Until then, I had been playing regular cash games of Hold-em at the cavernous Commerce Casino and some tournaments over at the Bicycle Casino. But I quickly got hooked on Flynt's much more elegant, intimate digs, built in 2000 on the ruins of the old El Dorado club in Gardena.
And so it is that at least two afternoons a week, if you take a seat at the lowly $1/2 no-limit table, Flynt and his gang will be playing 10 feet from you — for somewhat higher stakes. The buy-in to Flynt's long-running game is usually $200K per head, with an opening bet of $2K, so it's certainly a gas to be neighbors at a table with a couple of million stacked up on it.
But it's not just the celebrity allure. The Hustler, even with its unfortunate name ("Honey, I'm just leaving the Hustler now and then I'll meet you at the teacher-parent conference"), is a cut above all other Los Angeles–area poker rooms. Its more than 50 poker tables sport soft new felt, hanging crystal provides soothing lighting, large plasma TVs freckle the red-brocade walls and the place, no kidding, has a totally civilized, genteel, dignified feel. As long as you keep them out of Flynt's gift shop, even your spouse and mother wouldn't cringe, and they might enjoy the very, very inexpensive food served on the gambling floor.
Sometimes the wait for a table is a bit longer than at the hangarlike Commerce or the nearby Bike, but it's worth it. The Hustler spreads the most player-friendly Hold-em games in town, especially the popular $1/2 game. At both Commerce and the Bike, there's a maximum buy-in of only $40 for the $1/2 game. But Hustler allows a $100 buy-in, giving you almost three times the amount of blinds to play with and that much more margin to either strut your stuff or flub like a donkey.
I have to admit, I even like the blue $1 chips better at the Hustler. They're a weightier clay than their flimsy plastic competitors across town. And as you look down at Big Slick, and see Phil Ivey right out of the corner of your eye, stacking out a dozen or 15 of them on the felt sometimes makes you feel like you're playing for a million.