All poker clubs great and small

The PokerStars Pro Tour was in the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend, and it was a quite a study in contrasts. On Saturday, we were up at the Napa Valley Casino in American Canyon. "We" was, in particular, Daniel Negreanu and Chris Moneymaker - very arguably two of the most recognized poker players in the world. Daniel and Chris were bringing the ongoing message that regulated online poker is a very real possibility in California, but it needs the support of poker players across the state.

And what an awesome setting in which to gather the poker faithful. NVC is a small club, where the staff knows all the players' names and the doughnuts are free for the taking. They pulled out the stops for the Pro Tour and their customers (some brand new) turned out to say thank you and get their selfies with Chris and Daniel.

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Every table in the place was packed for the tournament and even those who weren't playing in the tournament came because, well, it was a big poker party at a great venue. They even spilled out into the Napa sunshine to tell the story of how they played with Daniel 15 years ago, or how Chris got them into poker.

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Chris and Daniel were surrounded by fans and well-wishers - I'm sure it was a welcome change from the more mercenary surroundings of the World Series of Poker.

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I mean, halfway through the tournament, the club passed out pizza to everybody. I hope the waitresses got tipped, because nobody was being charged.

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Of course, the cause of the gathering was to build support for online poker in California, and the pizza-eating poker players stepped right up to the plate, er, laptops to show that support.

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Many of them didn't know that there was an active bill in the California legislature to get online poker regulated, but once they heard about it, they were unanimous in their approval. "It's crazy, isn't it - how do they think Prohibition worked out?" "I drove an hour to get here and meet Daniel and Chris. If I've got 45 minutes, I can't come down here, but I'd love to sit and play my $5 sit and go's. When is it going to be legal?"

Well, support such as we got at the Napa Valley Casino will go a long way toward bringing that day closer. So a big thanks to Brian and Von Altizer for the hospitality; we'll take you up on that Korean barbecue next time, promise.

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From there it was down to Colma, just south of San Franisco, and Lucky Chances. Lucky Chances has 60 tables to Napa Valley's ten, so it's a very different place. But there wasn't a bit of difference in the warm welcome we got - Dustin, Dennis, and all their staff went out of their way to help us get set up, and made us completely welcome.

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Even as we were setting up, the Run It Up legion arrived. If you're new to the block, the RIU crowd is Jason Somerville's fan club and Jason was joining Chris Moneymaker at this stop. So there I was at 8:00am, texting Jason, "First RunItUp hoodie spotted."

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But the RIU folks were simply the advance team for a record-breaking surge of poker fans at Lucky Chances. Tournament Director Jimbo said, "I'd be happy to get 200 and ecstatic to get 250." By the time Chris and Jason completed their "Shake and howdy" session, they got the cards in the air, and finished the late registration period, there were 325 unique entrants. In fact, I noted that they only paid 27 players out of the 325-person field; I commented that seemed like awfully few for that many runners. Somebody agreed with me and went to find out why they did that. Turns out they have to go to the city regulators for permission to adjust their tournament payout structure and, well, they'd never counted on having a tournament that big. What a nice problem to have.

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And speaking of nice problems, we had long lines at the laptops to sign up to support Californians for Responsible iPoker. I saw many old friends from my days as a Bay Area poker player and it was quite the gathering.

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Even the Lucky Chances employees came over to sign up for the Coalition for Responsible iPoker. They get that online poker will bring more business their way, and we particularly appreciate their support.

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So one club great, and one club small. But huge thanks to the staff at both Napa Valley Casino and Lucky Chances for the warm welcome, the hot coffee, the cold water, and your support.

And a big round of applause to all the people who came out to send a message to Sacramento: "It's our game - let us play."

Lee Jones is the Director of Poker Communications at PokerStars and has been part of the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones.

Lee Jones
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