Recently, I had the blessing of some time off before starting a new full-time job. In line with my #8 poker goal of 2014, I decided to capitalize on the opportunity to take a special poker vacation, with Prague as my chosen destination. While I did a good bit of touring over the three days I was there (you should too!), my late afternoons and evenings (well into the wee hours of each morning) were full of some great poker action.
Unless you speak Czech, however, it can be pretty tough to navigate the Prague poker scene. Here at the Cardplayer Lifestyle poker blog, we’re all about providing good, useful, and entertaining information to recreational poker players. Thus, the idea for writing up this guide to playing poker in Prague was born. Regardless of the time of year you head to Prague for a vacation, you’re assured some great poker if you know where to look and a great time at the felt if you know what to expect.
So, without further ado, I’m happy to present to you the recreational poker player’s guide to playing poker in Prague.
9 Important General Tips about Playing Poker in Prague
Before I get into reviewing the three poker rooms I played at in Prague, here are a number of observations I noted while playing that you’d be wise not to ignore.
All Night He Czech, Czech, Czech
You couldn’t possibly expect a complete guide to playing poker in Prague without a Czech/check Rounders joke, right? ☺
In any event, the overwhelming majority of players you’ll find at your tables will be local Czechs. This language is, of course, accepted at the tables. The “English only” rule will be enforced, however, if requested/insisted upon by any player. This was never really an issue while I played, as the dealer usually called out all actions in both languages. While players often talked amongst themselves in Czech and a variety of other languages between hands (boy do I have a great story about that…), you don’t need to worry about in-hand play getting lost in translation.
Don’t Expect a Poker Game During the Day
Just as with online poker, liquidity is the name of the game with live poker and when no players are around, no games will be running. Popular as poker may be in the Czech Republic, you’ll be hard pressed to find action anywhere in town prior to 1 or 2 pm each day.
Many casinos in Prague will advertise that they’re open 24/7, and, indeed, you’ll be able to place bets on slots and table games anytime. Nonetheless, live poker cash games usually only heat up as the afternoon approaches.
With that said, and with a hat tip to Sam Grafton and Liba Foord, Editor-in-Chief of Card Player Czech Magazine (more about her in my final notes at the bottom), be sure to regularly check out Pokerzive.cz while on your Prague poker trip, as the site provides real-time information about where live poker cash games and tournaments are running in the city (see the right side of the homepage).
Don’t Forget Your Passport
This ain’t your typical local U.S. poker room and this sure as heck ain’t Las Vegas. When playing poker in Europe you’ve always got to have your passport ready. Usually, you’ll just need to present it once when entering the casino premises. Also, you only need to be 18+ to play poker in Prague.
Note that Prague’s public transport system pretty much shuts down at midnight, so you’ll need a taxi to return to your hotel if you plan on playing poker late into the night. Be smart and insist on the meter (or haggle with them on a fixed price that seems fair), as Czech taxi cabs are (sadly) known for taking tourists for a ride of a different kind!
Drink (for Free!) and Be Merry
I was pleasantly surprised to find both free tableside drink service as well as a fully-stocked bar available to all poker players. I don’t really drink alcoholic beverages, so just plain old water, orange juice, and the occasional soda were on tap for me, but to anyone who enjoys a good, drink, Prague’s poker rooms are the perfect place to park yourself.
Google Maps is Your Friend
As good as the directions may be, when you’re unfamiliar with a city, a poker room can be a chore to find. While I navigated around Prague pretty well for a first-timer, I wouldn’t have found the poker rooms I visited without the help of the Google Maps app on my Smartphone. Just plug in the destination and follow the walking route once you’re getting close; trust me.
Go To Town with the Crowns
The lowest stakes Americans will usually be accustomed to playing for in a poker room are $1/2. By the same token, Europeans are likely used to €1/2 tables, while UK poker buffs are probably most familiar with £1/2 action at the felt. In other words, players from most Western nations will usually only find lower stakes action in home poker games.
