The Playground Poker Club outside of Montreal is a surprising gem. We first visited after seeing some major televised tournaments held there, and expected grand things. While our initial approach to the card room elicited a ‘”this can’t be right” reaction, upon entry all was revealed.
Location and Exterior Setting
The Playground Poker Club is located in Kahnawake, Quebec about a half an hour drive from Montreal. However, the drive can vary substantially – dependent more on construction status than amount of traffic. Returning to Montreal around midnight after one tournament took well over an hour, with bridge repairs narrowing many stretches to one lane. As we discussed in our travel post about Montreal, road conditions are a fearsome obstacle to contend with. If you’re staying in downtown Montreal, this becomes one of the Playgrounds biggest drawbacks. Taking a shuttle to the Casino de Montreal becomes an attractive alternative in the winter when not feeling adventurous.
After you battle the pothole covered bridges, you’ll be dumped onto a road full of gas stations, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and tobacco stores. The Playground comes up fast on your right (when coming from Montreal), with not a lot of fanfare or large signs, so you need to be attentive. The building looks like a large warehouse, dark with little adornment. At this point on our first visit, we started to wonder what all the fuss was about. Pulling into the beaten up parking lot in back the feeling deepens. The front entrance, at least, starts to hint that there may be more to this venue than the outside conveys.
When you enter the Playground, you’ll get what the fuss is about. Immediately in the front room you’ll see a large number of cash tables. This front space was the original poker room which opened in 2010. Walk around toward the left and you enter the larger room (added in 2012), with many rows of tables and tall ceilings. This larger tournament room is almost cavernous. Despite its 75 tables, it feels expansive. The look is very modern and clean, with large banners of famous players ringing the room. Best of all, as the Playground is not a casino there is no cigarette smoke wafting in from nearby slot areas.
The Playground does squander the full advantage of their space in one way: their chairs are too big! The chairs sport a modern sleek design and are very comfortable (and some people clearly love that aspect), but so wide that if the player next to you turns to get their food or drink behind them, their chair will collide into yours.
Staff and Dining
A first-tier room has to have highly skilled and professional staff. The Playground nailed this aspect. Whenever we sign up for tournaments, we are greeted by friendly staff at the cage. The floors run tournaments smoothly despite often huge fields. Dealers are also highly skilled and knowledgeable. Despite being in French Quebec, (and unlike the Casino de Montreal), the cards and dealers communicate in English. Dealers are also supposed to repeat most actions in English. However, they do not always remember, so if you are uncertain of the amount bet, you may need to request a translation.
At the cash tables, all food and beverages from the adjacent restaurant, The Rail, are free. In tournaments, only drinks are free. The Rail is a standalone restaurant with 140 seats. It has been bustling each time we have visited and we ate there twice, mostly because of convenience/necessity. While not terrible, we found the food to be fairly mediocre. Driving up and down the main drag, it does not appear that there are a lot of quality options locally. So if you are here for the day to play, The Rail might be your best option. Just keep your expectations in check.The Playground Poker Club boasts 75 tables, excellent staff, strong players, and frequent large tournaments Click To Tweet
Apart from the larger Borgata tournaments we have played, the Playground Poker Club has offered the stiffest competition we have yet encountered. Because the Playground is purely a poker destination, (and an inconvenient one at that) there are few novices in the tournaments. The Playground suits the serious poker player better than the casual one. Several players at the typical table will be very attentive to the actions of other players. They are there to win, not socialize. Most players speak French exclusively, although there are a smattering of English speakers as well. The Playground uses the English card deck, not the French (King, Queen and Jack as Opposed to Roi, Dame, and Valet).
It is difficult to summarize the Playground Poker Club’s “typical” tournament structure. Their standing weekly tournaments generally have 15 or 20 minute blind levels and stacks of anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 chips. Buy-ins tend to be between $65 and $125 Canadian. These structures are not a terrible value for such modest buy-ins. However, The Playground has so many rotating special events, mostly with higher buy-ins and better structures, that these may be more frequent than their standing tournaments. For example, as I look at this weekend’s schedule, there is a multi-day event with a $220 buy-in, 25,000 chips and 30 minute blinds, and $100,000 guarantee.
The Playground Poker Club deserves its excellent reputation. It is an elite, spacious card room with top-notch staff and excellent tournament play. The only major drawbacks are a difficult location, uninspiring food, and over-sized chairs. When those are your weaknesses, you know you’re in good shape.