POKER LIFESTYLE

Northern California Poker Scene: Part II

By Ashley Adams
March 25, 2024

Recently I shared the first half of my thoughts on my trip to northern California poker rooms. In the below article, I share the rest of my experiences on this trip.

Poker in Northern California’s Central Valley

I started off the second half of my poker-playing sojourn through northern California by visiting Stars Casino in Tracy, California. It’s a lovely small room with three tables of poker, a few California games, and a restaurant. Stars also offers a daily $80 tournament at noon. There were nine players seated when I arrived at 12:30pm. Someone busted out just as I was arriving, so I got seated without having to force them to break into two tables. I made the final table my first hand! As it turned out, I managed to win the tournament a couple of hours later. Fun!

Northern California Poker Stars Casino

I proceeded on my trip by visiting the Parkwest Manteca room. Manteca is a small city in the Central Valley of California, with great Mexican restaurants and panderias (Mexican bakeries). The poker room was very busy on a Wednesday night; but the crowds were mainly around the California Game tables, with poker only spread on three tables. I was told that if I wanted high limit poker action I should return on Thursday, when they spread a $5/$10/$20 no limit game.

As it turned out I played for exactly two hours – and was completely card dead. I literally did not win one hand – but had such awful cards that I lost less than $200 for my session! Even so, I enjoyed conversing with the oldest player in the game – an 80+ year old gentleman who had made a living at poker back in the 1960s and 1970s as a dealer, floor man, and proposition player in some of Northern California’s more storied rooms.

He told me some great stories of working at the Santa Fe Club in Emeryville. It’s long gone, but used to be across the street from The Oaks.  He remembered his first game. It was draw, with a $.20 ante, a starting stack of $5, and a time charge by the house of $.25 a half hour. The good old days! The game was even self-dealt. The gentleman regaled me with stories of catching and kicking out card mechanics and other cheaters – that used to occasionally frequent his games. It was worth my loss just to hear his stories!

Next I visited Turlock, which offered $2 chips. Players typically bought in for two stacks of 20 – for $80. Turlock is a good place for casual play. It has the lowest rake in the area: $4 plus $1 for promotions. I had to wait about an hour for a table, but enjoyed the excellent pizza next door while I waited. The game was worth the wait. No max buy-in for $2/$3 with crazy drunk shoving players. I had a player on my right who would shove blind. He’d expose a card if asked to do so. I was lucky to get some of his stack.

Turlock poker room

I drove north from there to a place known both as Kings Card Club and as Westlane Card Club. Apparently, the place had to get two licenses for separate casinos because, under local ordinance, one license was not sufficient for the large number of tables this room wanted to have. So both names it is – used interchangeably on the chips, door, and signage. This is the last room left in Stockton.

They’re trying hard to attract business, as I enjoyed another $30 bonus for helping start a game. Once again, the rules were that I could keep my $30 bonus if I played for a minimum of two hours – or if I lost my entire starting stack. Here, I chose the more expensive option, busting out and leaving after only 90 minutes. This was truly a locals’ room. I was the only outsider among the three tables that were going by the time I left. The play was especially soft here – especially mine!

Kings Card Club

Northern California Poker Rooms: Napa Valley

I drove up to the rustic and busy Napa Valley poker room.  There were two busy tables of $2/$3 (with a $5 bet if you wanted to come in) when I arrived at noon. They had another table that was not in use while I was there; and there were about a dozen California gaming tables with lots of players.  There’s a $6 rake, which is standard in the area. And with that rake is a house-funded bad beat promotion. The room offered all sorts of bonuses to encourage new players. There was a $30 new player bonus – for which I qualified, a $30 bonus to start the game (I came too late for that one), and a $30 referral bonus if you brought a new player.

This was again a local’s room. All but one of my opponents was a regular. They played predictably, I found. The atmosphere was friendly with lots of players sharing stories of how they did the night before and bad beats they’d suffered. Non-alcoholic beverages are free. The dealer had a croupier stick to help bring in pots (and discipline grabby players I suppose). I was fortunate to have an especially sunny and informative floor person sitting in my left. She helped explain the local structure of the games, and made recommendations about the local food.

There was a tiny snack bar inside, chiefly for drinks, and a great Asian food truck outside in the parking lot – for which all seated players got a $2 discount. I had one of the best Laotian noodle soups I’ve ever had (Well, it was the only Laotian noodle soup I’ve had – and it was terrific and cheap).

Ace and Vine

I kept driving north through the beautiful Napa Valley. There were grape arbors everywhere (though there were not yet any grapes – just some blossoms). This is where well-heeled wine aficionados come for wine tasting in-season. I eventually came to the very modern and slick looking Ace & Vine Casino. It looked much more like a very trendy restaurant than a poker room. That makes sense, as it is the home to The Lincoln, a beautifully appointed “gastropub”.

The poker room itself is also a terrific place to play.  It is well staffed – not just with dealers and floor people, but with prop players and “hosts” who are employed to keep the game full and the players happy. That they surely did, welcoming me, showing me exactly where to buy in, how to get comps and promos, and encouraging me to come back in a day or two when the live games went off. There were two games going when I was there, with talk of starting a third. I really got the feeling that my business was important to them. And I’d surely come back if I were ever in the area again.

Northern California Poker: Sacramento

Stones Poker was the last place that I played on this trip. Stones formed when long-time popular Sacramento-area rooms, Lucky Derby and Phoenix, merged in 2014. That’s when this beautifully appointed, spacious, and high-ceilinged room was created. Unlike every other poker room in the world, Stones has an extensive poker library, housed in a beautiful glassed-in book case at the end of the poker room. Stones offers both great place to play poker, and a great place to eat. One of the regulars bought me a delicious plate of short ribs while I visited. The menu is 50% off for poker players. I would come here just for the food.

Stones Bookcase

There are some tough players at Stones, to be sure. They offer $4/$8 Omaha 8 with a ½ kill, $1 an hour in comps, and $1/$2 and $1/$3 no limit with a $6 rake. Stones also offers free breakfast if you are here before 9am, and double comps during the graveyard shift. It’s a 24/7 room, and has the nicest design and space I’ve seen in the area. They do not currently offer tournaments. There is talk about expanding into a bigger room and hotel, but at the moment it is still just talk.

Overall a great poker trip. I enjoyed myself a whole lot, playing in all the different poker rooms in Northern California. And Stones, with the delicious short ribs, left a really good taste in my mouth. I’m eager to return to the Golden State!

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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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