Cheers, then, to the Czech Republic, which spreads Texas Hold’em at limits of as low as 10/20 KR ($1 = approx 22.5 crowns). I was even able to play Pot Limit Omaha at stakes of 25/25 KR.
Coming from Israel, where we have an exchange rate of approximately 4 NIS (shekels) to $1, I must say that the opportunity to play similar stakes to what I’m accustomed to in my home games was most welcome. Generally speaking, tourists will find Prague to be a relatively inexpensive city, and poker is no exception.
If you crave higher stakes action, it will occasionally be spread, but for recreational players just looking to have a good time, win a little money, and play stress-free poker, Prague’s low stakes games give you the chance to essentially “go to town with the crowns”.
No Tip for You!
One thing I noticed immediately was that players rarely tipped the dealers. I was intrigued and asked if players were allowed to tip (in places like Australia, for example, it’s against the rules), and was told tipping was allowed, but that dealers pooled all tips. This proved to be true at all three poker rooms I played at, as I learned that the casinos paid a relatively decent wage to all their employees, meaning poker dealers didn’t have to depend on the goodwill of the players to make a living.
So, whether you’re inclined to tip dealers when playing poker or prefer not to tip poker dealers, be advised that tipping is certainly not the norm when playing poker in Prague. With that said, throwing a few crowns the dealers’ way is likely to get you a smile, some appreciation, and some enjoyable table conversation.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Czech Poker
Boy do those Czechs like to smoke! Being used to playing in non-smoking rooms, which are the norm in the States, the smoking was the one thing that really caught me off guard about playing poker in Prague.
I probably smoked more cigarettes secondhand during my 25+ hours of play than I do in a decade. There was quite literally nothing I could do to prevent almost my entire wardrobe from smelling like tobacco. Thankfully, I was able to leave my coat checked outside the casino, so at least that didn’t end up smelling too bad. Upon returning home, for the first time in my life, I actually had to run the washing machine cycle a second time on the same set of clothing just to get the stench out. I kid you not!
I joked to my family and friends that if Prague were covered by a dome, the city would look like a cloud – and I’m not exaggerating. This was the only stain on an otherwise phenomenal poker vacation for me. Culture is culture, however, and smoking unfortunately isn’t likely to disappear from Prague’s streets or poker rooms anytime soon.
With all of that said, at least you know what to expect now when heading to Prague to play poker. Be sure to prepare (or buy) an extra set of clothing to change into for your flight home.
Three Top Places to Play Poker in Prague
Many poker fans may be familiar with the Prague Poker Festival, during which time the EPT Prague takes place at the Hilton. The poker room there remains active throughout the year, but it seems to cater more to tourists than other poker rooms in the city, often spreading only higher-limit games and taking a higher rake. I went the “local” route, however, and tried out three great poker rooms where I enjoyed myself thoroughly.
Ambassador Poker Room
Located in the heart of Prague’s Wenceslas Square is the Ambassador hotel, where you’ll find a boutique casino featuring about half a dozen poker tables. You can get there via the city’s underground Metro, getting off at the Mustek or Muzeum stops. I actually visited the Ambassador poker room twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of my trip.
Here are some of the highlights that stood out to me as a first-time visitor:
- The staff there was quite friendly and all poker dealers spoke English fluently, though many of them weren’t wearing nametags for some reason.
- They had a proper bag and coat check room, where you were obligated to leave your belongings before entering the casino. So, be sure you take everything you need with you upstairs to the casino.
- On both of my visits to the Ambassador poker room, we played with the same one deck of cards throughout the session. There were no automatic shufflers, no new “set ups” made, no breaks in the action for chips to be added or removed from the table by other staffers; just straight up poker.
- “Running it twice”, or as many times as players agreed upon, was perfectly acceptable.
- The game of choice was almost exclusively 10/20 KR Hold’em, but occasionally a 20/40 KR game and a 25/25 PLO game would open up.
