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Poker in Bogota, Colombia

 We have since published a more up-to-date article on poker in Bogota.

I currently reside in Panama on a tourist visa, and thus need to make visa runs every 6 months or so. Since I am rather sick of visiting the armpit stain of a town Paso Canoas (pictured right) Paso Canoason the Costa Rica/Panama border, and putting up with their ridiculous immigration policies, I decided instead to take a 5-day poker trip to Bogota, Colombia

I had always heard that the poker in Colombia is pretty action-packed. Sadly, the internet was not much help in planning my trip as Colombian businesses have apparently not yet realized the power of the web (a common issue in Latin America).

Bogota Poker Rooms

Skip to the Bogota Poker Rooms Summary if you don’t want to read the more detailed account.

The only person I was able to get in contact with prior to my trip was Dan at the Rockefeller Casino, who warned me in advance that:

  • Most Colombians prefer to play tournament poker
  • His casino is rather small, but that they do typically get a cash game going each night

Dan also suggested some nearby hotels, and told me about other poker rooms & casinos nearby. He was very friendly and helpful, so I made sure that the Rockefeller Casino (now closed) was the first place I visited.

Day 1

After touching down in Bogota and checking into my hotel, I headed straight to the Rockefeller to check it out. It was around 4pm and I was pleasantly surprised to see a full table. I looked around in vain for a poker room manager, and basically poker bogotaspent 20 minutes just standing there like a tourist without a single person asking if they could be of assistance. I talked to a member of the casino staff and after getting handed off to about 3 other staff members, I finally found out that the poker game was a satellite for a tournament that was running that night. I paid 600,000 Colombian pesos (roughly $300) to register for the evening tournament (even though I really just wanted to play cash games) and went to get a bite to eat. Few of the staff spoke English well, so I was forced to communicate with my rather poor, but functional Spanish.

The tournament was reasonably well organized, with a computer controlling seating and blinds. Like most things in Latin America, it of course started about 30 minutes late. Sadly, the cards were not in my favor and I exited after 2 hours of play without winning a single hand! My poker trip was not off to an ideal start! However, during those two hours I learned:

  1. Most of the locals can’t be bluffed, so:
    1. semi-bluffing and bluffing are a waste of chips, and
    2. you can value bet mediocre hands for value
  2. Once the locals start raising, they are unlikely to fold to any amount of bet, so there is no need to slow-play big hands

Luckily, a no limit hold'em cash game was going by this time. However, even though they play 2,000/4,000 (the equivalent of $1/$2), the minimum buy-in is a paltry 50,000 (around $25). I would normally buy in to $1/$2 NL with $200-$300, but since this game probably didn’t even have that much on the entire table, I sat down with just $100. Luckily the game was super loose and within a few hours I made back my buy-in from the tournament, and the amount of money on the table steadily grew. Sadly I played 1 hand very poorly against the only decent player at the table and lost all of my winnings. The game kept going until the wee hours of the morning and I was able to build back up to covering my tournament losses once again, only to have horrendous luck once we got short-handed; I probably won 1 hand out of every 20 for an hour while playing 3-handed (and it wasn’t due to a lack of aggression)! When I finally left the table around 6:30am, I’d only recouped around a third of my tournament losses.

Day 2

On the second day, I again played in the $300 tournament, which was a satellite to an event to be held that Saturday. My luck was only marginally better than the first outing, and since the locals are almost unbluffable, you really need to make hands to win chips!

I again tried to find a person in charge to be put on a list for a cash game, but to no avail. They simply do not have a poker room manager, and no list. Apparently a cash game starts when 5 players all agree to get a game going! I bided my time playing some blackjack, and even though I told at least 4 staff members that I was waiting to play cash, nobody came to get me once the game got started!

The game being played was 5,000/5,000 pot-limit Omaha (around $2.50/$2.50 USD) with a minimum buy-in of 500,000 ($250). Since I’d just blown 600,000 on the tournament, I was only just able to cover the minimum buy-in with cash on hand, so I decided to play super tight (since I really wanted to avoid heading back to the hotel for a reload). Luckily I won my first hand, which built my bankroll up to a more comfortable 800,000. However, play very quickly loosened up, with straddles and blind pot-raises, and before too long the table decided that the minimum buy-in should be increased to 1,000,000 since there was probably 10M on the table. By this point my stack had dwindled to around 400,000, which all but crippled me since the cost to even see a flop was so high that I was basically playing “all-in or fold” poker (a poor strategy for pot limit Omaha, where premium hands only have a slight advantage over utter garbage pre-flop).

