Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HOW TO: Play in every poker room in America

So you wanna go on a quest to play in every poker room in America? Well, I don't blame you. I've been doing it now for almost two years and I've been justly rewarded with wonderful experiences and memories. For those of you wanting to have the same experience of spending all of your free time on the back roads of this great land's gambling meccas, I've compiled a few tips that I'd like to share borne out of my experience.

1. Decide up front if you want to see *all* poker rooms or just the best poker rooms - This is a major consideration for a quest of this type. If you decide you want to spend your vacation time seeing every poker room in existence, you will find that most of the legal poker rooms in the country are small (1-4 tables) and rarely have games going except during peak hours. Unless you are very dedicated, you might be disappointed to find you've just driven 3 hours in the rain in Iowa to see an empty poker room.

2. Define for yourself what a 'poker room' really means to you - This seems like an easy task, but there are a huge number of 'poker rooms' in Montana, Washington State and California which are nothing more than one or two tables in the back of a bar somewhere. The tables are legal, but games don't always run. In addition, the bars rarely open until 6PM or later, which will put a crimp in your driving schedule, and the games rarely get off except on weekends, maybe. To wait in a rinky-dink town all day for a game that might not go off is not everyone's idea of a vacation.

3. Plan your driving schedule to maximize casino time - The previous two tips are dancing around the subject about whether you'd rather spend more time visiting poker rooms, and possibly not playing, for the purpose of saying you saw the place, or reducing the number of spots you visit but having more playing time. Once you've made this decision, you need to map out the places you want to visit and plan your driving route accordingly. I use two online tools for this purpose - ThePokerAtlas.Com and Maps.Google.Com. The Poker Atlas is a fantastic site without which you will find it very hard to complete your quest. It has a listing, mostly current and up to date, of every single poker room in the U.S. along with addresses, phone numbers and even maps and reviews. You can click on a state to get the entire state's poker rooms on a single map. This is invaluable when figuring out how to efficiently plan your driving. Google Maps is useful for not only mapping the route you'll take, but being able to save the spots in the My Maps feature. Also, you can estimate your driving time on each leg pretty accurately and even drag the route to other roads to see the difference in driving time, in case you want to make a detour.

4. Try to spend some time seeing some of the local sites - Poker isn't everything (shocking, I know). Each state you'll spend time in has hundreds of years of history waiting to be explored. Even little towns in the middle of nowhere have interesting stories to tell. Use Wikipedia.Org to research the different towns you're staying in and to find museums or attractions to visit. Also, the town's official website (most towns have one), will have even more information about town history and things to see you might not have ever thought of. When I was in Yuma, AZ, I went to see the Arizona Territorial State Prison, which was fantastic and not something I would ever have thought to do had I not done my research.

5. Compile a packet of information and bring it with you - This packet should include the names and addresses of every casino, along with phone numbers, and all the other destinations you want to visit. Not everywhere you visit will have internet access, so bringing a written copy of your itinerary is crucial.

6. Double check all of your information! - Call each casino and confirm they're still in operation, they have a poker room and what the hours are (a lot of casinos and poker rooms aren't 24 hours!). When you arrive at a casino and start playing, ask the locals if there are any poker rooms they know about that you don't. Sometimes a new poker room will open up that isn't listed on The Poker Atlas.

7. Always chat up the locals - About things to do in town, where to eat and where to play. They live there and they know about stuff that isn't listed in the guidebooks. Plus, they have great stories and will usually be interested in hearing about your own quest to play poker around the country. It makes a great conversation starter.

8. Bring a GPS unit - I can't stress this enough. A dashboard GPS for your car is essential to your success. You'll be able to input your destination and get accurate directions no matter where you are. In addition, the GPS can help locate the nearest gas station, the nearest place to get a bite to eat and the nearest hotel, in case you had to change your schedule mid-trip and didn't book ahead.

