Reno has a long history of providing great poker games, and there is still plenty of action in town, but the play has moved away from the downtown area where gaming first began. The Grand Sierra Resort has a great room, but the casino is miles from downtown, across highway 395. It began as the MGM in the late 1970's and featured a terrific room with a dozen tables, plenty of high-action tournaments that attracted players like Amarillo Slim, David Sklansky, and Gabe Kaplan.
Two other great rooms in Reno right now are at the Atlantis and Peppermill. They have great amenities, good tournaments, and nice comps for the players, but again, they are several miles down Virginia Street. The only remaining rooms downtown right now are at the Sands Regency, the Club Cal-Neva, and the Eldorado.
Today, the Eldorado is the easy champion of the last decade, offering a spacious, glassed-in room, and 11 tables. The action runs from $10 tournaments and $1-$5 stud to slightly higher limit Texas Hold'em and no-limit Hold'em with $2-$3 blinds. You can expect several good games to be going everyday!
Bank Club 1930's
The early days of Reno poker saw games at clubs like the Northern and the Palace. The Bank Club, the largest casino in Nevada, dominated the gaming in town, and offered a steady stream of poker players for the town pros.
The club itself went through several changes, with name changes from Bank, Bank Club, Golden, and eventually the Golden Bank.
While games at the Bank Club and Harold's Club were steady, the big players were given a small room at the Mapes casino where they played for monstrous stakes.
Harold Smith recalled games where players like himself and Eddie Sahati brought more than $50,000 to the table and battled it out with California hotel and restaurant owners. Usually, the local boys won. When the visitors won, they were likely to take their winnings to the craps table. Now that's a nice arrangement!
Harold's Club 1950's
Harold's Club had poker games for several decades, often run by Fred and Jessie Beck. The games included five-card stud and draw, as well as pan.
When low-ball was played, the games were most-often no-limit, and players like Harry Weiss and other casino owners battled it out night after night. Jessie ran the games after Fred passed away, and held the rights to the poker action until she sold her rights to Howard Hughes and bought the Riverside casino with her payoff.
Zimba's was a small poker room on Commercial Row, but the action was hot and heavy every night while the clubs on Virginia Street right around the corner moved towards more slot machines and blackjack tables. Eventually those same clubs won out, adding a few poker tables of their own, and crushing Zimba's.
Harold's Club 1970's
Harold's Club came back into the poker action with a vengeance in the 1970's, spreading more tables and offering low limit tournaments and a new game called Texas Hold'em.
The room was originally placed in the new building behind the elevators next to Keno, and attracted players like Hans "Tuna" Lund before being moved upstairs. The move may have killed the room, or maybe it just wasn't large enough.
The '70's saw other clubs try poker, like the Money Tree, Sahara Reno, and the Horseshoe Club. Some grew, others closed.
Harrah's had poker over the years in the 1960's but it was an add-on, not a real attempt to capture much of the market. When the new Center Street casino opened in the late 1970's a set of tables were roped off and called a poker room. Later, a real room was opened in a section next to the Race and Sports Book where it thrived in the 1980's
Eventually the room was the best in Reno, with several weekly tournaments, several 7-stud games opening at 10am each morning, and the first $2-$10 Hold'em game opening at noon. By 7pm most of the dozen tables were going. It was a great room.
Sahara Becomes Hilton 1990's
Del Webb purchased the Primadonna across from Harold's Club and opened a poker room in a new casino on Sierra Street. In the 1980's the club was purchased by Hilton, and the room was moved to Virginia Street for several years.
In the late 1980's the room was moved back to Sierra Street and expanded. There, in the 1990's, it became the best room in town, spreading a new game called Omaha and Omaha hi-low split. Players like Ray Zee and WSOP 1994 Champ Russ Hamilton flourished.