I go on a handful of poker trips abroad each year, so each one is by definition quite special. The experience gets even more exciting if the trip is to a destination and poker room venue I’ve never been to before. This was the case with my most recent poker trip, to do event coverage at the 888poker LIVE festival in Madrid.

Of all the poker events at which I’ve provided in-person coverage over the years, this was my first time attending an 888poker LIVE event. As such, it was cool to experience that company’s hospitality for the first time and better get to understand how they run their festivals. Over the course of just under a week, I had the opportunity to mingle with all of the great 888poker ambassadors as well as sit for feature interviews with a couple of them, namely Dominik Nitsche and Ana Marquez.

I also enjoyed mingling with folks like Kara Scott, Vivian Saliba, Martin Jacobson, David Tuchman, Chris Moorman, Brad Owen, and others, many of whom were kind enough to share some stories about the funniest things they’ve ever witnessed happen while at the felt.

Name dropping poker celebrities — like I’ve done above — might seem like “space filler” to some, but truthfully THAT’s precisely part of the experience for so many of the attendees at an 888poker LIVE event. The relatively low buy-in points allow pretty much any poker player to take a shot. Beyond the possibility of winning big money, they also have the chance to sit with players otherwise “out of reach.” What recreational poker player among us wouldn’t love to tell their friends and family that they got to mix it up with a high rolling multiple bracelet winner like Nitsche, for example, and bluff him off a hand, or knock out a former WSOP Main Event champ like Jacobson?

In Cardplayer Lifestyle’s newest vlog, we’ve put together a video recap showcasing some of the top experiences I had while covering the festivities. You’ll also see some additional highlights of the trip in the pictures and descriptions below.

As mentioned, the venue itself was truly something else. Walking into and around the Casino Gran Via feels like you’re being transported to the set of a James Bond casino scene. Stunning architecture and decor makes for a very unique series of gaming sessions, indeed. Add to that the incredible location, right in the heart of the Spanish capital on the city’s main thoroughfare. Hard to beat!

Beyond the walls of the poker room is a simply charming city. For lack of a better phrase, Madrid is simply on some sort of “time delay.” That’s to say that EVERYTHING happens later, from sunrise (approximately 8:30am) to lunch (typically no earlier than 1:30pm) to closing time (the casino closes its doors at 6am daily).

As the poker action only began at 2pm each day, that gave me plenty of time to explore Madrid each morning. On one such morning, I took a 3-hour guided walking tour, giving me not only an incomparable perspective, but also some fascinating historical background on the city’s roots.

Covering a poker event is one thing, but I feel it’s impossible to grasp the entire flavor of playing poker at a particular venue or festival without dipping one’s own toes into the waters. I didn’t have time to enter one of the tournaments, but I did take the opportunity to play in a couple cash game sessions. Over 7.5 combined hours of play, I learned quite a few interesting tidbits about playing poker in Madrid. For instance…

I also learned what it felt like to play against a former November Niner for the first time when, upon sitting down to play some €2/5 No Limit Hold’em, I looked right (because in COUNTERCLOCKWISE games you look right, instead of left 😃 ) and recognized Fernando Pons.

Thankfully, throughout my cash game sessions in Madrid, I was able to avoid the land mines at the tables, emerging not only unscathed, but also with significantly fuller pockets.

As far as the tournaments went, as soon as poker action began each day, the tables filled up in earnest. At times, it was even difficult to maneuver through the field, as officials tried to cram in as many tables as possible into the rooms. While this made for a slight bit of physical discomfort, this only speaks to the popularity of poker in the city as well as to how enticing the festival, prize pools, and event structure were.

To fill over 55 tables to beyond capacity, with waiting/alternate lists at a venue hosting a poker tournament series for the first time is simply a remarkable feat. In other words, not having enough space to put people is a very good problem to have!

So, next time you see that either 888poker is hosting another LIVE event or the city of Madrid is playing host to a poker festival, you’d be well serve to look into booking tickets and accommodation to attend. You’ll definitely have an unforgettable experience.

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