Card Casino Prague
By far the most well-appointed poker room I visited during my sojourn in the city, the Card Casino Prague was simply a pleasure to visit on all accounts, for numerous reasons. Spacious, with room for over 40 tables, the complex was immaculately clean and aesthetically pleasing to the max.
You can reach Card Casino Prague via the underground Metro, getting off at the Andel station. Be sure to emerge towards the streets from the correct station exit!
While there, I had the good fortune to meet up with Liba Foord in person, where she also introduced me to the Card Casino Prague’s Floor Manager, Lukas Kljap. Lukas proved to be a veritable fountain of information about Prague poker in general and his poker room in particular, as well as a gracious and charming host. He even called me a cab at the end of the night!
Here’s some of what makes Card Casino Prague unique among other poker rooms in the city:
- They’ve also got a coat and bag check room, but you’re free to keep your stuff with you at all times if you wish.
- Remember how I mentioned the omnipresent smoking in Prague? Well, this poker room enforces a rule that smoking is not allowed at the tables themselves, but rather only in the “common” lounge areas. While this may not seem like a big difference, let me tell you that it actually make a world of a difference to non-smokers like me. The smell still lingers throughout the building, but it’s not “in your face” at every moment, which frankly makes for a much more pleasant poker experience.
- This was much more of a “locals room”, with foot traffic only filling up the place towards the evening hours (i.e., it was completely dead when I arrived at 4pm, but quite full for a weeknight starting around 7pm until traffic petered out towards sunrise.
- I don’t believe I’d be mistaken for saying that the room is the hub of tournament poker in Prague; they’ve certainly got the space. Most people came to play in the poker tournament, with some heading to the cash game tables after busting out.
- The dealers were extremely professional, knowledgeable, and experienced.
- The tables featured automatic shufflers, which meant more hands dealt per hour.
While only a 10/20 NLHE cash game was being spread for most of the night I was there, the room regularly spreads PLO as well. As Lukas pointed out, it all depends on foot traffic and interest.
Update: December 1, 2015: Card Casino Prague has temporarily closed its doors while it looks for a new spot to relocate to. Once it finds a new home, we will update the information on this page with the details.
Showdown Poker Club
Located right down the street from the Ambassador hotel, at the bottom of Wenceslas Square, it’s actually easy to miss the Showdown Poker Club. The reason? The sign outside the building only says “Casino Prague”, with all “Showdown Poker Club” branding limited to the downstairs section inside. That said, it’s very easily accessible, also via the Muzeum metro station.
Frankly, this room was unimpressive, as it felt small and crowded; shoehorned into it’s space if you will. With over a dozen tables, none with automatic shufflers, they seem to have tried to fit too much poker potential into way too small of a space. Plus, rather than a coat check room, I was directed to a rack of coat hangers… Make of that what you will.
What the room lacked in aesthetic quality, however, it made up for in promotions; the only room in the city, I must say, to offer something tangible in that regard.
- New players receive a 10% bonus on their first ever cash game buy-in, with a maximum of 500 KR. Naturally, I took full advantage and essentially was rewarded with $25 free for buying into a 10/20 KR Hold’em game for the full 5,000 KR.
- Players are also rewarded for high hands, as follows (note that both hole cards must be used in all instances):
- Four tens or better receive 2,000 KR
- Straight flushes receive 7,000 KR
- Royal flushes win a 10,000 KR jackpot
Final Note of Thanks
In all honesty, I can say that I never would’ve been able to have as good a time at the tables as I did without the help of Liba Foord. While it was plenty easy to find good information online about the Prague Poker Festival that takes place each December, I found it ridiculously difficult to obtain accurate, useful information about the Prague poker scene during the rest of the year, as I don’t speak Czech.
Out of the goodness of her heart, Liba was kind enough to do a whole lot of legwork and research on my behalf prior to my trip in order to provide me with recommendations of which card rooms in the city would be suitable for a recreational poker player like me to play at.
Update July 17, 2016: Please see the comments of Marek, below, and check out his site.