I was able to see a flop reasonably cheaply and hit middle set on a board with only straight draws (Q-T-3 rainbow). Given how loose everyone at the table was playing, I decided it was time to try to get all-in. Amazingly, I didn’t even get the opportunity to push all-in, as a player to my right (who I figured to be one of the tighter players at the table) re-raised an early position bet, putting me to a decision for my entire stack. Fearing I may be facing a set of Q’s, I reluctantly called. My opponent had top pair, A-kicker (making me wonder what the heck he’d been folding in all the hands up to this point)! From then on I had enough chips to see flops and was able to cash out 2.5M ($1,250) simply by taking flops as cheaply as possible and then betting premium hands for value.

Day 3

I returned the next day hoping for some more loose Omaha action, but instead they were playing 2,000/2,000 pot limit Omaha, with the player in the dealer position picking the wild-card! Yup, they play games that crazy! They would even select wildcards such as:888poker 125x125 rewards

  • Any card with a mustache
  • The smallest card on the flop
  • The rank of the card on the turn

It reminded me of a whacky home game! Hoping that it would eventually turn into a game of 5,000/5,000 PLO (without wild cards), I sat and donated 200,000. Sadly, nobody wanted to change games and eventually I joined the game of 2,000/4,000 NLH where I made back most of my PLO wild-card losses.

poker colombiaDay 4

Unfortunately, the Rockefeller is closed on Sundays. The other poker room I had heard about, Sharks Poker Club, was closed for renovations that week. I stopped in at the Rock’n Jazz Casino (pictured left), which is much bigger and nicer than the Rockefeller. However, the Rock’n Jazz only ever run single table sit and go’s (100,000 buy-in), which pay 80% to first place and 20% to second. I decided to spend the day walking around the Zona Rosa, doing some shopping, and getting caught up on some sleep.

Day 5

On my final day I returned to the Rockefeller and played in one of their daily rebuy tournaments. I again failed to reach the money, and sadly a cash game never got started that night.

Poker Rooms in Bogota, Colombia

Almost all of my time was spent at the Rockefeller, so much of the information for the other poker rooms is unverified.

Rockefeller Casino (Closed)

  • 5 poker tables
  • 2,000/4,000 NLH is offered most nights, but without a poker room manager organizing things, this is really hit and miss, and the game usually starts late at night, but can run until 7am.
  • Rake is 10% to a maximum of 10,000 ($5), and there is a bad beat jackpot which takes another 2,000 from each pot.
  • Higher limit games and Omaha are played, but much more sporadically.
  • There is a daily poker tournament schedule , with tournaments typically getting 40-50 entries.
  • While very friendly, the staff at the Rockefeller are not the most highly trained. The dealers made plenty of mistakes, and there is no poker room manager, and no sign-up list for cash games.

Sharks Poker Club

  • Mostly spread 1,000/2,000 (50¢/$1) No Limit Hold'em
  • Offer early buy-in promotions
  • Cash games get started around 2pm

Casino Rock’n Jazz

  • 2 poker tables
  • Offer single-table Sit and Go tournaments with a 100,000 ($50) buy-in that pay 80% to first place and 20% to second

People of Bogota

sofia vergaraColombian women are considered by many to be the most beautiful women in the world. Everyone is of course familiar with Colombia’s more famous beauties, such as Shakira, Sofia Vergara (pictured left), or Paula Garcés, and the country is also chock full of gorgeous models, local actresses, and TV presenters. However, there are also plenty of stunningly beautiful women who aren’t famous. bogota beautyJust a simple walk along the street, or through the many malls will have you turning your head so much that you’d best be careful you don’t walk into a wall!

I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly the people of Bogota were. I’ve spent plenty of time in Panama and Costa Rica, and am thus very familiar with the general friendliness of Latin Americans. However, the people I met in Bogota (at and away from the poker tables) were even nicer than I was expecting. Despite my obvious difficulties with the language, most people were eager to chat with me (and many spoke English remarkably well).

Bogota Accommodations

Most of the casinos and poker rooms in Bogota are located in the Zona Rosa, which is the city’s entertainment district. As such, there are plenty of hotels, but this is also the more expensive area of town. Since I was planning to spend most of my time at the poker tables, I was looking for little more than a bed and a shower. Dan was nice enough to recommend 3 places:

Hotel Morrison 84 (5 stars)

  • Located about 20 feet from the Rockefeller Casino and a block from the Rock’n Jazz
  • Pretty pricey (around $191/night)

Hotel Saint Simon (3 stars)

  • Located about a block away from the Rockefeller Casino and the Rock’n Jazz
  • Rooms are small
  • Excellent price (around $70/night)
  • This is where I stayed, and they were exactly what I was looking for. My room was pretty tiny, but it was clean, and the staff was fantastic (especially the doorman, who was extremely helpful).

