A quick trip north up Highway 99

By Randall Rapp

Your humble Ambassador has had quite the busy schedule lately, but I still managed to make time for a quick day trip north on Highway 99. I visited one “new” cardroom, one I hadn’t been to for a while, and one that’s an old favorite that keeps calling me back for more.

Empire Sportsmen’s Association

The Empire Sportsmen’s Association recently upgraded to a new location and facility, and it’s quite a contrast to the old place. While I had dropped in a few times at their previous digs, I never had a chance to sit down and play. Now that they have this shiny new cardroom, it seemed like the time to do so.

You have to be a “member” to play at Empire, but that’s nothing more than what you experience signing up for a player’s card anywhere else. Membership secured, I chatted with manager Lee Padilla while waiting for a seat in their $4/8 Omaha Hi-Low game.

Once a seat opened up I wasted no time, flopping top two pair with A-K. I turned the full house for the nut high on a board that had no low hand. Nothing like scooping a huge pot your first hand in!

Things continued to go well as I built up a nice pile of chips and also took advantage of their free hot dogs for seated players. They also had sandwiches and salads available. Apparently they have plans for a more complete kitchen and the potential for an even larger gaming area.

My brief stay was profitable—always a good way to start the day. I said my goodbyes and headed back south.

Casino Real

Casino Real was just the way I remembered it, right off the highway in a former movie theater. They had three games going this early Thursday afternoon: $1/1/2 no-limit, $3/6 limit, and $4/8 Omaha.

I sat right away in the no-limit game and it looked like my streak would continue. I wasn’t winning big pots, but I was winning. Getting K-K two hands in a row gave me a boost and I started getting that “you’re golden” feeling. I hate that feeling. It almost always seems to lead to disaster.

You think you’re playing your “A” game but you’re not. I wish I could put my finger on exactly what this is, but it seems to be a mix of overconfidence and laziness.

Anyway, I called a short stack’s all-in bet with A-10 after a flop of A-A-x, and took a big hit when he showed A-Q. Then, a little while later, I flopped top two pair and lost to a full house. Pretty soon all my profits from earlier in the day were gone so I tucked my tail between my legs, bid adieu to Manteca, and proceeded onward.

Turlock Poker Room

I just love any excuse to stop in at TPR and did so since I was driving right by them. I had more than an hour to kill before the evening tournament, so I sat in their $1/3 no-limit game and asked for a pizza from Lamppost Pizza next door.

It seemed I had brought my misfortune with me from my last stop. By the time my food arrived I was in the hole and had hardly played a hand. Then I played a few more hands and got deeper in the hole. Fortunately, just before tournament time, I won a few hands and clawed my way back to almost even.

About 50 players were entered in this $30 buy-in event with $5 bounties on every player. I quickly learned that the key is to survive the first four levels, because that’s when the add-on takes place. For $20 more you get nearly a starting stack again, but you can’t take advantage of it if you’re on the rail.

The tournament went quite well. I actually was the beneficiary of a few suckouts and when the bad beats came I had enough chips to survive them. Eventually we worked our way down to three players, at which time a chop was agreed upon. We each got a little more than $300 plus there were two seats for their upcoming $5,000 freeroll up for grabs. The chip leader got one, and the other player and I drew cards for the second. Now it looks like I’m headed back to TPR, and that doesn’t even include the “Grinder Open” in October (see page 9).

At least I was back in the black for the day. It always helps the earlier pain go away, plus it makes the late drive home all the sweeter.