The World Series of Poker Europe just wrapped up with Phil Hellmuth winning the Main Event for his 13th career bracelet. Throughout the six-year history of the WSOPE a large percentage of the fields have been American, with four of the six Main Event winners being U.S. citizens (Hellmuth, Barry Shulman, John Juanda, and Elio Fox). Thinking about this, I realized that a large portion of the American poker playing public (i.e., recreational players who enjoy poker blogs like these) probably has no idea about what it’s like to play poker in Europe.
From experience, I can tell you that there are plenty of things that are different “across the pond” versus poker play in the U.S. If you ever seriously consider taking a poker vacation to Europe, there are a few things you’d be well advised to keep in mind before sitting down at the felt.
It Costs More, Understand?
The dollar is worth less than the euro and still less than the pound. Usually, the lowest stakes cash games you’ll find will still be 1/2, but it’ll be in the local currency. The same goes, of course, for tournaments, where the entry fees are correspondingly higher.
So, if you’re a lower stakes player, keep in mind that you’ll generally be playing for stakes that are about 25–50% higher than “normal”. Mid-stakes players can compensate for the unfavorable exchange rates by “dropping down a level”.
You’re also probably used to poker rooms having a rule of “English only at the table”. You won’t have anything to worry about in this regard in England or other Western European countries where English is commonly spoken at a high level. Central and Eastern European poker rooms, however, are far more likely to be frequented by non-English speaking clientele, so be prepared to get a little “lost in translation”.
Bring Your Passport, Pay Up, and Come On Time
The first European poker room I visited was at the Holland Casino in Amsterdam, back in 2007. I got about 10 steps in before I had to turn around and go back to my hotel, as they wouldn’t let me in without my passport. By and large, American poker players know to have an ID on them for proof of age. In Europe, however, the only ID most casinos will accept is your passport.
On top of that, many casinos, such as the famous one in Monte Carlo, will charge you an entry fee just to grace their premises, which tend to range anywhere from €5–€20.
Upon visiting European casino establishments, many tourists are surprised to learn that the poker rooms may only be open in the evening hours and that the casinos themselves may not be open 24/7 except for on weekends. Lesson: It pays to check out the casino/poker room’s website and perhaps even call the establishment in advance to find out these important details.
A Totally Different Atmosphere
For one, the overwhelming majority of poker rooms in the U.S. boast no-smoking policies. While the same can be said for many European poker rooms, not all of them have similar policies in place, so be prepared.
Also, tableside food and cocktail service is standard at most well-run poker rooms stateside. While you may on rare occasion have the ability to have food brought to you, it’s practically guaranteed that there won’t be any cocktail or beverage waitresses as far as the eye can see. Moreover, even if you can obtain an alcoholic beverage, it’s going to cost you plenty more than the $1 you’re used to giving a serviceperson as a tip.
And as for masseuses? Keep dreaming…
All told, there’s definitely a difference when playing poker abroad. That’s not to say that playing poker back at home is “better”; just different.
Finally, to our European readers out there, I’d be quite happy to get feedback from you and find out if the impressions I’ve gotten personally and from my friends and colleagues about European poker rooms are correct or mistaken in your opinion as locals. Feel free to comment below.