Six Distractions That Can Negatively Affect 'Poker Tourists'
I'm currently planning a few poker trips — one to Florida in a week and one to Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker. As I plan my trips I'm reminded of many debates I've had with other players about the relative strength of those of us who visit regular poker-playing venues compared to those who live in or near such places.
Some like to tell me that the "poker tourist" is just as good as the casino regular, and that I tend to underestimate the tourist's skills at the table. They point out that while tourists may have been easy pickings "back in the day," this is no longer true, as the skill level of players in general has vastly increased.
That could well be. I really have no way of knowing who the winners and the losers are, nor who among the cash game players really is better — the regular or the tourist. Statements about wins and losses notwithstanding, no one really knows how anyone else does in cash games. Our exposure to other players is often very limited, and we can't really peer into anyone's full financial records to see who the long term winners and losers are.
Even if I can't fairly evaluate the relative skills of the different types of players at the table, I am certain about one thing. The poker tourist plays at a considerable disadvantage to the regular. This is because the tourist faces many hurdles that are not generally faced by the regular.
I'll list six examples of such factors with the potential negatively to affect the poker tourist below, with a brief explanation of each.
1. The Lure of Action
Poker tourists, unlike the local regulars, have traveled some distance to get to the public poker room. By design, they have gone to some considerable effort to play poker. Except for relatively rare self-controlled individuals, they will be more likely to yield to the desire for action than the typical regular.
The tourists did not travel all the way to a gambling destination to fold hand after hand. Best intentions notwithstanding, they will be more inclined to gamble it up, with the pressure to play that may run counter to their otherwise high standards for engaging.
Similarly, unlike the inured regulars, poker tourists will (on average) more likely be dazzled by the display of chips, cash, and glitter. Upon arriving, they'll see the folks standing in line at the cashier collectively cashing out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of chips. More than the regulars, the poker tourists are likely to be seduced by a desire for a piece of it. It will surely affect them. And without extraordinary will power, it will affect their play.
Say a poker tourist gets to the poker table. The first dozen hands are garbage. He knows he has to fold bad starting hands if he's to be a profitable player. But he didn't come to this great poker destination to fold. Sooner or later, even the best and most patient player is tempted by all of the action and the desire to play. So he plays less than the high quality hands that he knows he should play. And he may play them too aggressively, eager as he is for action.
How different from the regulars. They are in the poker room nearly every day. Action has lost at least some of its allure (sure, some may be addicted to the action — but that's another article for another day). They can afford to sit patiently, waiting for an excellent starting hand, knowing they'll be here as long as it takes, and then back the next day, and the day after that, too.
2. Lack of Game Selection
Similarly, typical poker tourists cannot really afford the time to be selective about when and where they play.
Say a player has arrived on a Friday and is leaving on Wednesday. He may have plans to get together with friends or family for some meals. When he visits a casino he's not going to deny himself a chance to play poker. He's not going to walk around the room, see that only regular grinders are at the table, and decide to go back to his hotel. He's going to play — bad though the game is.
3. Free Stuff
Tourists are suckers for free stuff. I have two buddies who come down to Foxwoods in Connecticut when they are offered free rooms. A couple of other guys fly off to Atlantic City because they get free rooms at the Borgata. Of course the free rooms are during the week, when the games are generally much tougher. But hey, how can a tourist turn down a free room?
Similarly, some tourists just love the free drinks that the casino lavishes on them. They figure that they're getting something for nothing by knocking down their free alcohol. But the free stuff comes with a price.
Regulars are at least partly accustomed to this by their frequent exposure to what a casino has to offer. To them, it's no big deal. They either have so many comps that the free stuff isn't much of an enticement. Or they live nearby and don't care about free rooms, free food, or free drink.
They're in the poker room often enough not to change their best game in their pursuit of free stuff. They play when the games are at their best, not just when they're getting one comp or another as an incentive to visit.
4. Other Gambling Opportunities
Some tourists are immune to this distraction, as they never, ever play any games other than poker. Too many, however, dabble occasionally in other forms of gambling when the opportunity arises. If nothing else, a casino provides such opportunities, offering blackjack, roulette, craps, Keno, and sometimes a racebook and/or sportsbook. Sometimes even the most disciplined poker players can't keep away from the other gambling temptations — where, over time, they will gradually deplete their bankrolls.
Compare this to regular poker players. True, they may have a gambling urge (or even problem) that is satisfied with regular attendance at the craps table or some other non-poker gambling game. But more often than not, their regular exposure to the casino dampens their interest in other gambling pursuits so they can concentrate on making money at the poker table.
When they are done with a session they can easily go back to their house or apartment and live their lives. Not so for the poker tourists, who are much more easily seduced by the rare opportunity to gamble it up for the limited period of time they are going to be in town.
5. The Tourist "Lifestyle"
Let's face it. When you go to a tourist destination to play poker you are typically on vacation from your regular life. And being on vacation comes with certain "privileges" that you wouldn't routinely indulge in back home.
People on vacation typically drink and eat more, party more, and sleep less than they usually do when they are not on vacation. For poker players, this temporary "lifestyle" comes with certain costs. Sleepless nights diminish attentiveness and focus at the poker table. Drinking and eating to excess also diminishes your ability to play your best game.
How different from the regulars who can balance their play with a healthy lifestyle. They aren't as likely to stay out all night partying before sitting down to a poker session. While poker tourists' visits to the casino are often part of a deliberate and brief effort to leave their regular lives behind, poker regulars can incorporate playing sessions into their lives in a way that can maintain their health, energy, attentiveness, and ability.
6. Limited Bankroll
Finally, the typical poker tourist visits a gambling venue with a severely restricted poker bankroll. This is both a matter of design and circumstance.
It is the unusual tourist indeed who brings along all of his capital. While it may be fully accessible through bank transfers, and at least partly available through casino credit, check cashing, ATM machines, or credit card advances, as a practical matter poker tourists probably only have a limited amount of cold hard cash that they physically transport with them to a casino. Such a limit will almost certainly affect their play, at least to some extent.
If the poker tourist suffers a large loss in his first gambling session, he will probably tighten up to preserve what he has left. He may also view his entire limited bankroll as more expendable, thinking in terms of how much he can afford to lose rather than just playing his best game all the time.
While some poker players have been traveling and playing long enough and consistently enough not to be distracted by these bankroll considerations, many do not escape them, and their best game surely suffers as a result.
Contrast this with the regular. His bank is local. His funds are fully accessible. He does not have to think about how much he can afford to lose during any particular period of time. While he surely will have limits on the games he can afford to play, he need not be distracted by the temporary limits that travel inflicts on the tourist. The regular can more easily embrace the concept that poker is really one long game with many sessions within it, rather than a fixed session where one may only lose a pre-set amount.
By recognizing the many distractions of the public poker room, poker tourists have an opportunity to take evasive action. As I continue to plan for my upcoming poker trips, I'll share some specific ways the traveling poker player can best deal with these distractions and minimize their potentially negative impact on players' bottom line.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold'em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.