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Poker Travel Made Easier

by Bernard Lee |  Published: May 30, 2012


Bernard LeeAs I travel the tournament circuit, many players often ask me questions about life as a professional poker player.

Some of the common questions range from how did get my start in poker (Answer: my father taught me how to play seven card-stud and draw poker when I was young) to what are your favorite stops on the poker tour (the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure) to what is your most memorable moment in poker (Finishing in 13th-place at the 2005 WSOP main event) to how do I improve my game (Practice, practice, practice; discuss hands with players that you respect; and training, whether lessons or websites).

However, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “What is the hardest thing about playing on the tour?” For me, the toughest part is being away from my family for extended periods of time.

Nevertheless, many people find traveling the hardest part of playing in live tournaments, especially if they don’t compete on a regular basis. A few months ago, I wrote a column about preparing for the WSOP. Afterward, I was surprised that numerous people emailed me asking for additional advice regarding travel.

Therefore, I decided to share my travel tricks of the trade with you including room selection, flight considerations and car rental.

Room selection:

Many people think a hotel room is just a hotel room. Of course, there are obvious differences such as non-smoking and smoking (which you should distinguish when making your reservation so you get your preference). However, there are other specifics that can make the difference between an enjoyable stay and a nightmare.

1. To stay or not to stay: Don’t assume that you have to stay at the casino’s hotel. There are often hotels nearby that have at a lower rate. However, you will have to make the decision whether you want to allow time to travel in the morning to the tournament or just roll out of bed and go downstairs to play. If you choose to stay offsite, you will also have to arrange for transportation, whether a car rental (see below), taxi or hotel shuttle service. If you do decide to just stay at the hotel, always ask for the tournament rate when making your reservation. Most tournaments have a discounted rate for registrants playing in the event.

2. Location, Location, Location: Many people just accept the room that they are assigned to by the front desk. However, there are a couple of things to consider about your room’s location. First, make sure that your room isn’t right next to the elevator, as you will be listening to the elevator sounds and the people getting on and off all night long. More importantly, make sure your room does not overlook anything (e.g. pool, terrace) that could wake you up early in the morning or keep you up late at night. For example, at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino where the WSOP is held, I found out the hard way that very loud music is blasted from the pool area when it opens in the morning. Additionally, some hotels host late night parties at the pool or terrace areas, which make it difficult to sleep. Thus, if you are noise sensitive, you may want to choose a room with a bland view, but less sound, especially when sleep is at a premium during tournaments.

3. Book the extra days: Make sure that your reservation is booked through the last possible day, usually the day after your last event’s final table. Cancelling a couple of days is much easier than requesting an extra night or two since the hotel could be sold out by then. Most hotels, especially during these events, understand that you might check out early based on your tournament status, but still make sure to let the front desk know.

4. One or two: Beds that is. I personally recommend getting a room with two beds. Why? Two reasons: First, if a friend shows up last minute and they are stuck, I have a bed for them to stay. Second, I like to throw my suitcase on the other bed (especially for shorter trips), as I don’t like to unpack just for a few days.

Flight considerations:

Many pro players buy one-way tickets at the last minute, which are very expensive. The primary reason is they are unsure when they are going to be eliminated from the tournament. Nevertheless, here are my general rules for flight reservations:

1. Book at least two weeks in advance: Airline flight prices generally increase two weeks before the departure date since business travelers are willing to pay more. Additionally, if you have a seating preference (aisle or window), you have a much better chance at getting your choice if you book early.

2. Final Table Day Departure: We often know which day we will leave home for the tournament, but the return date is always a dilemma. My compromise is to book my return flight on my last event’s final table day. Although you hope to make the final table, you must realize that it is still fairly rare. And besides, if you do make the final table, you would never mind paying the change fee since you are going to play for the title. One exception to this rule is a lengthy main event, such as WSOP or World Poker Tour. Since these events often last at least a week, I usually book my return flight on the day the money bubble bursts, which is often day three or four.

3. Leave the middle seat open: If you are traveling with a friend, I’m sure that you would prefer to sit next to each other so you can talk during the flight. However, I recommend booking an aisle and window seat, leaving the middle seat open. If the middle seat is eventually filled, the person will usually gladly move for a more premium seat so you can sit next to each other. (Now, you and your friend will have to decide who sits in the middle seat.) Additionally, if you are not in a hurry to get off the plane, book your seats toward the back of the plane as you will have a better chance to have the middle seat empty for more room, as most people prefer seats closer to the front.

4. Specific airlines: Depending on your personal preferences, you should examine booking your flights with specific airlines. For example, if you don’t want to worry about change fees, Southwest Airlines is the only major airline without change fees. If you are like me and love watching television to past the time, Jet Blue with its Direct TV at every seat is your choice airline.

Car rental or taxi:

Here is another decision that you will have to make for your trip. Of course, there are many factors for you to consider beyond just the cost.

The obvious initial questions are whether you are staying at the hotel or offsite and the proximity of the hotel/casino to airport. However, you also have to determine your personal desire to travel away from the casino, whether you want to just grab dinner or even possibly sightsee.

Fortunately, the one good thing about car rentals is that unlike flights and hotel rooms, there is no penalty for changing your mind at the last second and cancelling. Thus, since car rentals often get more expensive the closer you book them, you really have no reason not to reserve a car rental well in advance.

For me, I dislike being apart from my family when I travel to play in poker tournaments. However, if I am going to be away, at least I can make my trip more enjoyable. I hope these travel suggestions make your next poker tournament a more pleasurable experience from start to finish. And, of course, good luck at the tables. ♠

Bernard Lee is the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal, weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald,, author of “The Final Table, Volume I and II” and radio host of “The Bernard Lee Poker Show,” which can be found on or via podcast on iTunes. Follow Bernard Lee on Twitter: @BernardLeePoker or visit him at