Playing Poker in Wine Country
I used to drink when I played poker. I’d sip on a bourbon or a beer or a glass of white wine (being somewhat clumsy, drinking red wine at the poker table was dangerous). I don’t drink any alcohol now when I play poker unless it’s at a friendly home game. If I do I find I become a bit sloppy in my play…like calling a raise to try to try to hit my 4-outer inside straight or finding justification for calling pre-flop in early position with 9-7 off suit. Those are drinking man calls.
However, I have seen and do know a number of people who do play relatively well when drinking while playing. This post is for those of you who both enjoy drinking wine, enjoy Northern California wine country and enjoy poker.
The question on the table is: Where do you go to play poker if you are visiting Napa or Sonoma Wine Country? You have three options.
1. 101 CASINO
5151 Montero Way, Petaluma, CA (Sonoma County)
This intimate little poker room in southern Sonoma County has been my poker venue of choice for the past 12 years and still my favorite place to play. It’s gotten some very stiff competition of late with the opening of the Graton Casino about 10 minutes up the road (see below). Open 24/7, 101 Casino has 10 poker tables where 3-6 and 4-8 limit, 2-5 no-limit, and Omaha hi-lo are spread are a regular basis. Tournaments are offered on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The room is very comfortable, well-appointed and the service is outstanding. You can both drink at the table as well as eat at the table. There is a restaurant on the premises and the food is pretty good if you choose wisely.
This is not a soft room. You’ll find good competition here. It’s primarily locals playing at the tables. Only occasionally does a fish walk in and sit down here. There is “Clubby” feel to this well-appointed room and the players tend to be very friendly. The wine list is not great, but it’s good enough to get you by. 101 Casino is about a 35 minute drive from the Town of Napa and a 25 minute drive from Healdsburg in Northern Sonoma County and the town of Sonoma in Southern Sonoma County.
2. NAPA VALLEY CASINO
3466 Broadway, American Canyon, CA (Napa County)
This little poker room 15 minutes south of the town of Napa has never been my favorite. I’ve played here a few times, but simply have never been comfortable in the room. It’s relatively well-appointed but I always got the feeling I was playing in some college senior’s illicit poker operation.
That said, the seven tables here usually offer up 3-6 and 4-8 limit, Omaha and small no-limit games. The players all tend to be local and most know one another. You can get both a bite to eat as well as a drink. Given that this place is so close to the Napa Valley, you’d think their wine selection would be much more interesting for a poker room. But it’s not.
From the outside, this place looks like a dive. On the inside it is a step above that. The folks are friendly, but, again, it’s about being comfortable. You may be comfortable here. and if you are staying in Napa Valley, aren’t planning a night out at a restaurant and want something to do, this is a good option.
3. GRATON CASINO
288 Golf Course Dr W. , Rohnert Park, CA (Sonoma County)
This place is huge. And new. Just opened in November, the Graton Casino is a full-blown, Vegas-style casino (with a poker room). It is the best place to easily find poker action in Wine Country.
The poker room (off the casino floor) has 18 tables and, as of this writing, they tend to fill up by the evening both week days and weekends. They spread a number of games include 3-6, 4-8 and 10-20 limit as well as various no-limit games including some high stakes no limit games. The dealers are all very good and the room is beautiful and new.
The table service is difficult. It’s hard to get a drink. However, you can leave the table and grab something from any of 8 different places in the food court just around the corner.
The play here is currently relatively soft with lots of folks who aren’t poker players coming off the slots and other table games on the casino floor looking to get in a little poker. The problem with this place, for me, is the constant ring of the slot machines and the din of the crowd. It’s loud. However, if you can get past that you can easily find a game and enjoy yourself playing and watching whatever sports games are being played on the numerous TVs in the room.
It will be interesting to see if my favorite, 101 casino can survive the onslaught of the Graton Casino just 10 minutes up the road. I personally hope it does. I like the intimacy and friendliness of that smaller poker room.
So, just about no matter where you are staying in Wine Country, you can probably find a well run, competitive poker game within a half hour’s drive of where ever you are staying. And at each one you can find some wine to drink. But don’t go for the wine. Go for the poker.
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