Playing the Small Nightly at the Strat

Day 2 on the Las Vegas daily poker-tournament circuit

by , Jan 28, 2012 | 6:23 pm

stratosphere poker tournament

4,500-chip, four-color starting stack at Stratosphere.

The Stratosphere’s quaint 10-table poker room sits in the back of the casino, past a row of slot machines, craps tables, another row of slot machines, down the ramp past Roxy’s Diner, near the escalators to the Top of the World restaurant — just before the Double Down Pit and Back Alley Bar. On Thursday, there was a sole 1-2NL table of action about 30 minutes before the nightly tournament.

You’d hardly know that this room has supposedly become the new Sahara when it comes to Las Vegas’ most popular small buy-in dailies — with the 7pm event drawing consistent fields of 50 players or more.

I approached the podium and purchased a seat for the event. The buy-in is $45 for 4,500 in chips, plus a $20 add-on that gives you 4,000 more chips, which you can purchase any time within the first hour. (There’s also an option for unlimited re-entry within that time frame.)  With 20-minute levels, that add-on is necessary, especially considering there are no automatic shufflers in the tournament tables.

The rake is taken out of the initial buy-in, $7 of which goes to the dealers and poker room staff and $10 of which goes to “Uncle Stratosphere,” according to shift manager Jennifer Mrkvicka.

“All of the add-on goes to the prize pool, darlin’,” she said. “We don’t touch any of that.”

I think she calls everyone darlin’.

The starting stack was green, black, grey and pink. Blinds started at 25/50. There were 69 entrants, eight of whom got paid. My table started 7-handed, a mix of tourists and locals and no apparent pros. Top prize was $1,221. Not bad if you could hang on.

The man to my left, a local in a knit cap and scarf, would not stop talking.

“I’m only a TDA card holder,” he announced.

Me: What’s TDA?

Poker Tournament Directors Association, obviously.

Mr. TDA would go on to double me up while holding 10-3, misread his hand for a straight and double another player up, then announce “re-raise” when in fact he was making the first raise.

He had a friend across the table.

“They call you Boomer?” I asked.

“That’s my poker name,” he replied.

Just before the first break, Mrkvicka announced that there would be pizza. And it was good.

Shortly after we ate, Boomer was eliminated, which pleased a few of my table mates.

My stack rose and fell for three hours, and I could play a hand or two, despite the quickly escalating blinds. But I couldn’t find spots to build a stack, and things got desperate on the first hand after the third break. I had only 4 big blinds, and I moved in with J9. The big blind called with pocket kings, and my hand did not improve. Finished in 16th place, not far from the money, but not quite close enough, either.

Next stop in my quest to find the best place to cut my tournament teeth is the Orleans, where I hear the 7pm $125 tournament is “juicy”, drawing upwards of 300 players every Friday.


  • Scott Matthew Sparks

    I have cashed that tourny at the Stratosphere a number of times. The field is usually pretty weak, and you have a good chance to finish in the money if you can dodge the landmines early.  Most of the dealers are friendly and competent, and the restrooms are clean and close to the poker room.