9. Use Hotels.Com to book all of your hotels - Hotels.Com has a couple of great things going for it for this type of journey. First, they have a fairly comprehensive listing of hotels for any area of the country. Second, they list the cancellation policy of each hotel in plain language. ALWAYS book hotels that allow you to cancel without charge up to 24 hours before. An amateur will book a hotel for a few dollars cheaper but it will be non-refundable. Poker trips are fluid. You can always cancel 24 hours in advance and re-book at the lower price if you are sure of your plans as the trip is drawing near. Also, hotel prices change almost daily. If you book a refundable hotel and you see the price drop, you can cancel and rebook at the lower price very easily. Lastly, Hotels.Com will give you a free hotel night (up to $400 value) for every 10 nights you book with them for a room of $40 or more. So if you keep your nightly bookings above $40, you're essentially getting anywhere from a 10% to a 50% discount on your bookings! Example: you book 10 nights at $40 each and then go away for a day at a $400 spa you get for free. You've spent $400 for $800 worth of rooms, a 50% discount!

10. Use CarRentals.Com to look at car prices, but don't book through them! - CarRentals.Com is the best comparison site I've seen for cars and routinely offers me the lowest fares because they don't stick only to the major vendors. But once you get the price, go to an online coupon site like RetailMeNot.Com or CurrentCodes.Com and grab a discount coupon you can use on the vendor's site! Then book from the vendor directly. Again, check the prices often and don't get a non-refundable deal because you'll be able to cancel and rebook if the price drops. Another reason I like CarRentals.Com, they allow you to search for cars where the drop off point is different from the pickup point. A lot of your poker trips will be flying into one airport and out of another just because poker rooms are very spread out in most states!

11. Keep a toiletry/drug bag for all trips - One of the best tips I was ever told and now I'm religious about it. Get a toiletry bag and fill it with every accessory you're ever going to need when you travel (travel sizes only, or else you won't be able to carry it onto a plane). Disposable razors, shaving cream, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, etc... Also include cold medications, pain relievers, Maalox and whatever other treatment you might conceivably ever need. Now never use what's in that bag except for when you're going on a trip. When you're packing, simply throw the one bag on top of your clothes and you're ready to go. You will occasionally have to refill the bag with things, but for the most part you won't be without what you need. When you pack things individually I find that I tend to forget *something* which means I inevitably have to buy a replacement when I get to where I'm going!

12. Keep a separate travel bag with extra chargers for all of your electronics - Same concept as 11, except this is for the electrics. In my own bag I have an iPod synch cable/charger, an extra set of headphones, a laptop charger, international plug converters and a car charger for my phone. In addition, I HIGHLY recommend this product, which is a compact 3 outlet power strip which also has two USB ports on the side for charging USB devices (like my iPhone). The best part about it is that you can rotate the strip in an direction when you plug it in, a lifesaver for those times when the outlet is in a strange location, as it usually is in hotels.

13. Get cruise control on your car - Don't leave the lot without a rental car with cruise control. You will be driving hundreds of miles on long empty highways and cruise control is crucial to allowing you to maintain a fast, safe speed. Rather than varying between 5 MPH under the limit and 10 MPH over the limit, set your cruise control to 5-9 MPH over the speed limit and watch the miles fly by with little effort. Very efficient.

14. Use Yapta.Com to check on flights - Yapta is a cool site which has very standard flight comparisons, but has the awesome added feature of letting you track the price! Once you've identified a flight, it will send you an email when the price changes. Once you book, if the price drops below what you paid for it, it will send you instructions on how to receive a refund/credit from the airline! Great stuff.

That's about all I have, that I can remember. If you have any good travel tips for me that are applicable, please comment and share!


Loulou said...

Thank you for your tips. I find a lot common with all the roadtrips I took over the years (I drove through the 48 continental states with my wife ;))

Maybe one day we will see a book about your journey?

Memphis MOJO said...

Nice post.

Whoa, Loulou, I already suggested he think about a book. It could be very interesting. Great minds and all that.

Jamie said...

Guys, I'm definitely thinking about a book and how to approach it. I'm leaning more towards a "man goes on a personal quest because of issues in his life" vs. "here's a bunch of poker stories". I'm thinking a mix between 'Positively 5th Street' and 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Of course, I'm being ambitious. I'm still in the very very very early planning stages of this thing! Any suggestions would be welcome.