The action is set to heat up in Northern Mississippi next month. Just after New Year’s, two major tournaments will commence in Tunica. The World Series of Poker Circuit Event will run from January 4th until the 27th at the Grand Casino Tunica. With a whopping 22 events, including the $10,000 main event, this is the biggest WSOP tournament aside from the Championship Series held in the summer in Las Vegas. The World Poker Open, a stop on the World Poker Tour, will take place concurrently at the Gold Strike, a few miles down the road from the Grand, from January 9th-23rd. The World Poker Open will comprise nine events including the $10,000 WPT final, plus two super satellites to that event. Final tables for both $10,000 main events will be televised.
The side action at the Grand, the Gold Strike and the neighboring Horseshoe promises to be hot as well.
Located about 40 minutes from the Memphis airport, Tunica offers a variety of casinos, along with close proximity to Memphis attractions. The Grand Casino has three hotels. Rooms in its Verandah hotel, accessible by a short shuttle bus ride from the main casino-hotel, are actually more charming than those in the main hotel. The Verandah also boasts a comfortable lounge with free wireless internet capability. Patrons must bring a wireless card for their computers in order to access the internet (such cards can be purchased at any Radio Shack). The shuttle runs approximately every five minutes, all day and night.
Rooms at the Gold Strike are comfortable too, and the hotel offers an indoor pool and workout room. Another advantage of the Gold Strike is its location next to the Horseshoe and the Sheraton hotels. All three are just a few steps apart. This group is about five miles from the Grand.
All Tunica hotels offer courtesy shuttles to and from the Memphis airport. However, if you want to get around on your own, you must rent a car at the airport. Car rentals are extremely scarce in Tunica itself. There is a free shuttle bus that runs roughly every fifteen minutes between the various Tunica casinos, but on weekdays it only runs until about 10:30 PM. In addition, it does not always offer direct service between the Grand and the Gold Strike/Horseshoe, instead making stops at other properties along the way. These include Fitzgerald’s, Sam’s Town, Bally’s and Hollywood.
The Grand offers an excellent buffet that would be considered a standout anywhere else. Here, however, it is overshadowed by the spectacular buffet at the Horseshoe. I generally do not find the food at casino buffets to be particularly appealing. However, I cannot say enough about the Horseshoe buffet. It is almost worth a trip to Tunica in and of itself. It features a sumptuous array of everything from traditional Southern dishes, Mexican, Chinese and Italian to steamed vegetables and grilled fish. Unlike most buffets, where everything is usually steeped in butter or cream sauces, you can actually find healthy fare at the Horseshoe buffet. It’s all delicious, and it’s enhanced by a huge selection of excellent, truly fresh fruit. The desserts, too, are world-class.
Even if you are satisfied - and overstuffed - by the Horseshoe buffet, it’s always good to add a little variety, and get out of the casino once in awhile. The town of Tunica is tiny and tidy, but worth a visit, if only to get a sense of what the surrounding area (the poorest county in the nation before the casinos arrived) is like. In Tunica, dine at the Blue and White, a restaurant featuring authentic, delicious Southern homestyle cooking.
If you can tear yourself away from the poker tables, Memphis offers many attractions for the visitor. You can take a guided tour through Sun Studio (www.sunstudio.com), “the Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll” that launched the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and others. Or visit The Pink Palace Museum (www.memphismuseums.org) and explore the region’s history, including a replica of the original Piggly Wiggly grocery store and a 1920’s mansion. The Pink Palace also features an IMAX theater and Planetarium. For more music history, there’s the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, with an exhibition about the birth of rock and soul music. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music (www.soulsvilleusa.com) celebrates great Memphis soul music made famous by Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, the Bar-Kays, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire and others.
Memphis is also home to the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the former Lorraine Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The museum (www.civilrightsmuseum.org) features the first comprehensive exhibit chronicling America’s civil rights movement.
While you’re in town, stop by the Peabody Hotel for Sunday brunch and to see its famous ducks walk through the lobby to bathe in the central fountain. The Peabody Hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been “the South’s Grand Hotel” since 1925. It is conveniently located near Memphis’ legendary Beale Street, home to a thriving music scene where you can hear memorable blues any night of the week. Blues City Cafe, on the north end of Beale across from the original BB King’s nightclub, is a great place to start. There, you can fortify yourself for the nightclub tour with succulent ribs and other Southern fare.
Last, but surely not least, no trip to Memphis would be complete without a visit to Graceland. You can tour the house Elvis built, see his in-home recording studio and walk through two of his planes. Elvis’ extensive car collection, including the famous Pink Cadillac, is on display as well, along with a tremendous amount of Elvis memorabilia including video footage, costumes, clothes, Grammys and platinum records. You can even visit the Presley graveyard, located in the backyard.
So make your reservations, come on down to Tunica, and grab a seat in a tournament!