With tens of millions of people playing poker all over the world, Americans (like yours truly) can sometimes forget that we don’t own exclusive rights to the game. While poker gameplay is pretty standardized worldwide (for the most part), there are some notable differences as far as ancillary issues surrounding the game are concerned.
I’ve played poker in Europe before, most notably in Prague and in Budapest, but I had never done media coverage of a European poker event until arriving in Romania to attend the 2018 Unibet Open Bucharest this week. Of course, I participated in some cash games as well. As such, I’ve noticed a number of differences, but there are a few that stood out to me in particular.
Here, then, are five ways in which European poker events differ from their American counterparts.
1. Hotel-centric vs. Poker Room-centric
Generally speaking, at poker events that take place in the United States, the players congregate at the tournament tables, disperse during the breaks, and head off every which way when play ends for the day. In other words, they’ll encounter one another while playing, but not likely anyplace else.
European poker events, by contrast, seem to be somewhat more hotel-centric. Typically, participants in European poker events will stay at the same hotel(s). This naturally leads to far more opportunities for them to interact and engage with one another away from the tables, be it at meal times, during player parties, or even in the fitness rooms and pool areas. Of course, European player fields tend to be somewhat smaller than their American counterparts, also lending to the more intimate atmosphere.
2. Currencies galore
In the U.S., it’s “dollars or bust,” meaning that if you’re visiting from abroad, you better have exchanged your local currency for greenbacks prior to arriving at the poker tournament.
In Europe, by contrast, the story is very different. While 19 countries use the euro, there are nine other countries that are members of the EU but that have nonetheless retained their own currency. With players converging from all over Europe for high-profile events like the Unibet Open, the venues themselves are usually fully equipped to deal with all manner of currencies and thus ensure all chips-for-cash transactions are as facilitated as smoothly as possible.
If find yourself short of the local currency wanting to play cash games, a very nice service is that you’ll be able to purchase chips in your home currency and then cash them in (assuming you have any left or have won, of course) for the exact same exchange rate.
There was one interesting surprise I got here, however, in that when cashing in my chips I was informed of a 1% tax, withheld for the Romanian government. That, in and of itself, was fine, but the tax was levied on the entire amount (not just my winnings), so if you plan on playing multiple sessions, it might be wise to only cash out after your final one.
3. So many languages!
A rule enforced pretty much worldwide is “English only at the table.” That’s obviously the standard in America, and it’s understandable that the “home” language would also be allowed in each European country (and translated by the dealer into English, for those who don’t speak it).
In the U.S., however, it’s far less common to have multiple players at the table whose native language isn’t English. In Europe, you have precisely the opposite situation, with most players knowing English but as a second, third, or even fourth language. On the one hand, this could be somewhat disorienting for someone who speaks English exclusively, but on the other hand, there’s something of a cosmopolitan feel that develops around that table, which is pretty enjoyable.
4. Tipping is far rarer; no social stigma
A topic that always ignites passionate arguments among American poker players is that of tipping, how much is appropriate, etc. That said, in the United States, tipping is a given. At cash game tables, it’s the rare hand that goes by where a dealer won’t get a buck or two, and those who run deep in tournaments typically part with a few percent of their winnings in thanks to the dealers and tournament staff.
In Europe, it’s a totally different story. Sometimes a full 30-minute dealer down can go by without any tips being offered, and nobody at the table – dealer included – would bat an eyelid. In some European locales where I’ve played, I even received stares of confusion when I did tip! In tournaments, too, there’s usually far less social pressure on winners to dole out large sums of their hauls to dealers as tips.
5. Ain’t no party like a player party
Save for WPT events in the U.S., I’m not aware of any large-scale American poker events that offer player parties. That’s likely because it’s casinos themselves that tend to run the larger events in the states. By contrast, events run by online poker operators in Europe usually offer at least one and often multiple player parties. Incidentally, the parties usually create more of a festival feel, rather than just the “pure poker; let’s try to win money” aspects of American events.
While most Americans have not had the opportunity to play poker online since Black Friday (save for those in NV, NJ, and DE – and soon PA), Europeans have been playing poker online pretty much continuously. As such, the operator-run events in Europe almost always feature multitudes of online qualifiers, for whom the live event functions as a vacation of sorts.
Beyond winning seats to play in these prestigious events, the qualifiers often also receive full “packages,” which include flights and hotel stays. Operators wish for their guests to feel pampered and have a great time, so it’s no surprise that they throw lavish parties that ensure sublime experiences.
Usually after midnight on a Saturday, I’m sleeping.
Tonight, in Bucharest, I’m like… 🎉
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) August 4, 2018
The above comparisons aren’t made to indicate that poker events are necessarily better on one continent over the other, but rather to illustrate the differences players may encounter, especially if they’re only used to playing exclusively in either Europe or America.
I would, however, encourage players to make the effort to travel across the pond, if possible, and get a taste for what it’s like to play on a different continent. There’s much to be enjoyed in both the United States as well as in numerous European countries when it comes to poker and, frankly, you haven’t gotten a full feel for the game of poker if you haven’t experienced what it’s like to be played in other parts of the world.