The Casino at the Empire, London, England

September 2015

I was in London for a week with friends in September. My buddy is also a poker player, and we managed to find one night in our visit to play some poker, although for only a couple of hours since we were catching the Eurostar the next morning to Paris.

There was a poker room nearby where we were staying (Kensington), but they had no live game going, and we didn't fancy waiting until a live game might get started. So, we took a cab to Leicester Square (they pronounce it "Lester"), which was an expensive ride during the high traffic time of early evening.

We found three casinos in Leicester Square: Grosvener, The Hippodrome and the Empire. Grosvener had only one game going, and it was full, so we tried the others. The Hippodrome had at least four games going. There seemed to be plenty of action -- the first (and only) pot I saw had two players all in on a suited flop. Both had flushes on the flop, and the Ten high won. This was a pot of well over 1500 pounds ($2250 at the current exchange rate). The Hippodrome had one major drawback -- they would not allow me to play wearing my hat -- a no-go for me (I wonder if they would allow Doyle to wear one?). Anyway, that left the Empire.

The Empire had 3 or 4 games going, all 1-2£ (pounds that is). Minimum buy-in 50£. The max buy-in was 300£ I think, but you could match the biggest stack on the table. I bought in for 200£ when a seat opened. There only seemed to be one very strong player at my table, two to my left. My first confrontation was with a player two to my right, who opened the betting with a modest raise. I don't recall the details (didn't have my notebook with me), but I do recall that he had 87d and beat my top pair, top kicker with a runner-runner flush draw.

The strong player two to my left had a folded card on the table, and I asked him about it. He informed me that he had won a pot earlier with a 65s hand, which entitled him to the special card. What was so special about this was the card allowed him to play rake-free for the rest of the night! You will understand how valuable this is when I explain that they rake the pot at 5% to 10£! The 5% doesn't seem too bad on smallish pots, but a cap of essentially $16 means that the rake will put a huge drain on the table. And, in addition, they rake 1£ for the jackpot. Because they rake at 0.5£ increments, there was one small savings -- 0.5£ tips were the norm (a little less than the normal $1 tip in the US). The downside is they started raking at 10£. They didn't rake if you raised and won the blinds.

Anyway, my short session turned sour when I made a good-sized raise with AKo on a straddled pot (UTG straddle to 5£), and got two callers, then a small all in raise (not enough to reopen the betting), and five players saw the flop. I had only a pot-sized bet left. I pushed on the KT8 flop, but unfortunately, the strong player had T8, and I could not out run his bottom two pair. BTW, he had a fair stack of pink chips on the table (1£ blue, 5£ red, 25£ black). I asked about the pink chips & found they were worth 100£, so he had over 1500£ on the table. No one else had over 500£.

After that disaster, I rebought for 150£. I managed to avoid any nasty situations and ground my back up to 200£ when we decided to call it a night. So, down 150£ on my 2.5 hour session in London, or $225 loss.

We would have probably played in Paris, but from the Internet I found that you had to "join the club" to play, and the cost was 40€ (about $44). From my last time playing in Paris (when there was no fee) I found that they take the quite steep time charge immediately (before you even get a hand). We decided to skip poker and just see the sites.