By Ashley Adams
Ashley Adams lives in Boston, Massachusetts and has been playing poker for decades. He is the author of two poker books and his specialty is 7-card stud and no-limit hold'em.
I travel a lot. Sometimes my trip is to areas of well established public poker rooms. My recent trip to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker was such a trip. Often however, finding a poker game is tangential to my primary reason for visiting a city. In the former instance, finding a game is simple. I simply plug in the address of the poker room I’m visiting and I’m there. In the latter case, finding a game is a bit trickier. Let me share with you what I do in both situations.
There are well over a thousand legal poker rooms on river boats, Indian reservations, at race tracks, jai alai frontons, on mini cruise ships, and in full blown card rooms and casinos. If, for example, you are traveling to any of the following regions, you will probably find a public poker room within two hours of you: California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas City, Washington, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Eastern and Southern Mississippi, Southern Louisiana, Florida, Eastern New Jersey, Western New York, Eastern Connecticut, and New Hampshire. You can find games in these areas on the Internet, using search engines like google.com or poker game locators like thepokeratlas.com that have most legal poker rooms mapped out with address and relevant information.
A few words of caution about these sites, however. Though they can help you identify places where poker has recently been spread, they are often out of date. This includes poker room home pages. I recall well relying on one such site for locating games in Northern California, only to find out that the first three places I visited had closed down! Similarly, these sites often have standardized information that has either never been checked nor updated in the recent past. This holds true for the home page of the casino or poker room itself. It is often wrong, especially when it comes to games spread, tournament schedule, and hours of operation. My friend Andre, for example, recently drove two hours to a poker room in New Hampshire that listed hold’em as one of the games it offered. He found out after arriving that they no longer spread cash hold’em games – only tournaments and Omaha8. He drove four hours round trip for nothing.
Avoid problems like this by calling the poker room right before you leave. Be sure to ask specific and direct questions about what is currently being played. Poker room managers, though typically very eager and helpful to the prospective player, tend to exaggerate when answering questions about the hours of operation and what games and stakes they spread. I’ve found it much more useful to ask them, specifically, what games they have going “right now” – as if you are minutes away from arriving and want to lock up a seat. If you ask them what games they spread, they’re more likely to recite the long list of games and stakes that they are legally allowed to offer – which tells you nothing about what you can expect to find when you arrive.
Similarly, never ask when the poker room opens or closes. You are apt to be told that the games run 24/7 – or that they open at some artificial, official, opening time that may have nothing to do with when you will actually find a game. Better to ask when the first game got going that morning, or when it ended last night. Though even this direct approach doesn’t insure that the guy or gal answering the phone will give you a straight answer, it increases the chances that you’ll be driving over at a time when a game you want to play is actually being spread.
This is all well and good for those regions in the country with public poker rooms. But when visiting a city or town without such games, a more diligent and nuanced approach is often necessary. Let me share with you what has worked for me in the past.
You’ll have to do as I learned to do before poker became so widespread. When I started as a poker playing adult, public poker rooms were few and far between. California had a bunch, so did Las Vegas of course. And Washington State had a few rooms. That was about it. Indian casinos were in their infancy. And the Internet was still young and hardly peppered with millions of sites helping the traveler pinpoint public poker rooms in distant locales – if they existed at all.
I learned to rely on my person-to-person networking skills. It’s a simple method – though it may not strike you as easy. Here’s what I did and still do when traveling to areas without public poker rooms.
I start by thinking of family and friends who might live in or near the place I’m going. If I know someone personally, I call them, tell them that I’m looking for a poker game in their area, and ask them to help me. They already have the connections in their city or town. So if there’s a game somewhere, there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to point me in the right direction.
More often than not, however, I don’t have any personal connections. When that’s the case, I draft a list of every group that I’m connected to in some way. I then augment this list with other groups that I might be able to contact about finding a game – if my personal connections fail me. I find a phone number or email for my contact – or if I have none, then any name I can find associated with the group. I then go through my list of groups, starting with those with which I have some personal connection, calling the contact person.
Here’s a specific example of how I found a game using this method. I was going to Lynchburg, Virginia (the heart of the anti-poker Bible belt) on business. I had no family or friends who lived in or around there. I listed all the groups with which I had some connection: unions, Jews, Catholics, political organizations, teachers, food coops, book lovers, and musicians. I went on line and got the phone number of the one synagogue in town, the Catholic Churches, all of the unions I could dig up, and the library. I started with my cold calls.
