Oh, Canada – The Festivals Awaken!

It was the seventh consecutive annual World Poker Tour Fallsview, Niagara Falls, Canada, in February 2020 since 2014. A month later, the world shut down with The Phantom Menace, aka the COVID-19 global pandemic. The Seneca Niagara Poker Room on the US border never reopened. Ontario poker players became refugees, with no live poker for a couple of years. While Canadians could play online globally on PokerStars, GGPoker, and all the major poker sites, it was like an Attack of the Clones as the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) fenced in the Ontario online refugees from the rest of the world, unable to play with even their own Canadian compatriots!

On January 8, 2024, there was A New Hope, with tournaments starting in Casino Niagara for the first time in four years. There were three weekly tournaments, starting promptly at 12:30 pm with 20-minute levels (100/100) and unlimited re-entries until the end of the first break (level 7). You have to re-enter with chips, which can be bought from the Cashier one floor up on the third floor. The Niagara Casinos use BRAVO Poker.

  1. $175 Mondays: 10,000 chips; 22.4% rake [($140 initial prize pool * 3% dealer tips) + $35 administration fees] / $175.
  2. $225 Tuesdays: 20,000 chips; 20.2% rake.
  3. $275 Wednesdays: 20,000 chips, 30-minute levels starting on level 7; 17.1% rake.

There is a Return Of The $1K+ buy-ins, with two $1,000 flights and three days of play. 25,000 starting chips, 30-minute levels starting with 125 big blinds (100/200); 40-minute levels starting on Day 2. 17.55% rake = [($850 * 3%) + $150] / $1000.

  1. Winter Main Event, February 20 – 23
  2. Spring Main Event, April 2 – 5
  3. Summer Main Event, August 6 – 9
  4. Fall Main Event, October 15 – 18.

Winter Main Event

There were $60 and $240 single table turbo satellites and a $100 one-hand Flip satellite with a 9.1% rake. I played the first $200+$40 (16.7% rake) satellite and won Entry Number 1.

Players had paid $1,000 early, thinking that the table and seat number on their ticket would be where their stack and reserved seat would be, and I thought that my Entry Number 1 would be the first alternate even if we arrived late, but the casino was overwhelmed with a lot more players lining up than the 150 seats they initially had. We had to line up again to register and pick a new seat number, while the tournament started promptly at 12:30 pm, as always. Even the old adjoining poker room, which had been closed down for repairs for four years, was opened up.

Unlike most other events, there was no structure sheet, so players kept asking the same questions over and over: when and how long would the dinner break be, and up to what level or percentage of players remaining would Day 1 stop. We were eventually told that we may stop by Level 16, then it was changed to Level 14. I was among the 51 players left out of 262 entries at the end, or 19.5% left. I wished that we played longer to get closer to the 12.5% in-the-money, instead of so many short-stacked players having to drive back to Niagara Falls two days later only to bust before the money.

Vision Accommodation

After several eye surgeries (due to eye cancer), I cannot see from the four far corners of a poker table (seats 2, 3, 8, and 9 in a ten-handed table). After the one worst dealer I ever had in WSOP Aruba refused to do his job and answer any of my questions from seat number 8 with flashing ballroom lights on my eyes and, I had to call for WSOP TD extraordinaire Dennis Jones for the first time ever to a table not once, not twice, but three times as he repeatedly had to remind the Las Vegas supervisor on tilt – who was dealing for the first time in years in Aruba – to do the dealer’s job of assisting a player upon request. After I reported the incident to the Event Organizer and my many dealer friends there, I learned that I should ask for vision accommodation.

The procedure at the WSOP and WPT is to request a floor for a random seat assignment away from the four corners.  At Casino Niagara, I asked the TD at the end of Day 1A what would happen at the beginning of Day 2. I was told that if I was seated at one of the four corners, I would be moved to a random seat away from the four corners, which is what happened on Thursday.

When I jammed UTG with 88 (GTO Wizard shows that a mixed strategy of sometimes min-raising is also +EV), a player in the middle position called with only QJ (not GTO) and eliminated me before the 12.5% ITM. There were an incredible 615 entries total on the Tuesday and Wednesday flights for a prize pool of $507,068. Administration fees were $92,250, and 3% dealer tips were $15,683 for a total deduction (rake) of $107,933.

Out of the many poker rooms I have traveled around the world since reopening, Ontario remains the only jurisdiction where no photographs or videos are allowed. I am used to taking photos of my stack at breaks and at the end of the day, except in Ontario. Then Day 2 ended with a final table of nine, I got the finalists to go outside of the casino for photos.

The final Day 3 results were:

1Behnam Esfahanizadeh$95,359
2Chun Kit Kwan$66,872
3Calogero Maltese$43,015
4Pasqualino Auciello$30,921
5Senthuran Vijayaratnam$23,731
6Kyle Grupp$19,395
7Omar El Nasrallah$15,947
8Xiao Hu$12,712
9Nizar Tajdin$9,538

“Benny” was the shortest stack at the end of the Day 2 final table, but he told me that he plays best with a short stack. Day 3 was The Rise of Benny as he went from eight big blinds to winning all the chips and the $95,359 champion of the inaugural Casino Niagara $1,000 Main Event. Unlike the 30% tax withholdings in the US, tournament cashes in Canada have no withholding.

While there were some player complaints/suggestions from this first $1,000 Main Event, it will get better with the three remaining $1,000 Events this year. Just like after I met with two Casino Shift Managers in 2017, there were improvements in WPT Fallsview, weekly tournaments started in 2018, and there was an in-house Niagara Series of Poker in 2019. Thank you to Niagara Casinos’ poker supervisor, Carl Hines, and Poker Room Manager, Shane McDonald, for bringing back the tournaments.

Cash Games

The Casino Niagara poker room has 18 tables and is open from 12 pm – 4 am, 7 days a week. There is a Bad Beat Jackpot.  Here are its Hold’em session fees, with $1 more for Omaha:

  • $7/half hour + $1 BBJ for $1/$3
  • $8/half hour + $1 BBJ for $2/$5
  • $9/half hour + $1 BBJ for $5/$10
  • $10/half hour + $1 BBJ for $10/$25 & $25/$50.

To compare, Ontario’s two newest poker rooms have a max rake of $20, 10%. There is a free self-serve station with pop and water.  There is a charge for a bottle of water and other drinks from the server.

The Festivals Awaken!

Ontario poker refugees have been hoping for the WSOP to come here ever since the poker boom, and with Poker Boom 2.0, it will finally happen at Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto (aka Woodbine) in March! There will be eight WSOPC Ring Events with over $3,900,000 estimated prize pools.  The AGCO does not allow guarantees.

Below are the scheduled festivals in Canada so far. I will write articles about WSOPC Toronto, Playground, Casino Niagara Main Events, and others to be announced.

  • WSOPC Toronto from March 22 to April 1: $2,000 Main Event starting March 28. The High Roller Event has an estimated pool of over $850,000.
  • WSOPC Playground on April 8 – 23.
  • Deerfoot Casino, Alberta: WSOPC on May 1 – 13, Summer Super Stack on August 7 – 19, and Fall Super Stack on November 7 – 17.
  • Pure Poker Tour in Alberta on April 9-15, July 23 – 29, September 15 – 30, October 22 – 28, and the Tournament of Champions on November 17 – December 3.
  • The Grande Poker Series at ACE Casino Airport, Alberta, on March 6 – 17 and August 21 – September 1.
  • Casino Regina, Saskatchewan, on March 19 – 23, June 11 – 15, and November 5 – 9.

Images courtesy of Casino Niagara

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