My wife and I were in Las Vegas for four days last week and fit three poker tournaments in between meals and more walking that my body was prepared for. Heather, my wife and co-conspirator on this blog, and I had played in the Venetian and Aria daily tournaments last year, and believe that these two rooms offer some of the best daily tournaments on the Strip.  However, we were open to branching out, and during our seemingly endless death march around Vegas, we further assessed our options.

Our first stop was the Venetian. They were in the midst of a DeepStack Extravaganza series, and therefore the regular daily tournaments were temporarily on hold. Although the DeepStack early day events were mainly satellites into the main event of the series, the evening options included a $200, buy-in tournament with a $9,000 guarantee.

From there our meanderings took us to Bally’s and the Bellagio to inquire about their daily tournaments. The news that they both typically get 1 to 2 tables made these easy exclusions. Then came the-Rio-does-not-look-too-far-from-the-strip-error-in-spatial-awareness sojourn, which allowed us to decide that if we come out for the WSOP (a story for another post) we’re definitely staying at the Rio and not on the surprisingly distant Strip.  However, it also quickly confirmed that one of the smallest poker rooms in Vegas was not going to have a substantial daily tournament. The floor’s promise of 1-2 tables seemed more of a wish than a description. We grabbed IV fluids and a shuttle back to the Strip.

We had visited the Wynn poker room before, which is very upscale, and online we could view their recent tournament results. They clearly get very good numbers on weekends, and OK numbers on their weekday noon tournaments. But it is also clear from their reputation and the list of winners, that the pool tends to contain a lot of locals. Softer games can be had elsewhere.

So Bally’s, the Bellagio, the Wynn, and the nearly-in-California Rio hit the cutting room floor. Our selections for top three small stakes Vegas tournaments. along with our recommended dining pairings, fell out as such:

Caesar’s Palace 6 pm Daily Tournament (Saturday): $125 buy-in, $2,000 guarantee, rebuy, 15,000 chips, 20 minute blinds, antes kick in at level 8.  When we asked about the average tournament size, we were told that it was typically in the range of 40 to 60 players, and that the previous Saturday had 46.  Not great, but in an acceptable range, at a convenient time, an opportunity to try a new card room, and not a terrible structure. Ceasar’s made the grade. However, the reality was a bit of a disappointment. We were stuck at about 15 players for quite a while and finally made it to 23, including 2-3 rebuys. The tournament never made it past 2 tables. The room was small and a bit loud, making it hard to hear what players were saying at the other end of the table. On the positive side, lighting in the room was good, the seats were fairly comfortable, the tables had phone chargers built in, and dealers were solid. The quality of play was largely unremarkable, fairly standard tight aggressive with a couple of loose aggressive souls mixed in. Rating: 6 out of 10.

Dining recommendation: the 5pm-7pm  Happy Hour at Searsucker offers some very tasty appetizers and good drink discounts for quick pre-tournament noshing.

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The Venetian 7:05 pm DeepStack Extravganza (Sunday): $200 buy-in, $9,000 guarantee, rebuy, 15,000 chips, 20 minute blinds, antes kick in at level 4.  Although not a daily tournament, the DeepStack events happen so frequently throughout the year they might as well be. The Venetian poker room appears to have gone through a significant renovation since last year, losing a fair amount of tables by shrinking the room space significantly.  It seemed a bit dimmer than I remember, but that could just be my rapidly aging eyesight. The chips were also washed out, which made discerning one denomination from another across the table a bit of a challenge. The tables remain nicely spread out with comfortable elbow room. Unsurprisingly, the players were generally stronger than those at Caesar’s. The dealers were good, skilled and kept good control of table, but were not always consistent about announcing raises.  Fifty-six players bought in (including rebuys) and the top prize was over $3,000.  Rating: 8 out of 10.

Dining recommendation: Yardbird is close by and offers great Southern-style food with fried chicken their specialty.  Most plates are meant to be shared; the fried chicken is certainly enough for two as a main course.  Side dishes of biscuits and grits with cheddar cheese are also very good.

The Aria 1pm Daily Tournament (Saturday): $125 buy-in, no guarantee, rebuy, 10,000 chips, 30 minute blinds, antes kick in at level 4.  The Aria tournament has a decent structure with a fairly gradual blind increase.  The room is a bit dark (darkest of the 3 rooms) with much less room to move around than the Venetian. It was also the smokiest of the three. The dealers were excellent and the Floor did a particularly good job of attending to the tournament and balancing tables as necessary.  This Monday afternoon tournament pulled in 115 players (including rebuys) creating a robust prize pool, paying 13 players with several $1,000 plus spots. This tournament had the toughest pool of players among the three, but there were enough soft players to keep the tournament eminently playable. Rating: 9 out of 10.

Dining recommendation: For a quick lunch before the 1:00 start, we enjoyed Jean-Phillippe Patisserie, just a few steps from the poker room. They have a nice selection of sandwiches and paninis which make for excellent pre-poker sustenance.

If we were forced to choose one small stakes tournament on the Vegas Strip, we would go with the Aria. They have a low buy-in with a decent structure, and the best consistent size (and therefore prize pool) that we have found. Honorable mention goes to the Venetian with a comfortable room and acceptable tournament size.

What’s your favorite Vegas daily tournament? Let us know and we’ll check it out on our next visit.


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