I left a message for the synagogue explaining simply what I wanted. I left a message at the two union halls I found listed on line. I called and was then indignantly rebuffed by the person who answered the phone at one of the Catholic Churches (I figured maybe they ran a BINGO and would know of poker. I was wrong.) I planned on visiting the library when I was there – figuring that a phone call might be too intimidating for an unknown librarian.
I received a call back that evening from one of my union brothers. He told me, gratuitously I thought, that poker was illegal in Virginia. Fortunately, I also received a call from a secretary at the synagogue informing me that there was a member of the congregation who had a game. She gave me his phone number. I called him, got the details about when and where his poker game would be, and played in it when I arrived.
If my personal connections didn’t get me through to a poker game I would not have given up. I would then just go to all of the groups I could find in town. I would have called the fraternal groups like the Elks and the Moose Lodges; the business groups like the Lions and the Rotary Club, and then all the groups I could think of that might use their space for charity or other fundraising events – like the veterans groups, churches, and social halls.
If I couldn’t find a game by telephone, I was prepared to check with a few potential sources when I got into town. I’ve found that cabbies often know of games (I found two games in the Bahamas and another in Grenada this way) – same with folks who work in motels, bars, restaurants, and other places that deal with travelers. I’ve even gotten assistance from time to time from fire fighters and, yes, cops (in North Carolina of all places).
A word about contacting people cold. I find that a few rules of thumb serve me in good stead in finding games. They surely don’t work all of the time, but they seem to increase my chances of actually finding a game.
Smile and treat the matter lightly – almost as a joke. I find that if my query is too serious, folks are scared away from me. By approaching the subject lightly, I lighten up their mood and make them less suspicious. I try to be a likable, easy going fellow. If they like me, they are less likely to be threatened by my question and more likely to help me find a game.
It’s good if you can couple your request for a poker game with a request for something else that might actually be more in keeping with the mission of the group you’re calling. If, for example, you are a member of a religious organization, ask about services. If it’s a fraternal organization, ask about when they meet and how you might attend to see how they do things. If it’s a union, ask to compare their contract with yours.
That’s what I did. When I called the synagogue I said, on my message that I was looking for two things – a daily service and a poker game. That request for a daily service (that they didn’t have) established my bona fides as a Jew – and made my second request more likely to be listened to and addressed. People are more likely to volunteer information about poker games if they think your request for a game is not at the top of the list of reasons you’re talking with them.
If possible, initiate your request for information about poker by asking for card games in general or card games other than poker. Folks often respond defensively when asked directly about poker specifically. Once you’re in a conversation with them about cards, in general, you will often win them over. It doesn’t usually take me long to build up some trust with a stranger. I once got a lead on a poker game by first asking the fraternal organization if they knew of a bridge game. They said they didn’t, but volunteered that they knew of a poker game, if I was interested. Similarly, I saw a sign for a cribbage tournament at a bar. When I went inside and asked about it and got to talking I quickly learned that there was also a regular “free poker league” at a nearby restaurant.
There are other ways of networking that I’ve used in the past with success that I’ll recommend to you. There are now a few sites on the Internet that specialize in networking home poker game players, such as: homepokergames.com. This is a great site that lists home games in thousands of U.S. cities and towns. I emailed a few of the folks who listed poker games they had that were within an hour or two of Lynchburg. I received a couple of responses from folks willing to have me attend. As it turned out, since I found a game in Lynchburg using my Jewish connections, I didn’t need to go to these other games.
There’s still another way of networking, one that I used to find games in Europe. I went on a couple of poker sites: including Poker Stars, Full Tilt, and, back before the UIGEA, Party Poker. I played in some games and took advantage of the chat feature. When I saw a player from one of the countries I planned to visit, I chatted with him or her about my upcoming trip. On three occasions I chatted with players and then received an invitation to join them for a home game in their home city. This was how I found a game in Sweden, Germany, and Hungary. You might also try posting a request for a home game in established poker information and discussion sites like this one.
I’ve found that tenacity pays off. If you push enough buttons, someone is bound to lead you to a game. It may not be a game that’s ideal. But any game, I’ve found, is better than no game. And once you go to one game you’re likely to meet players who can introduce you to other games – until you are playing in a game you enjoy.
Finding a game is but the first step. In my next two articles in this series I’ll tell you how to maximize your profit in the game you visit – and how to behave in a home game to insure that you’ll be invited back.
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