Suites Real 85 (3 stars)

  • Located about 4-5 blocks from the Rockefeller and Rock’n Jazz casinos
  • Good price (around $84/night)

There are also plenty of other hotels in the general vicinity, so you should be able to find one in the price range you are looking for.

Hotel Name & Link

Stars

Booking.com Rating

Approx. Price*

Distance from Rockefeller Casino

Hotel Saint Simon

3

8.2

$70

1-2 blocks

Suites Real 85

3

8.6

$84

4-5 blocks

GHL Hotel Hamilton

4

8.8

$105

1-2 blocks

Charleston Bogota

5

8.9

$177

1 block

Hotel Boheme Royal

5

8.8

$178

1-2 blocks

Hotel Morrison 84

5

8.5

$191

<1 block

Hotel Andino Royal

5

8.8

$218

1 block

*Hotel prices will of course vary by season.

Dining in the Zona Rosa, Bogota

Since the Zona Rosa is the entertainment and nightlife district of Bogota, it is loaded with restaurants; there were probably 20 or more within 2 blocks of my hotel! Most of the restaurants are 4-star establishments that cater to the nightlife. bogota restaurantThat is, they typically don’t open until 6-7pm, have a great ambiance, and play music louder than you would expect in a restaurant (but still low enough that you can have a conversation without shouting). These trendy eateries are an excellent place for friends to meet for a meal, or just for drinks.

Every meal I had was excellent (with the exception of one), and the prices were very reasonable. Do not expect to be served typical Colombian food – the Zona Rosa is not a tourist trap; it caters to locals, and the locals apparently appreciate culinary variety! You can find Chinese, seafood, steakhouses, Vietnamese and many more types of cuisine all within a several block radius.

The first meal I ate was at a trendy Chinese restaurant just around the corner from the Rockefeller casino. I was given a plate of dried noodles with a spicy chili sauce as a free appetizer while I perused the menu. I started with a bowl of won ton soup, which was fantastic (and quite large). Since I had only gotten a crappy cheese sandwich on my flight, I got a full order of lo mein noodles, which turned out to be a mistake. The serving was so large that I probably left half of it. Sadly I did not have a fridge in my room because I would gladly have taken it home for lunch the next day, because it was delicious! I also had 2 fruit drinks with my meal, and the whole thing only cost me just $25, including tip!

irish pub bogotaEven the “fast food” I ate while in Bogota was great. There was a Chinese restaurant across the street from my hotel that lets you select your choice of noodle, vegetables, meat and sauce, and then cooks it up in a wok while you wait. I also got take-out from a Mexican restaurant that made me the best burrito I’ve ever eaten!

Since I was in Bogota to play poker, I did not plan where I would eat, or do any online research. I simply walked around the block, read the menus posted outside several restaurants and went into the first one that struck my fancy. The only bad meal I ate was at a bar across the street from the Saint Simon hotel. I ate a breakfast there because I wanted to watch a soccer game that was not on any of the channels in my hotel. I ordered Huevos Rancheros, which were very bland. Also, my team played like crap and lost, so I would DEFINITELY not recommend the place!

bogota colombiaShopping in Bogota

Located at the geographical center of Colombia, Bogota is an ideal location for local artisans to showcase their wares. The city has plenty of malls, as well as an abundance of storefronts. There were 3 shopping malls within 2 blocks of my hotel! Since I spent most of my time in a casino, I am not an ideal source of information on the excellent shopping in Bogota.

I wanted to get some souvenirs, and the doorman at the Saint Simon was nice enough to recommend a little shop just a few blocks away. They had all sorts of Colombian craftwork and I was able to pick up some nice mementos from my trip (including a few bags of coffee).

Summary

I am torn when I consider whether or not I would want to return to Bogota for another poker trip. The people were friendly, the prices were reasonable, and the food was fantastic. However, the poker was disappointing. The play was certainly loose enough, but there simply weren’t enough games, and not enough money on the table when games did get started. However, the city itself was just so fantastic that I would highly recommend a visit!

What do you think? Is Bogota worth a visit? If you’ve been there yourself, we would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

 

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