I've played poker in over 100 poker rooms in the world. This was the most beautifully appointed room of them all.
This club is literally around the corner from the more famous and larger Aviation Club, on the Champs Elysees not far from the Arc d'Triomphe. It's a more upscale version and seemingly more private version of it.
Cercle Gaillon has the same official dress code as the Aviation Club – but they adhere to it more strictly. While the Aviation Club seems to use the "smart casual" rules to keep out lower-end travelers who didn't know they needed to pack a collared shirt and dress shoes – while not discouraging the locals who like to play their poker in jeans and a t-shirt; the Cercle Gaillon clientele all looked sharp and chic. There were women in long gowns and guys in beautifully tailored suits (though thankfully no tuxes that I noticed). They also had a curious rule against wearing a hat, except at the poker table. I guess they didn't want to detract from the old west or new-TV ambiance of folks in cowboy hats and baseball caps, while still preserving the decorous mood of a high end private club.
The room's furnishings were of the highest quality – similarly the décor. The bar looked like one you'd find in the most expensive and exclusive club or restaurant. The staff were dressed meticulously, if almost extravagantly.
It would make a fine set for a James Bond movie.
The poker, alas, was absurdly expensive.
Consider this. They spread poker of five different stakes – all of it no-limit or pot-limit. Some games were no-limit hold'em; others were half no-limit hold'em and half pot-limit Omaha. They did not charge time in any of the games, but raked them all – even at the highest level. Here's how the structure worked.
All games were raked at 4%, which seemed very reasonable. Unfortunately, the maximum that could be raked was extremely high
The lowest staked game was a €100 buy-in game with €1/2 blinds. It had a €24 maximum rake. It went up from there:
€2/4 blind 100 buy-in: €36 maximum rake
€5/5 blind 250 buy-in: €50 maximum rake
€5/10 blind 500 buy-in €100 maximum rake
€10/20 blind 1000 buy-in €200 maximum rake
I played in a €5/5 half-and-half game. On numerous occasions during my three hours of play I saw the house slide 50 Euros down the chute. True, the pots on these hands were enormous. But even so, I just didn't see how anyone could end up winning money in the long run when the house consistently took such major pieces of the action.
Even so, I enjoyed the games. The players tended to be loose – there to live it up, gamble it up, and drink it up. I seemed to be the only person who noticed the rake. I surely was the only one who commented on it. (I suppose that it was in bad form – still, I couldn't resist).
A few other things about the room recommend a visit, though probably not a long session. The food is actually very reasonably priced. They offer an international menu that includes, among other things, sushi, pizza, sandwiches, and the like. They call restaurants in the area to bring you whatever you want. Everything is the same price for players: €7. That may not seem like a great deal, but compared to the many expensive meals I ate while in Paris, it seemed practically free.
I had one memorable hand in a series of losing hands during my trip. I was dealt A-K in the small blind. The cutoff raised the €5 blind to €20. I and a player after me both called. The flop was . I bet €80. One player called all in with €70 and the initial raiser in the cutoff raised to €190, raising it €110 more. I had about €50 more. I called the raise, hoping he had A-Q. I didn't think he'd raise with it pre-flop, though. So I was confused. I figured he might have J-J – but if so why raise me now, since he'd surely take my stack by just slow playing it. I thought we might chop with AK each.
The turn was a blank. I checked and he checked. The river was a diamond – giving the board three to a flush. Once again I checked and he checked.
The all-in player had a flush. The cutoff guy had A-4! He raised in the cutoff with A-4. Oh, well.
I left shortly thereafter, having enjoyed the place, but reluctant to go back and pay the huge rake. Still, it is a beautiful room. Maybe I'll go back just to hang out!
11 Rue de Berri
Paris, Île-de-France 75008
+33 1 45 62 08 33