Over the past few years, I've covered a lot of poker tournaments — 48 to be exact. I've had the amazing opportunity to travel the world, meet plenty of interesting people and experience amazing things. The questions I'm so commonly asked are, “Where's the best place you've been?” and “What's been your favorite tournament to cover?”
I'll often respond by saying that all of them have provided their own unique experience that I've enjoyed, but lately I've started thinking about a few that stand out from the rest. I could ramble on for days about each tournament and place, but that would probably get quite boring after awhile. I've done my best to condense choices to just my top five, but it's been a long, hard process and that's why this article has been a bit overdue. I could probably include a few more on the "best tournaments to attend list," but it had to be limited.
Please note that one of these events is no longer in existence, but the majority are still running every year. I highly suggest you take the chance to visit them because you don't want to look back with regret at having missed out.
5. World Series of Poker Circuit New Orleans
The World Series of Poker Circuit event in New Orleans was my first gig in this industry, and one I'll never forget. Bourbon Street is simply out of control, and I really love getting back down there for the tournament. We all know that poker players love to have a good time, party and drink. There's really not a much better place to get crazy than New Orleans, and it can turn out to be a really wild time.
Outside of the partying that goes on there, the food in New Orleans is amazing. On top of that, the people are friendly and the weather is warm.
This event still runs every year, and I highly suggest taking the opportunity to get down there. The event itself always provides a great poker experience. The players like to gamble and the field sizes are fairly big. Because it's a WSOP Circuit event held at a Caesars property, the staff is top notch and always treats everyone with the utmost respect and generosity.
4. Aruba Poker Classic
When I first read that Ultimate Bet was canceling the Aruba Poker Classic for 2010, I was a bit sad. I was also confused. I just didn't see the reason for such an awesome tournament to close its doors, especially when it was the only live tournament held by the site all year round.
I don't believe I've ever attended a tournament with more amazing weather than there was in Aruba. It was hot, but not humid, the sun was always shining, and the tournament was located right on the beach. When I say beach, I mean white sand and crystal clear water. Water so clear, in fact, that you could see straight through to the floor of the ocean where your toes mingled with the sand.
The Radisson Aruba Resort and Casino where we were staying, was also the host venue and provided us with plenty of all-inclusive services and meals, along with plenty of drinks.
Speaking of drinks, the parties at the APC were the best poker parties I've ever been to. UB and its pros really put on a good show for everyone and every single night there was plenty of craziness to get involved with. From the wild opening party at the pool with endless food and drinks to the festival at Phil Hellmuth's suite on the roof of the resort, to the Dan Band playing not one, but two live concerts — it was all an extraordinarily good time.
It's a shame this tournament series is no longer around, but Aruba is still there and someone should step up and bring poker back to the island near the equator. The biggest suggestion I'd have is for PokerStars to head down there. Heck, we all know everyone has plenty of gripes about the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure being held at the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, so why not move it to Aruba? The weather is infinitely better, the water is bluer, everything is cheaper and the overall experience will be much greater.
3. Latin American Poker Tour Brazil
Most of the Latin American Poker Tour events are amazing, but if you have a chance to head to just one, hitting any of the stops in Brazil would be what I'd suggest most. First, 98 percent of poker players are men and the women in Brazil are far and away the best in the world. Hands down, no questions asked. If you don't believe me, head down there for yourself. If you don't agree with me, well, get your ass outside of the poker room and venture around.
Carnival is heavily favored as the greatest party on Earth. Last time I was there, Carnival was a few weeks out, but the parties were still booming. With the samba schools in preparation for the upcoming festival, they hold plenty of practices that were parties in and of themselves, and I'd strongly recommend going to one. With Carnival switching between February and March from year to year, there's a good chance the next time the LAPT is in Brazil that Carnival will be much closer to the event itself. If you plan your travel accordingly, you can hit up both for a really incredible time.
2. Aussie Millions
I've been Down Under several times and there's really no tournament I look forward to more than the Aussie Millions. Part of the reason for this obsession with the Millions is that I absolutely love Australia.
The Aussie Millions takes place during January in Melbourne and it's the heart of summertime. The weather is gorgeous and that's always a plus when traveling to these events. People are out and about in the city, which is very alive and colorful. The series takes place over three weeks, but it's not the only thing that attracts people to Melbourne during this time and shouldn't be the only thing you do while you're there.
The Australian Open is held down in Melbourne during January. Of course, it attracts way more people than the Millions does, but both are amazing in their own right. Because the Millions is a long series spread out over a few weeks rather than just one big event, there's plenty of time to get out and venture to see a match or two — or three or four. The atmosphere surrounding the Open at Melbourne Park is hardly outdone by many other sporting events in the world.
If you're not taking to the felt or watching some matches on the court, there's still plenty to be done in Melbourne to occupy your time. The endless restaurants along the Yarra are delicious, the nightlife will keep you having a blast until the early hours of the morning and the people are some of the nicest I've ever encountered. Oh, and there's that thing called Australia Day that you need to check out.
The question for most traveling poker players is generally, “PCA or Aussie Millions?” Coming from someone who's been to both, the Aussie Millions blows the PCA out of the water. Sure, if all you're worried about is field sizes, then head to PCA. But if you're looking for overall experience from a series, the Aussie Millions is the place to be. Not to mention, plenty of poker players have already been to the PCA, but not that many have traveled all the way down to the Aussie Millions. My advice: make the trip. In my opinion, it's solidly in second place as the best tournament series in the world, which brings us to number one.
1. World Series of Poker
If you're a poker geek like I am, there is simply no better tournament in the world than the World Series of Poker. I first covered the massive poker orgy in 2008 and don't really see myself missing any of it for the next several years. Heck, I doubt I'll miss one for the rest of my life. Whether I'm still working in the industry, or on to other ventures, I'm sure I'll make my way back to Las Vegas summer after summer to experience the thrill of the “greatest tournament in the world.”
I understand what some of you may be thinking, "Why would you choose Las Vegas and the scorching summer heat while being cramped up into the Rio over some fun in the sun in Aruba or drinking a beer watching an Australian Open tennis match?" Well, like I said, I'm a poker geek. There's simply nothing I would rather do with my summer than attend the WSOP, and I'm sure the players that keep coming back year after year feel the same way.
The WSOP isn't just about the poker though, it's about the entire poker experience, and it's the best in the world at that. So many people come out to Vegas every year and a lot of them are good friends of mine. I enjoy seeing them and of course, I enjoy meeting new people. With the event in Vegas, you know the parties are good and nearly nonstop. I probably party too much during the WSOP, but with so many people in town, it's hard not to.
The WSOP is where history is made. Bracelets are often the one thing that everyone talks about when referring to tournament success in the poker world and I'm ever so grateful to be a part of it. I enjoy writing the history books for the game I love so much and I can't see myself doing anything else right now. I know I've got a list of my five best tournaments to cover and places to go, but, honestly, if you have just one chance to go to a tournament series of your choice in your life, the WSOP is the one. The only one.
As both employees within this industry and poker players, we are afforded the opportunity to see many places across the globe. Speaking in sheer volume, not many individuals have the opportunity to travel as much as we do and experience the world. I've always been told by my close friends and family outside of the poker world that I need to take advantage of all of these wonderful opportunities and never regret a moment.
My advice to all of you is to do the same. With the recent effects of Black Friday and still no online poker in the United States, now is a great time to travel the world to these amazing live events in some of the coolest parts of the world. Yes, I know that travel can be a grind sometimes, but I wouldn't give up the trips for anything in the world.