Back to My Roots - Hawaiian Gardens Casino

What a hellish week it was, poker-wise. Abdul Jalib has brought my poker blogging to a screeching halt, without being any kind of prescence on the internet for the last few years. After butting my head against his writings, various 2+2 threads, and r.g.p discussions, I’ve decided to … give up. Shaggiest dog I ever saw.

Saturday morning brought a not-so-quick breakfast, a couple brief errands, and a trip to my old stomping grounds: Hawaiian Gardens Casino. I actually got my ring-game start there back in 2003, but hadn’t visited in almost a year. Commerce Casino had become the destination of choice for my friends, supplanted in turn by online cardrooms.

Actually, almost 10 months had passed by since I stepped foot in a brick-and-mortar. A rough spot at work kept me tied to the office, and too burnt out to make the drive. The internet was perfect for my hit-and-run attitude for a while, but there’s nothing quite like sitting at a passive $2-4 California No-Fold’em Hold’em. I had the urge to splurge my surge of … oh, I just wanted to play some poker at the old haunt.

Maybe I’m giving the wrong impression of Hawaiian Gardens. It’s made up of 3(?) extremely large dome-style temporary buildings. From the street it looks like some kind of demonic clutch of half-buried eggs. But more like ostrich-demon than chicken-demon, you know? Rounded domes. At any rate, one dome is dedicated to Asian games and the game that they mistakenly call “blackjack” in California. The other is dedicated to the various types of poker they spread, namely Hold’em, Omaha, Stud, and Mexican. No, I have no idea what Mexican poker is.

The atmosphere inside is not quite lunchpail. It’s a lunchpail with a sad Hawaiian theme 2500 miles from the islands, oddly patterned carpet, and a definite lunchpail crowd. It’s really hard to be conciously upscale in a temporary building. The neighborhood is … well, it’s probably slightly less than average on the income scale, but in Southern California, that means the houses are worth a quarter million dollars. HG gets a pretty wide spectrum of ethnic groups and I’d venture to say that you anglos are underrepresented a tad. There’s a fairly wide mix of ages, from the college crowd to the retirees. The daily regular crowd skews older, and I’d guess a bit more represented by the Asian population, though I wouldn’t swear by that. This is definitely a hangout for a lot of these players.

At noon when I arrived, they were spreading six $2-4 tables with immediate seating. I cruised around first, curious about the state of the No-Limit games. The Poker Prof’s reports on the state of Vegas poker (on Lord Admiral Radio) were crazy sounding, and I wanted to see if that kind of action was spilling over into California. In a word, “No.” There were three $100 buy-in tables going plus a $500 in the high-roller section (but that might have been pot-limit). To be honest, I’m not sure how this compares to a year ago, as the NL game wasn’t on my radar at the time. The mix of limit games seemed the same from about a year ago. They’d let a game’s waiting list grow to about 10-12 players, then start a new table. Since no tournaments were running, plenty of spare tables were around. The room itself is huge, with around 100 tables.

Did I mention immediate seating? One of my errands had been to pick up one of those spiral pocket notebooks so I could take notes on the players I was up against. That didn’t happen. My table image was too tight and too aggressive, plus I was too lazy. In looking back at my play, I didn’t make enough adjustments quickly enough. Most of the players were extremely passive, but waking up on the turn meant a real hand. I think I spent one more big bet than I had too to figure out who those guys were. But there was at least one guy (other than myself) who would bluff at a river if it had been checked around once; I lost at least one opportunity for an overcall figuring out he’d bluff and fold if he had nothing, and that the guy immediately behind me would actually fold to two bets on the river.

Just about the only memorable hand I played:

I was in seat one, directly to the left of the dealer, and dealt pocket Kings in middle position. Seat 9 acted in late-early position on the other side of the dealer. I announced “Raise” and put out two small bets, only to be informed that seat 9 had raised, and I owed three. I asked if I could take back the raise, but was no. Visions of the “I know you want me to go all-in” story flashed through my head, so I tried not to make a big deal of it. We got three callers, including the button and both blinds. The flop came 237 two hearts, and seat 9 (UTG+1) bet out. I raised, got cold-called by the SB, and called by Seat 9. The turn was a blank, and bet out and got called by both players. The river was the Jh, and I checked behind. And found out that I came in third to Seat 9’s pocket-aces and the SB’s 95h! I’d like to take this opportunity to pat myself on the back, since it never even crossed my mind to get upset. If the SB would call 2.5 bets with 95h, there’s no way she’d be holding on to those chips.

I walked after 5.5 hours, ahead by 18BB, despite the exorbitant $3 rake (well, $0.50 for the bad-beat jackpot, $2.50 rake), just as I judge the table to have tightened up to the annoying point: no less than 3 callers, but never 6, and a guarantee that someone will call you down.

I like Hawaiian Gardens. The games are loose, and the food is of excellent quality, and an excellent value for seated players. Speaking of the food, it doesn’t have the variety of a place like Commerce, but it’s still a better value. In general, HG isn’t the kind of place you’d visit on a trip to California, except for completeness. There aren’t any upscale hotels in the immediate vicinity, and the room just isn’t that nice. However, for a local, it’s a nice, comfortable place to play, with tons of tables.

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