Earlier this month, the Trump Taj Mahal permanently closed and with it, the iconic poker room closed for the second and final time. Many of you will remember the Taj Poker Room from Rounders while others will remember Daniel Negrenau’s win at the 1999 United States Poker Championship against my friend, the late John Bonetti.
For me, the closing of the Taj was more than just another failed Atlantic City casino shuttering its doors. It was the conclusion of a big chapter in my person poker history. I always considered the Taj Poker Room as my “home poker room.” The old cliché says that you “can’t go home again” and that has now become a reality in my personal poker world.
The Taj Poker Room Felt Like Real Poker
Some of you are probably reading the title of this section and wondering what I mean by the Taj Poker room felling like “real poker.” The Taj wasn’t your glitzy and glamorous poker room that you see pop up nowadays. The chips were dirtier, the regulars were sometimes a bit gruffer and the staff didn’t overly kiss your ass.
Those that grew up playing poker in the 1980’s and 1990’s would have appreciated the Taj Poker Room as it had a grittier feel and you felt like you were in a legit poker room and not some corporate facsimile of a poker room.
Of course, the main reason I liked the poker room was one of its downfalls. Players flocked over to the Borgata poker room and the Taj quickly became the #2, and some would say #3, room in AC.
Personally, other than tournaments I never particularly cared for the Borgata. My personal experiences with staff weren’t that great and I haven’t been back to play cash there in years.
With the Taj, I could stay away for months at a time and when I came back, many would remember me and know which lists to add me to. Of course, as the poker room declined I found it tough to find games that I preferred and usually was stuck playing Limit Hold’em or $1-$5 Stud.
But when I think of a “poker room,” the Taj will always come to mind. It wasn’t the first live card room I played in, but it ended up being my home poker room.
Lot of Great Memories
The Trump Taj Mahal was one of the few places outside of the World Series of Poker that I could count on to run into various friends that I made in my poker travels. Since I am primarily a mixed games player, many of the people I regularly associated with only came to events with a solid mix of NL and other games.
One such couple that I could always count on seeing at Taj tournament events are Al and Judy Green from Florida. Those that have been in poker for a while have probably heard of “Detroit” Al Green, especially those that play in Stud tournaments. His wife is also a decent poker player but she later transitioned over to mostly playing slots and railing her husband when he made the final table.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve had lunch with those two in the snack bar above the Taj Poker Room. For those that never went, there was an elevator at the back of the poker room that would take you to a small snack bar. It wasn’t fancy and unless someone told you about, you’d never know it existed.
And the Taj didn’t just bring in less known players but you’d often run across well-known pros in many of the events. I can’t tell you how many events I would run across Chris Reslock, Cyndi Violette, Men the Master and many more.
The Deterioration of the Room’s Legacy Broke My Heart
Starting around 2009 or 2010, the Taj Poker Room really began to spiral. Some would say it started before then but after the United States Poker Championship lost their broadcast contract with ESPN, the room seemed to begin to spiral.
Sure, the event went another two years but I remember those last two years well because attendance suffered mightily in the side events. Many of my friends that came for mixed events and side action ended up leaving because the side action just wasn’t there.
It was during that time that many of the non-Hold’em cash games that the room was famous for began to dry up at all limits. High stakes stud games were mostly over at the Borgata and other lower limits games seldom if ever went off and many didn’t run long if they did.
I used to love playing $3-$6 Omaha 8/Stud 8 but the last two times they ran it when I was there, the group decided to play exclusively Omaha 8. In time, even the Omaha 8 cash games dried up and all you had was NL, low stakes Limit Hold’em and some $1-$5 or $5/$10 Stud.
Many of the people that worked in the room started abandoning ship to the point to where the last time I was there, I only recognized one dealer and one floor person. After the USPC failed to run in 2011, it seemed that everything else followed. The last poker series I went to there drew so poorly that many of us left after a couple of days. I didn’t even bother to play one event because it drew 10% of the previous year’s field.
Ultimately, I couldn’t bring myself to go back. When they announced last year that they were going to close the room, I just couldn’t find the time to go. I had planned to try and go earlier this year when they reopened but when it became clear that the Taj was going to shut down for good, I just mailed my chips to them and asked them to send me a check. For all intents and purposes, the Taj Poker Room closed last year and it frankly should have stayed closed. The room was never going to be popular again thanks to the Borgata and most everyone has moved on from the nostalgia created by Rounders. In a way, I feel like I lost an old friend in the Taj Poker Room. Several of the rooms that I used to play at when I started in poker have closed and I really don’t have a “home poker room” to speak of anymore. Things change and life goes on but at least I still have many great memories.