I found the ideal way to make a Parisian vacation seem cheap: Start out by playing pot-limit poker at the Aviation Club.
The Aviation Club is a fine private club located in the most prestigious part of Paris, on the Champs Elysees, near the Arc d'Triomphe. They spread poker on 15 tables in two rooms and have other casino gambling in an adjacent room. They have a lovely dining room, open to those admitted.
The Aviation Club is open to the public but has certain restrictions regarding attire. You must be dressed in "business casual". This means no jeans, no sneakers or tennis shoes, and a collared shirt. You must also have ID proving you're 21 or over. Curiously, these rules don't seem to apply to regular patrons – many of whom were at the table with t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. But if you're a visitor it's best that you look sharp, though no tie or jacket is required.
There are a number of live games and tournaments offered. When I was there they had a €250 buy-in half no limit hold' em and half pot limit Omaha hi that alternated every thirty minutes. They played it with two €5 blinds. They also had a €2/2 blind €60 buy-in no-limit hold'em game, a €2/4 blind €100 buy-in no-limit hold'em game, and a €5/5 blind €250 buy-in dealer's choice game. There were long lists for everything but the half and half game – so that's where I sat down. (A €300 buy-in no-limit hold'em tournament was also in action when I arrived but I was too late for an entry.)
Things were a little different from what I was used to. First of all, there was a significant time charge of €25 an hour. On the smaller game there was a rake of 5% with a €24 maximum. This seemed extremely steep – since no-limit pots often get up to levels that would trigger the maximum rake. Compare how a pot of €300 would be raked at Foxwoods, for example, and the Aviation Club. At Foxwoods, with a 10%/$4 max the rake would be $4. But at the Aviation Club, with a 5% /€24 maximum it would be raked at €15. And the time charges are similarly high. The time charge in most American casinos for a $5/5 game is usually about $16 per hour (charged usually in half-hour increments). In this club it is €24, or about €32 an hour at the current exchange rate. That can really add up. Oh, and there was an additional €2 deduction for the bad-beat jackpot.
The tournaments, by contrast, had a relatively small house charge – with less than 10% taken out for the house and the dealers' gratuity. If I were to return and play here regularly I'd want to focus on the tournaments, which seemed full and fun when I was there.
This is a really nice room in many respects.
I played on three separate occasions. From what I observed the games are extremely juicy, though I was on the losing end of things all three times, unfortunately. There were a couple of very strong players in the room, with the rest either fairly young players or true gamblers who enjoyed the action more than the science of the game.
I had fun despite of my losses. The restaurant was truly top notch. I took my wife and daughter there for a meal – trying to assuage my guilt, I suppose, for spending my first night in Paris playing poker. We had a tremendous authentic French dinner – from escargot to a huge tasty beef dish for two that was enough for four hungry Americans. Dessert was a delicious creme brulée. The service was impeccable; the ambiance high class, at least by my plebian standards. And yet the bill was extremely reasonable by Parisian standards. The entire dinner, including a bottle of wine, appetizers, salads, dessert and coffee came to less than €160 for the three of us.
I was unlucky more than outplayed at the table. Unfortunately, I was unlucky in pot-limit and no-limit, so the damage was my entire stack on three occasions. Here's what happened. (If you hate bad beat stories read no further.)
The game was short-handed – only six players, including me. On my third hand after sitting down I was dealt, under the gun, .
I'm surely no Omaha expert. But this seemed like a pretty good hand. I called the €5 blind. So did every other player. OK. I was eager to see the flop.
The flop was . There were two checks to me. I bet €25. I got four callers. No matter. The turn was the . The small and big blind had folded on the prior round so I was first to go. I bet €150. Two players called me. The river was a diamond. I checked. The next player bet the pot. The last player called him. I had to fold. The first player turned over the nut flush. Oh, well.
I bought in again to bring my stack back up to €250. We started the hold'em round. Fifth hand into hold' em and I was dealt K-K. Sweet! There were two callers in front of me, so I raised to €60. The next player went all in for another €140 or so – making it €200 to go. Everyone folded to me? Could he have aces? He'd been pretty loose and wild. So I called him for most of the rest of my stack. Yep, aces. They held up. I lost.
I came back two nights later and played in the Dealer's Choice game. They allowed players to pick from about 14 different games, including the three standard variations of 7-card stud, four- and five-card variations of both Omaha-8 and Omaha-hi, Watermelon, and a local game that I can't recall. They played the stud games with €5/€5 blinds just like all of the other flop games.
The table was full of fun. No one seemed too serious (except maybe me). I rocked around for my first couple of hands. The dealer then called Omaha-8, one of my favorite games. I was dealt, wonderfully, . WOW!!!
I was under the gun. I called the €5; so did a few other players. Another player, who had been fairly aggressive in a couple of prior hands, raised to €30. Two players called his raise, as did I. Four of us saw the flop. It was pretty good for me – . I bet the pot of €150, kicking myself as soon as I did that I probably should have slowed down some. No matter – I got two callers. The turn was the . I went all in and was called by the two remaining players. The river was the . A player with 2-5 took low, and a player with two medium hearts took high. Aargh.
I had one other playing session there, but didn't stay long, losing a €100 buy-in when my leading hand got outdrawn yet again. Alas, I didn't fare well financially. But there was one silver lining. After dropping close to $2,000 in three relatively brief sessions, the cost of taking my family on vacation in Paris seemed cheap by contrast.
Aviation Club de France
104, avenue des Champs-Elysees