Finding games on vacation

As acclaimed poker author Ashley Adams has found on his travels, with enough persistence, you can find a live game absolutely anywhere.

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 love to travel. It combines the thrill of new experiences with the excitement of movement. I’ve been to dozens of other countries, just about every major American city, and thousands of smaller cities and towns from coast to coast.

I also love playing poker – not just the standard casino games that have become so popular these days – but the home games that populate living rooms, fraternal organisations, church basements, and social halls everywhere. For me, the thrill of poker is not so much my hourly rate at the table (though I take pride in turning a profit at this great game) but in the adventures that come with finding and playing with interesting people in games that I discover on the road.

That being said, finding a poker game isn’t always easy. Let me share with you what I do, before and during my travels, to find poker games when I travel.

Hunting down the action

billboardLet’s start with the easiest games to find – those that are located in public poker rooms. For the most part these are in casinos or other gambling venues like racetracks. In California there are even freestanding independent poker clubs. These are the easiest games to find – since they advertise, are listed in traditional directories like the Yellow Pages, and even show up on huge billboards on the side of highways.

There are many sites that give you a listing of home poker games, by location and type of game. Use a Google search with “poker room” and the country you play in for the subject line and you can see what comes up. These sites will give you a listing of the cash games and tournaments in your country.

But public poker rooms are almost too easy for the adventurous poker traveler like me to enjoy finding. I prefer the challenge of finding underground clubs and home games in a strange city. Here are some tips on how to do that when you’re on the road.

Networking on the road

word of mouthYou might start with the Internet. There are many websites; you can find them in your area by using a Google search with the phrase “home poker games” and the location in which you’re interested in playing. These sites list home games by location, with specific information about the type of game and the stakes. Some of these sites aren’t updated very often – so don’t get your hopes up. Frankly, I found these sites to be more accurate back before the huge explosion of public poker rooms that occurred five or six years ago. More recently, though, when I’ve tried them, I’ve found that the people who posted games did not respond to my inquiries about visiting their games. Still, it’s a resource you should know about.

I prefer the more traditional method of personal networking. Before a trip to a location without public poker rooms, I sit down and make a list of anyone and everyone whom I might know from that location or who might know someone from that location. I used this method to find some home games in San Antonio and Austin Texas. A friend introduced me to another friend who played in a home game. Similarly, a good friend in Las Vegas introduced me to a woman who ran an underground game up in Utah. I contacted her and secured an invitation.

Hawaii: the ultimate challenge

hawaii1I went to Hawaii with my wife for our 30th Anniversary, for example. At first, I figured I knew no one there. But after sitting down for a few minutes I remembered that I had a friend who had relatives there – and relatives who had friends there. I jotted down their names to call. Unfortunately, they didn’t produce any leads to poker games.

So I went to other potential sources of games, blind inquiries to those whom I thought might know of games. I started with those groups that I had some connections with: labor unions (I’m a union representative for teachers), houses of worship (I’m the former president of my synagogue – and my father was a Unitarian minister). This worked well for my in Lynchburg, Virginia. The secretary who answered the phone knew a guy who knew a guy who invited me into this great game up in the mountains. Not so in Kauai. So I moved on to groups that often know about poker games, the fraternal, military, and ethnic groups like the Elks, VFW, Italian-American Club, etc. This worked for me in Maine and in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, they didn’t work out for me here. So I hit up the restaurants and bars as best I could (something that found me many a game in Atlanta, Georgia and Nashville Tennessee).

hawaii2Alas, in Hawaii, one of only two states that ban every single form of gambling, there are no games in these places (or they weren’t talking to a stranger about them). I went to email the reporting staff of the two newspapers on the island, sending blind inquiries to every email address I could find. This worked for me when I traveled through Wyoming. No dice here! Finally, not to be deterred, I emailed the concierge of my resort hotel. That proved to be the key that opened the poker door. She found me a guy who agreed to meet with me to check me out.

We connected in a local watering hole. I guess I passed muster because he invited me to a two-table tournament held on a beautiful estate in the country. That game led me to another private cash game on the top of a hill overlooking the mighty Pacific. We played in a huge screened in room on top of a high hill with a view of a volcano to my left and the Pacific Ocean to my right. It was what I imagine poker heaven looks like.

In sum, here are the steps I’ve described above:

1. Try any of a number of online home game locating sites.
2. Connect with everyone you know who might have connections to your destination.
3. Try the social, fraternal, military, and religious organisations.
4. Look for free games in bars and restaurants.
5. Connect with newspapers and other media.
6. Speak with those in the tourist business, including the concierge or desk clerk of your hotel – or other hotels, cab drivers, waiters, and bar tenders.
7. Keep track of every connection you get, however remote.
8. Leave your name with people you talk with, in case they hear of something later.
9. Accept an invitation into any game that invites you in, no matter the games they are spreading or the stakes for which they are playing.
10. Don’t give up.

By Ashley Adams

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