There are plenty of recreational players who play here. They still offer a $10 comp per buyin at the 600-1100 levels and $15 per buyin at the 1600 level, which considering it is already the best place to play with the best comped drink service around, is very generous. I think this makes their $600 events among the best value tournaments around when considering structure, rake, guarantee etc. In addition to the best atmosphere in town what is not to like?And no, this is not a paid endorsement lol.

Parking access is among the easiest of the venues, its free and not that far from the poker room.

Their schedule this summer is very holdem centric and rather unambitious, that’s the only criticism I can think of.

The Venetian:

A solid venue for tournaments with a decently creative schedule. It’s probably still near the top for tournaments in Las Vegas though the atmosphere is far inferior to the Wynn. You are either in fairly tight quarters in the main room or in a noisy overflow area by the sports book. I appreciate the easy access to the outdoor plaza on breaks with plenty of shady outdoor spots. 

Someone explain to me though their love affair with “survivor” tournaments. Seems like maybe something to cater to nitty cash game regulars? They also have introduced a bounty format I don’t care for where there is a very large bounty but only once you reach the money. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that format online and I’m not sure what it is trying to accomplish.

They used to have a nice comp for tournament play but am pretty sure they recently did away with it. At least parking is still free.

Aria:

I haven’t played here in a while but it has always been a pleasant enough place to play. What is with their tournament schedules though? It is basically just a $400 holdem tournament every day, come on guys you can do better. 

Golden Nugget:

They run a nice series at the lower price points in their ballroom. The dealers are all traveling dealers with a reasonable level of competence but is a slightly lower tier atmosphere overall. Still its a relaxed setting that isn’t crowded, they are running some very low buyin holdem events with high guarantees and flights that start at various times of the day. So you can often show up and decide whether you want to play a deep stack or try to run up a shallow stack and save time.

The main criticism of the Nugget series is they have the highest rake of all the venues especially at the 200 and below level where its something like 25%.

Still, if you are anywhere near downtown its worth checking out and a good place to practice non holdem games as they run all the games in their creative schedule. 

MGM Grand:

They are definitely worth taking notice of with their very elaborate tournament schedule this summer. This place is simultaneously a bit amateurish and very ambitious. They are offering some very aggressive guarantees and have been nonchalant about there being overlays, just telling players hey come and get it. I guess that’s good for players, not sure how its a sustainable approach but I’m happy to give them the benefit of the doubt. 

I only played a mixed event here and it was only a $400 buy in and yet it was very reggish with high quality of play for the buyin level so that was somewhat disappointing.

The main issue with the “room” is that it is extremely dark. They claim they are working on it but I’m not sure how you set up a poker area planning for almost two months of tournaments without thinking through the lighting. 

One really nice perk is that if you are a lowly Saphire level of MGM Rewards and would otherwise have to pay for parking you can ask them for a free upgrade to Pearl. I had heard they did this for others and they did it for me too. That gives you free parking at all MGM locations, a perk that in itself might be worth playing at least one tournament here.

The Orleans:

A reasonably well respected poker room with many locals they run a schedule with many game types. They are on my shit list though for making a very quiet reversal of their guaranteed prize pools in their series in the spring. They had advertised an $800 buy in main event with an excellent structure and large guarantee and then quietly changed it to a $300 with a much lower guarantee. They totally F’ed up a trip I did in the spring as a result and so I only play here now if there is something particularly compelling. If you can’t honor your guarantees what are you really doing?

Update 6/15/22: amazingly they just did the same guarantee shininagans on one of their upcoming featured events. This organization is just not to be trusted.

Southpoint:

A well respected room at the lower buyin levels. I haven’t played here though so don’t have much to say other than I appreciate their reasonably interesting schedule of events.

If you want to plan your schedules across the venues check out some of the tools in my prior posts.

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