One of my two brothers lives in Minnesota, so I decided to make a tour of some poker rooms in northern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario. This was one of three I visited during my stay.
Limit hold'em is king up here – specifically spread-limit hold'em. I was told by the shift manager that no-limit hold'em is forbidden, except in tournaments, by state law. 7-card stud, though allowed by law and listed as a game spread by the poker room, is not popular enough to warrant a game.
What remains is limit hold'em. They spread three varieties. The most popular game, and the only one going when I arrived on a Thursday afternoon, was $2 through $10. But they also spread $4 through $20 and $4 through $8. I had a chance to sit in the $2-10 game for a brief spell. It wasn't at all what I expected.
There was one short-handed table going when I arrived in this small, four-table room, It's a temporary room, the brush told me, while the huge new casino is being finished. When finished, the poker room will be in a larger, permanent space.
The game consisted of all regulars. I was the only tourist. It was short-handed when I sat down, although three new players came into the game shortly before I left. All were white, one was a woman, and their ages ranged from late twenties to late sixties.
Experienced and knowledgeable big-city player that I am, I figured that all of these northern Minnesotans would fit the stereotype of polite, somewhat clueless farmhands, happy to try their luck at this gambling game — easy pickings for one as experienced and worldly as me. You be the judge of the correctness of my assessment.
I was patient. I waited until I had a strong hand before I acted aggressively. I folded five hands in a row before I was dealt . The player under the gun raised the $2 big blind to $6. The cutoff raised it to $16. I re-raised to $26. All of the players but the initial raiser folded. He called.
The flop came T-4-4 rainbow – with no spades. The player to my right checked. I bet $10 – the maximum throughout the hand. He raised me to $20. He check-raised me!! That surely didn't fit into my stereotype of neighborly Minnesotans. I meekly called.
The turn brought a deuce. He bet $10. I thought about what he might have (about time I did that – rather than relying on cultural stereotypes). I figured he must have a big pair –possibly aces or kings – in which case I was pretty dead. But even if he only had queens or jacks I was still drawing pretty thin – only about a 13% chance of winning by hitting my pair. And if, freakishly, he started with tens, I was literally drawing dead. The pot was large, with a little over $100 in it. It was a close decision but I opted to fold to his bet.
I played for a little longer. Few pots went unraised before the flop. Players tended to fold or raise. Had I stumbled into the toughest little game in northern Minnesota? Maybe. Secretly, I was glad to get out of there down only $46. I felt like a golden shiner in a lake full of muskies.
The room is open from 10:00 AM until 4:00 AM – though on the weekends it's open twenty-four hours. There is tableside beverage and food service in this tiny, temporary, four-table room. You buy your chips from the brush.
Black Bear Casino offers no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournaments on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (though you should check with the room directly before you play – as tournaments in all rooms tend to change frequently). For now, on Tuesday and Thursday at 1PM, they have a $25 tourney with $20 rebuys during the first hour and a $20 add-on with blinds roughly doubling every 15 minutes. Saturday is their bigger $75 bounty tournament. There are no re-buys or add-ons. There's a $5 fee and $5 goes for a bounty to the player who knocks you out. Players start with $5,000 in chips. Blinds go up every fifteen minutes.
The casino is located at the junction of Interstate 35 and Highway 210. It's just a five-minute drive from the small eastern community of Carlton, a 20-minute drive from Duluth, Minnesota and about two hours north of the Twin Cities. It's owned and operated by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The complex includes a 65,000-sq. ft. casino, conference facilities, and a 218-room hotel with swimming pool, hot tubs, sauna, children's wading pool, and exercise room. There is a brand new 18-hole golf course located next to the casino.
The casino itself is open 24/7. They have 12 blackjack tables, 1250 video slots with video keno, and video poker machines. Player's Club cards are available to poker players, who earn $.50 an hour for their player regardless of the stakes. Points earned can be used toward cash coupons, meal and hotel discounts.
I can't wait to go back. But next time I'll be prepared for a tough game.
Black Bear Casino, Resort, and Convention Center
1785 Highway 210