To be a winning 7-card stud player, you need to develop a winning poker strategy. 95% of my columns are devoted to that — the math, psychology, and analysis necessary to make you better than the folks you are likely to be competing against. Still, your bottom line involves more than just winning more than you lose in the game itself. If you're like me, and like to travel to poker-rich destinations, you also need to be concerned about how to leave a destination with your overall profit during a poker trip. Your poker winnings are just one piece of a more complicated poker-vacation equation.
My stud strategy column this week is focused on the strategy of improving your bottom line when you are traveling to Las Vegas to play poker.
I travel to Las Vegas at least once a year for a poker-playing vacation. This time of year I'm planning to participate in the World Series of Poker. There's a lot of planning and strategizing involved in the successful trip. Let me share some of my thoughts with you.
The first question I ask myself is when and for how long I want to travel. I have friends who go for six weeks and others who fly out for a long weekend. Duration is a highly personal decision. Do you have a family that will be staying at home? Will they travel with you? Will they join you once you are situated? How long, ideally, do you want to spend in Las Vegas?
I find that the idea of a long Las Vegas poker vacation is often more appealing than the fact of it. At first blush, given unlimited vacation time and resources, I'd probably embrace the idea of a full six weeks in Las Vegas. What could be better than that? Thinking and dreaming about all of the poker action is intoxicating. I imagine the many late-night eateries I love to frequent and I practically drool. My head spins as I fantasize about the possibility of winning a World Series of Poker bracelet. Ah, the glory!
The reality is far less awesome and far more taxing. For me at least, there is some discomfort associated with being away from home. I tend to miss my wife and home after five days or so. I miss my pillow, my kitchen, my friends, and my routine. I find that I don't sleep well away from home and this tends to make me anxious and even more high strung than normal. By the sixth day I am really ready to return home.
For me at least, six days is enough of the full-time poker gambling scene. But maybe you're different. Think about it first, making sure your poker eyes aren't bigger than your poker stomach.
Once the duration is decided, you need to focus on the practical tasks of getting yourself there, getting housing, and the like. Here's what I do. I focus on saving money. Every dollar saved in overhead is another dollar added to my profit (or diminishing my losses) when I go home.
I check the schedule of WSOP events first, to see what I might like to play. I plan my trip around those events. There are other events at the same time that I also check out — at the Orleans, Binions, and in southern California. They might appeal to you. But check them out first.
Most folks I know called the Rio, got the poker rate, then called their favorite airline, booked their flight, then booked a car through one of the major companies. I checked with all of them just to get a baseline of what this trip would cost.
Rio WSOP rate: $1,017/wk (average of $149/night plus tax and fees)
Airline (American): $479/roundtrip (including all taxes and fees)
Car, Hertz: $379 (including all taxes and fees)
I was determined to beat that. I used a bunch of online sites to help me. The first was Travelocity. They had a feature that allowed me to plug in my domestic destination and find out the cheapest date to fly. So I plugged in Las Vegas, leaving from Boston, and found out that there was a fare of $249. This was the rate without taxes or fees. With fees it was closer to $300. The site then gave me the dates when the flight was available, both leaving and returning. I found that there were no seats on the dates I wanted to travel at that rate, but at least I had a baseline to do comparison shopping with some other travel sites.
I went on Hotwire and checked them out. I put in the ideal time I'd like to go — usually Saturday morning — and returning Friday morning or late Thursday night on the red eye. They gave me the rate, the date, and the time, but didn't tell me the airline. I then went on Kayak.com, Orbitz, and Expedia to put in the ideal time, date, and rate. I saw what it would cost to travel through various airlines — and the duration of the flights. I then made my selection.
There's one last step that I have used to take advantage of promotions offered by airlines. I check out coupons by doing a google search for the airline and discount coupons. I have gotten special "20% off" codes that I've used to buy tickets directly from the airlines and from some of the discounters. I also subscribe to vacation and travel discount listing services such as travelzoo.com and sherman.com. They send me the latest discount travel deals – often alerting me to special fares that I wouldn't normally think of – like flying from an airport within an hour's drive from my home base in Boston. They've saved me a bundle.
I found a low fare through Expedia of only a little over $300, including all fees. I then set out to book my room. There were many options for doing this, largely the same listing services that I've mentioned above. I've had the most success with hotwire.com. They seem to get the best deals and the best places, though you can't be sure where it is that you'll be staying until you book your room. I've gotten a two-room suite five minutes from the Rio at the Extended Stay Suite for $39/night and I've gotten Palace Station for $29/night (including Saturday night). I've gotten similar deals in other cities as well.
Cheapovegas.com is another great site for Las Vegas rooms. Hotels.com also has a great listing service with an excellent interface that allows you to quickly spot inexpensive rooms. If you're looking for value, I also recommend the following hotels and casinos — though there are many more that you can find for yourself.
This year I found an amazing rate of $29/night through Hotwire. In years past they put me into the Extended Stay Suite right near the Rio. I was hoping they were the property I'd be awarded for this rate this year. No such luck. I was awarded a room at Palace Station. Even so, with the rate I got, I wasn't complaining.
Getting a car is very easy and, in many cities, surprisingly cheap these days. Use the search engines I mentioned above. I tend to start with Hotwire and then use Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia to see if I can beat the deal they offer me with any other car rental place. This year I found that with an online discount coupon I could rent a car through Advantage for $9.95/day. There are outrageous airport taxes and fees — but even so, for a full week my charges came to $98.95. I never take the insurance option — because my credit card and regular car insurance covers the rental. And I never take the gas option, preferring to fill up before I return my vehicle. I recommend that you do as I did.
The basics for this trip, including all taxes and fees, cost me:
Room $209. (including tax and fees).
Flight $309 (including tax and fees).
Car $98.95 (we'll round it up to $99)
Total $617 for a week
Original Total $1875 for a week
Savings $1258 for a week>
That's without using frequent flier miles or staying in a no-name flea bag hotel.
Think about it. If I play $20/40 stud and make as much as one big bet an hour, I'd still have to play for over 31 hours to equal the amount that I saved by spending about two hours on the internet looking around for the best deal. Put another way, I just found a relatively painless and easy way to double my hourly win rate at $20/40. Not a bad piece of strategy.