POKER LIFESTYLE

Northern California Poker Scene: Part I

By Ashley Adams
March 12, 2024

California has the 5th largest economy in the world.  It has more people and more poker rooms than any other state.  I’ve already written about a trip I took to Southern California. The current article offers a look at the Northern California poker scene, as I recently got back from a five day visit there.

Northern California poker map

The Bay Area, as the Greater San Francisco Metropolitan Area is generally known, has much to recommend it as a tourist destination.  There are beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, a mighty redwood forest, the Golden Gate Bridge, magnificent architecture, and great universities. The area is also known for Silicon Valley – the high tech capital of the world, its professional sports teams, the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and of course Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Bay Area is home to 23 poker rooms within a 90-minute drive of downtown San Francisco.  They include: Ace & Vine, Artichoke Joe’s, Bay 101, California Grand, Capitol Casino, Graton, Kings/Westlane, Livermore Casino, The Limelight, Lucky Chances Casino, Casino M8trix, Merced Poker Room, Napa Valley Casino, The 19th Hole, The Oaks, Parkwest Lodi, Parkwest Manteca, Pete’s 881 Club, The Palace, Stars, Stones, Towers, and Turlock. I’ve visited nearly all of them.

San Jose Poker Rooms

I started my February 2024 poker journey with a visit to the two well-known San Jose poker rooms, Bay 101 and The M8trix. They are located a five minute walk away from each other. They are about 35 minutes south of San Francisco International Airport, where I arrived after a six-hour flight from Boston on a Saturday morning.  (The airfare was what seduced me.  It was only $175 roundtrip!)

Bay 101 is housed in a new building, built just before the pandemic on the grounds of the old Bay 101. It’s smaller than it used to be, and the space for poker is greatly reduced from its former size – as the room is dominated by games of chance like Blackjack, Ultimate Texas Hold’em and 3-card Poker.  They do offer tournaments, but I was disappointed by the reduction in the number of poker tables.

At the same time, I was impressed by the lively action on a Saturday evening and early Sunday morning. The list of 25+ players for the $2/3/5 NLHE was too long for me to get seated during the two hours I waited.  Fortunately, there were still a few no limit games going at 4:00 AM when I returned. There were also two limit games, one of $4/8 with a kill, another $100/200.  There’s also a great little snack bar, with reasonable prices for pastries and sandwiches, and even coffee for only $1.

Bay 101

I played for a few hours. The competition was loose and passive – though my sample size was small during this graveyard shift. I’ve been told that the best poker players in the area make their home here. So if you visit, be careful!

The M8trix was darker, and even more crowded, with a wait list even longer than Bay 101. I couldn’t get into a game, and was informed by a self-described professional there that the best way was to grease the brush with $20 or so, which I refused to do. As it was, I signed up and waited for 90 minutes. I didn’t even see my name emerge on the visible board during my stay. Alas. The games looked great!

The M8trix

In addition to the great poker, I found that the restaurants in the area were excellent. There were dozens of great options within a few miles of the poker rooms. I met a cousin and his family for a great, and reasonably priced seafood lunch at Pacific Catch. The on-site food options didn’t seem too bad either. Casino M8trix had a good snack bar with reasonable prices for sandwiches and sushi. And Bay 101 had one of the least expensive places for a nosh – including $1 coffee!

Northern California Poker: Coastal Rooms

When I finished up my play at the San Jose rooms, I headed north.  I had previously played at Lucky Chances, Artichoke Joe’s, California Grand, and The Palace (formerly Golden Palace), so I skipped them this trip. They are all good rooms, back in business since COVID, and operating with a good mix of games 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I headed this time up the east side of San Francisco Bay to Livermore, home to eponymous Livermore Casino.

This is a great little room, that works hard to attract people to its daily games that start at 9 AM. As an early player, I was treated to a nice free breakfast and $20 extra to my starting stack, provided I played for at least two hours – or went broke. I gladly complied with the minimum stay requirements, enjoying a lovely breakfast while I played.

Livermore Casino

I continued north and visited Casino Graton in Santa Rosa. It’s a modern casino with games 24/7.  When I visited on a Monday night to Tuesday morning they had  $1/3 and $3/5 no limit hold’em, $3/6 limit hold’em, and  $6/12 limit Big O. Casino Graton is a clean, new looking space with high ceilings. They offer $1 per hour comps for players, good for food or at their hotel. I enjoyed my session of $3/5.

The table was full of older guys like me, playing predictably. With just a little bit of aggression, I dominated the game for the two hours I was there. There are lots of daily tournaments and they also host larger events periodically.  It doesn’t have a ton of local personality – but it draws from a large area and is a reliable place to find a game at any hour.

I left Graton, met some friends for lunch, and then made my way southeast for an evening game at Pete’s 881 poker room. Pete’s offers my idea of an ideal place for poker. It’s located inside a somewhat seedy looking bar.  Perfect! The way poker was meant to be. From the outside you’d hardly know there was poker in the building. Games don’t begin until 6PM. But once they open, the tables get busy quickly, and soon develop waiting lists.

If you want to play, make sure to call in advance and get your name on the list. They spread $2/5, and on Tuesdays there’s a $5/10 table.  My game was plenty tough – with three solid players regularly pushing the action.  Still, it was great to be in this room. The kitchen makes some great dishes too. Players raved about the fish tacos, the tortellini and, on Thursdays, the prime rib. I myself enjoyed a delicious burger.

Petes 881

I spent the night right near Pete’s, in a very nice and reasonably priced Sure Stay Best Western, and then left for poker ports of call over the next two days in the Napa Valley and Central Valley area. I’ll cover those in Part II of this two-part series on Northern California poker rooms.

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Ashley Adams poker author
Written By.

Ashley Adams

Ashley Adams has been playing and writing about poker since 2001. He has authored two poker books: Winning 7-card Stud and Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day. His articles have appeared in Card Player Magazine and Poker Player Newspaper; and can be found on many internet sites including: pokernews.com, thepokerforum.com, and pokerology.com. He is […]

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