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world series of poker:

Las Vegas’ biggest poker games have found a new home

Cash games in town hit peak during World Series of Poker

Aria Preview

Steve Marcus / Las Vegas Sun

A view of the poker room at Aria Monday, December 14, 2009.

Updated Tuesday, July 12, 2011 | 2:23 a.m.

World Series of Poker Day 2A

Comedian Brad Garrett, standing, entertains his table and spectators as he goes Launch slideshow »

Notable End of Day 2A Approximate Chip Counts

  • Jason Alexander — 167,000
  • Eli Elezra — 160,000
  • Tom McEvoy — 143,000
  • Daniel Negreanu — 115,000
  • Joe Cada — 111,000
  • Annette Obrestad — 90,000
  • Phil Hellmuth — 64,000
  • Brad Garrett — 56,000
  • Jason Mercier — 38,000
  • Paul Pierce — 0
  • Eric Baldwin — 0
  • Jonathan Duhamel — 0
  • Johnny Chan — 0
  • Dan Harrington — 0
  • Scotty Nguyen — 0

A sign that greets both motorists and pedestrians as they make their way toward the entrance of Aria reads, “The center of action has shifted.”

That’s perhaps most true in the resort’s poker room, which has taken a large portion of Las Vegas’ high stakes cash game action since opening a year-and-a-half ago. For years when players with the highest bankrolls tired of the tournament grind at the Rio during the World Series of Poker, they headed to one spot to compete in the biggest cash games — the Bellagio.

It’s no longer that simple, as Aria hosts as many nosebleed stakes games as its MGM Resorts International sister property.

“Wow things change,” popular poker pro Daniel Negreanu posted on his Twitter account earlier this summer. “Never before did I ever call more than one place to see if there is a game.”

Adam Altwies, poker room manager, reported that Aria held the city’s largest cash game up to six times per week even before the World Series began. He said the resort’s Ivey Room, a one-table high stakes lounge, regularly ran a mixed game of different poker variations with up to $1,000-$2,000 blinds.

A typical buy-in for a game that high would be at least $100,000.

Bellagio still has plenty of pricey action, but its highest tables are usually no-limit hold’ em exclusively. Aria has become the home of the mixed games, a favorite of most veteran poker pros.

“All the big names are coming to play here,” said Jean Robert-Bellande, a poker pro and ambassador of Aria’s poker room, earlier this summer. “A lot of people follow Daniel Negreanu on Twitter and he keeps talking about playing at Aria. We’ve had games with Doyle Brunson, Chau Giang, Abe Mosseri, Johnny Chan — all the biggest names in the industry.”

One of the hot topics among regulars at both Bellagio and Aria is which room is better. Walk up to a random high stakes cash player and they’re bound to have an opinion on the matter.

Even before Bellande became officially associated with Aria, he pledged his allegiance to the room. Negreanu, on the other hand, seemed to anoint Bellagio as the best all-around experience for players in a recent blog post.

“They’re both good,” said poker pro David Williams. “I’ve been treated well at both, but I don’t have a reason to pick one or the other. For me, it’s wherever the good game is at. They have the high mixed games (at Aria), so this is where I come.”

The property’s staffs don’t look at it like the players, according to Altwies. He was, in fact, an employee of the Bellagio poker room before he moved over to Aria.

“We don’t see it as a competition,” Altwies said. “It’s just one of those things where we knew there could be a lot of high limits in town. We knew both places could sustain the business we’re getting.”

The presence of stars like Brunson and Chan has, in turn, helped the rest of Aria’s poker room become busier. Around the time the big mixed game began running regularly, Aria decided to add 14 more poker tables across from the room.

They are used primarily for low stakes cash games and daily tournaments. Altwies wasn’t sure if he’d keep them after the World Series of Poker ended, but said now he believed the amount of business would demand it.

“You have a regular poker room and you have a poker destination,” Altwies said. “I think what we have is a destination. If you’ve got a novice player in the Midwest somewhere who sees these guys on television, they want a real shot to be up close to them in a public environment.”

Brunson and Williams recently busted out of the World Series of Poker Main Event. Negreanu and Bellande are still alive. Bellande will play in Tuesday’s Day 2B, while Negreanu has moved on to Day 3 scheduled for Thursday.

Even if they follow in the others’ footsteps at the World Series of Poker, it shouldn’t be hard to track them down — head to the new center of action.

“It’s the Ferrari of poker rooms,” Bellande said. “That’s what we have here. You can’t beat it.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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