Poker room review: Talking Stick Resort – big spaces, big action

Lee Jones
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Last updated: April 4, 2023 10:30 am EDT

If you’ve never been to the American southwest, you owe yourself a visit. The vistas are stunning, unlike anything else you’ll find until you start exploring Africa or the Australian Outback.

Southwestern sagebrush desert, outside Phoenix
A view just outside Phoenix

When you’ve had a day full of wandering the Sonoran Desert, your hotel room and poker game at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale are just minutes away. Pretty much any poker game you want. As I type this on a Friday afternoon, 32 of the room’s 47 tables have cards in the air. With that many tables running, some of them are going to reflect the size of the region in which they’re being played, including $10/20 NLHE and $150/300 Mixed High-Low.

You’re not in the casino – you’re in a satellite structure

Talking Stick is doing major remodeling, but they forgot to send me the memo. I had been there as part of the PokerStars Moneymaker Tour in 2018, so I knew my way straight to the poker room. Walked to where I knew it was, and found myself in a tiny little alcove, with a handful of slot machines. Not finding poker rooms where I expected was a recurring theme of my Arizona visit (I got lost trying to find the poker room at Gila River Lone Butte).

Turns out they’re bolting a huge new poker room onto the current western edge of the casino.

Construction area of new poker room at the western edge of Talking Stick Casino/Resort
Contrary to rumors at my $2/3 game, the giant green pipes will not attach directly to the rake drop slot.

In the meantime, you walk into a massive temporary structure that looks like nothing so much as a church dedicated to minimalism.

Current Talking Stick poker room – a temporary structure outside the main casino building.
Our Lady of Few Accessories in Scottsdale, Arizona

But just as a circus tent doesn’t show its best feature on the outside, what you’re looking for is right through those glass doors.

Interior of temporary poker room at Talking Stick Casino/Resort
Before hosting poker, this building was used to repair Boeing 737’s. Or not.

There’s a big reception desk at the front, where charming hosts and hostesses put you on game lists. Unfortunately, while they have Bravo, you can’t get onto waiting lists via the app, or even via call-in – you have to physically rock up to the desk.

Let’s talk about the poker itself

My first session at Talking Stick was on a Wednesday morning, around 10:00am. Talking Stick doesn’t spread $1/2 (Lone Butte does) so $2/3 is their smallest game. Which means that at that hour of that day of the week, the action in the $2/3 game was not hopping like a jackrabbit. Some of the players seemed more interested in their breakfast (which, to be fair, looked delicious) than playing cards. One guy actually looked up from his bacon and eggs when I check/raised a bettor. I think you’re not supposed to check/raise before noon.

I wandered off to recon the $3/5 game. Nothing but hoodies and backpacks – yeah, no. My local friend tells me the $3/5 game is more recreational on the weekend.

But no complaints at all. There’s ample action, and the dealers and floor are top-notch. There’s a full food menu with reasonable prices, so you don’t have to go back over to the main casino. And there’s serve-yourself soda and coffee, which is a bigger deal than you might initially think.

Coffee and soda machine station in temporary poker room at Talking Stick Casino/Resort in Scottsdale, AZ.

Getting up to get a soda or coffee is a perfect excuse to get your butt out of your seat. It may even be sufficient to kick you loose from a playing-bad/tilt spiral. But at a minimum, it causes you to shift your focus, stretch your legs, and walk, even if it’s a few yards. I’m a huge fan.

Vignettes from Talking Stick

  • The week that I was in Phoenix to review Talking Stick Resort and Lone Butte, I mentioned to a friend that I’d be playing in that area.

    “Oh, games should be great at Talking Stick – Barrett-Jackson is happening that week.”

    He then had to explain to me that Barrett-Jackson is a huge auto auction. Some of the players in my games gave off the vibe that they might be the sort who purchase automobiles the way I purchase a favorite band’s new CD.
  • I was in a $3/5 game one afternoon… a woman bet the turn, and everybody folded. She frowned and turned up her hand – she had caught the perfect card to make a 5-high straight flush. I was jealous:

    “Wow, in 35 years of playing this game, I’ve never made a steel wheel.”

    Pro in the #1 seat: “Play more frequently.”

    The table murmured general assent to this inarguable point.
  • Actual, real no-limit hold’em didn’t come to Arizona until December of 2021 (thanks to the Arizona legislature). Up until then, they played “spread limit,” and a lot of fixed-limit games, so the passion for fixed-limit poker hasn’t died the way it has in many places around the country. As an old limit hold’em guy, I was tickled to see them spreading a $150/300 mixed limit game. No, I didn’t sit down there.

Talking Stick by the numbers

  • Non-smoking, and because it’s a separate building, no smoke at all. The first 30 feet in either direction out the doors are a gas chamber – hold your breath.
  • Poker room soundtrack: none. It’s weird, but none. Nothing but poker chip cicadas and the usual conversational buzz. The casino itself has Stevie Wonder, INXS, and Alanis.
  • Casino chaos coefficient: zero
  • Cards: Kem small index
  • Minimum age: 21
  • Restrooms: directly at the back of the poker room
  • Table management: Bravo. You can’t get on wait lists via Bravo, nor can you even call in to get on a list. Bravo does show what games are available. This archaic approach to waitlist management shocks me. In any kind of a competitive market, being able to get on waitlists with your smartphone should provide a room with a huge edge.
  • Mask usage: 5% of patrons, 5% of staff.
  • No-limit hold’em buy-in caps: $2/3: $100 – $500 ; $3/5: $300 – $1500 (note: this makes the $3/5 game play bigger than most other $5 big-blind games); $5/10: $500 – $2500.
  • Rake: $5 cap at $60 pot. The published jackpot drop literally says, “$1 or $2 or $3.” There are a byzantine collection of promotions running at various times during the day and week – even the regs can’t keep it straight. I can only assume the jackpot drop varies with the day, time, and phase of the moon.
  • Whacky Arizona rule: as I noted about Lone Butte, the dealers are not supposed to announce bet sizes in the big-bet games. I won’t rant here about why that’s a terrible rule – I did that in my Lone Butte review. But the good news is that more of the Talking Stick dealers ignore this terrible rule and actually announce bet sizes the moment the chips hit the felt.
  • Straddle: UTG only.
  • Bomb pots: Rarely. Always NLHE single board
  • Tables have USB chargers – all the ones I was at worked.
  • Excellent WiFi.
  • Hero-spotting coefficient: look for sports stars, not poker stars. Scottsdale is home to many major league teams’ spring training sites, and a lot of major leaguers retire in the area. Evan Longoria was playing in the room while I was there.
  • Cocktail service and food service almost around the clock.

Note: I need to thank my poker buddy and Phoenix resident, Larry Landay, for filling in some data gaps that my note-taking missed.