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Poker in Canada

I have just returned from a few days in Montreal to support the launch of Poker Pro Canada, the first poker publication to have a wide release in the northern neighbor to the US. The event was a great success and a real eye-opener regarding how vibrant poker is in this country. Launching a new publication always has inherent risk, but Poker Pro seems to be making the right play here. Speaking with the country brand manager, Derrick Oliver, he noticed the opportunity last year and began putting plans in place to extend the Poker Pro brand to Canada. "The climate was right", Oliver says. "There is a solid audience in Canada, the players are sophisticated and there is really a huge void for quality poker media. We fit this need perfectly." Poker Pro will start with a distribution of 60,000 magazines, including all poker rooms and many convenience stores, as well as other outlets such as Target and Wal-mart.

The highlight of the trip was the Poker Pro Classic, a $1,500 buy-in event which attracted 246 players from across the US and Canada. Many participants had qualified via online tournaments on Ultimate Bet and Bodog, while several more won their seats through online qualifiers at the host venue. The field included Brian Devonshire, Richard Webb, Ultimate Bet's "Hollywood" Dave Stann & Mark "Poker Ho" Kroon and Canada's heads up champ, Ben LaBlond. Poker Pro's editor-in-chief John Wenzel also played. The format was similar to the World Series of Poker's Main Event, with multiple day ones leading to an eventual champion. With a $369,000 prize pool and first place taking down $118,000 the competition was fierce to make the final table. After nearly 16 hours of play on the final day, the champ was crowned. The June issue of Poker Pro will feature more about the tournament.

I was impressed by the host facility. The Four Aces Poker Club is located in an unassuming location in Kahnawake, Quebec…just outside Montreal. Poker enthusiasts may recognize this as 'gound zero' for the poker scandals revealed on 60 Minutes a few years ago. This reservation still operates largely independent from provincial rule and, as such, enjoys autonomy in how it operates and governs itself. Four Aces opened its doors for business at the beginning of 2010 and has developed a very player-friendly atmosphere for poker fans to enjoy the game. Here are a few of my observations:

The management: The GM, Noaman (no, that's not a typo – it's Noaman) Khan and owner, Dan Vigdehous, have the perfect storm for a successful poker club - great location, great action, great service. The location is a 10-15 minute drive from downtown Montreal, easy to find and offers ample free parking. The layout of the club works well. Plenty of tables with great action, but the players are not sitting on top of each other. The chairs are comfortable and the physical tables themselves are first-rate. They also know their players. I observed on several occasions where Dan would do something special for a player based on his knowledge of that person. These guys also know their poker. Dan hosts a weekly poker show on one of Canada's talk radio stations – and it's broadcast right from the poker club. The rake is a bit high (10% capped at $8 at the $1/2 NL), but offset by keeping the players fed and watered. (see Food Service below)

The dealers: They are all young, which made me a bit nervous at first. But the experience factor did not come into play. These dealers know how to run a professional, well-paced game…and keep it fun. On the few occasions where a flare-up occurred between players (and, yes, I seemed to be involved in most of them!), the dealers handled the situation quickly and with a sense of humor. There was a mutual respect between the dealers and the players that is distinctly lacking in many card rooms.

Food service: Chef Jean Pierre Dufort, Jr. keeps the players well-fed with some terrific culinary treats. Whether enjoyed in the stylish restaurant, Carte Blanche, or at the tables, the food is very good. During my stay, I sampled several tasty breakfasts and some great dinners including pasta and chicken. They also serve anchovies on their Caesar salads (is it even a Caesar w/o the chovs???) Many players raved about the steaks, but I didn't have an opportunity to try one.

Wait staff: It's a faux pas (look, I'm even speaking some French now!) for me to mention this team last. In most casinos, it seems you need to have camel-like qualities to survive the cycle time between cocktail waitress sightings. Not at Four Aces. It was never more than a minute between "Hey I'm getting thirsty" to "Oh, there's the waitress". And each of the servers is gorgeous and friendly. The one time a server forgot my order, she refused to take a tip after she remembered. It's clear this team takes pride in their work.

I had a great experience at Four Aces. If you're in the Montreal area, you should make a visit. You'll be glad you did.

Take time to Tilt,

John  

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