Tunica Resorts, Mississippi has five poker rooms competing for your play. I took a recent week in September to explore them all. Like a good restaurant critic, I hit the rooms at least three times each and picked up all the tournament sheets and other "incentives" being offered. Here is the list with both the "facts" and my personal views on each room.
Gold Strike — Is the single MGM/Mirage property in Tunica and now has a new sister property, the Beau Rivage in Biloxi. Both rooms are under the direction of Ken Lambert and the Gold Strike has Johnny Grooms as Tournament Director and Jerry Kyle is the Poker Room manager. The World Poker Open runs again this January at the Strike with the $10,000 event scheduled for January 21st-25th. Gold Strike poker room is up the escalator from the rest of the casino action with 16 tables tucked into the room. $1-$2 and $2-$5 NL games often dominate the room; with, of course, $3/$6 and $10/$20 limit hold'em and Omaha 8 spread every day. They do offer free food service from the tables, which is unique to the Gold Strike and the Horseshoe here in Tunica. The staff is, in my humble opinion, the best across the board in the area.
The Hold'em bad beat Jackpot is a $50,000 guarantee but was hovering around $175,000 while I was in Tunica. They have a 10% mini-bad beat with a much softer win threshold (Aces Full of Kings beat). The Poker room rate is $35/$25 for five hours of play.
Tournaments at The Gold Strike are simply the best in town for one simple reason. Johnny Grooms, 2005 WSOP Tournament Director, runs the tournaments at the Gold Strike and he sets up great events with a lot of play. The 'First Sunday of the Month' event is a $10,000 guarantee for $335 with 6,000 starting chips and 40 minute rounds. This tournament often draws 90 to 100 players. The Strike also offers an 11 AM event each day ($40/$20/$20) and a 6 PM on Monday ($125, $1,000 added), Thursday ($125, $1,000 added) and Friday ($65/$30/$30) and the ever popular Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 4 AM ($65) Red-Eye. You will not get more tournament play for your money anywhere this side of Barcelona.
Grand — The Grand was running one of its now two WSOP Circuit events this week, so the "normal" operation is suspended. The Circuit will also be back at the Grand in January with the $5,000 main event going off January 14th-17th. The Grand is running 63 tables for tournaments at this event and the same come January. After that the "new" poker facility is scheduled to be opened at the far end of the second floor, wrapped around the sports restaurant and bar, which will become a WSOP themed restaurant/bar. The current regular Grand facility is a 10 table room with 8 added tables just outside as needed. The room features $10/$20 hold'em and several low limit Omaha tables along with the usual no limit and low limit hold'em games. Table side food service is available and the poker room rate is $25/$35 at all three Grand hotels. If there is any drag on the action it is only that the Gold Strike and the Horseshoe are side by side venues and a player can check both rooms before picking their action. The Grand is a stand alone property but still only a short drive away; all of Tunica Resorts is only a short drive away once you are there. Shuttles run between all the properties for those players who like to participate in the cocktail hospitality option while playing.
The Grand is run by Poker Manager Karen Kaegin and I am just prejudiced here, I like Karen and wish the entire room could have as much energy and as little drama as she displays. In one game I played at the Grand, there was a dealer who was clearly directing racial remarks at a player, which is clearly over the line for a staff member. It is hard to judge the staff of a room when there is a big event in town and, in this case, the Harrah's Circuit road staff is running the tournament parts of the show.
Just a quick personal observation on Harrah's corporate staff in Las Vegas and the local management here in Tunica. I just finished authoring several articles on the handling of the WSOP Main Event by the Harrah's staff, those articles would not be considered particularly flattering to either Harrah's nor the WSOP staff despite that, I have been treated exactly as I have in the past at Harrah's properties. Media tech issues are handled quickly and efficiently. The staff, both local and circuit, are friendly and helpful and willing to listen to comments and criticism. A class act in my opinion and I do not think any of the Harrah's staff had any connection to that horse's head in my bed.
Tournaments @ The Grand run everyday at 1 PM, including a $335 the last Sunday of the month. The weekday events are a steady draw and tend to move right along with chops usually deciding the final tables. I am two for two in my attempts at the Grand tournaments, so you know the fields have got to be soft. The daily buy-ins vary from $50+$15 to slightly higher ($130) for the weekend events.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, where I will discuss my experiences at the Horseshoe, Sam's Town, and Hollywood.
Ed note: When Dr. Lavalli discusses the Hollywood in Tunica, he isn't referring to Hollywood Poker. That doesn't mean you shouldn't sign up though.