A Free Man in Paris

A Free Man in Paris

Thursday, 31 May 2012

By Alex Rousso

Travelling abroad to play poker always has a double edge to it. On the one hand, you’re on holiday and you should enjoy yourself. When you bust out of the tournament you’ve got a vibrant new city to explore, rather than the standard bus ride home haunted by thoughts of whether you should have played the hand differently. The flipside is that, given you are on holiday, how much a grind should the poker be?

Fortunately the poker gods gave little to haunt me in Paris last month. I don’t really know any other way to play A-K under the gun at the 300/600/75 level with a 19k stack than to raise and 4-bet all-in to the subsequent 3-bet from the shit loose/aggro guy.

I say “fortunately” because Lord only knows what would have happened to me if I’d won that flip. About 15 minutes after getting back to my hotel room I had the most almightily catastrophic visit to the bathroom. Given that there were about 300 people crammed into the Cercle Cadet poker room for the Unibet Open main event and only – wait for it – two gents toilets (one without a toilet seat), I can only imagine that I would have created a new definition of the phrase “run bad”.

Rather than spending the next day haunted by thoughts of whether I should have played that lovely meal out with my girlfriend differently (was it the prawns? Was it the sauce béarnaise?), we did what Paris does best: mooched about the beautiful streets and languished in the cafes while the waiters looked down their noses at us.

It wasn’t long before I was back in the saddle again – someone said the words “PLO tournament”. It still beggars belief how bad French players are at PLO. UK players used to be nearly as bad but then they must have woken up to that fact. Either they got better or stuck to hold’em. What were once healthy 90+ runner PLO tournaments at the Vic now seldom get significantly over 50, and that’s including Jeff Kimber, Karl Mahrenholz, Jerome Bradpiece and all the other usual suspects.

The €200 random bounty PLO tournament had 83 runners, many of whom think that a hand with a pair of jacks and little else is worth a raise – and then a reraise all-in to iso, which doesn’t actually iso and indeed gets called for massive chips by A-T-T-x rainbow.

It was 5am when I finally busted for the chip lead with a set versus two pair, finishing in twelfth place. I had a nice time but I can’t help thinking that I could have had a nicer time mooching around cafes and peering up waiter’s noses for eight hours instead. Even at €5 a coffee, €200 buys a lot of caffeine.

Such is poker abroad. You always come back thinking, “Ah well, at least I had a holiday.” But having only had five hours sleep before having to check out of the hotel meant that it didn’t feel much like a holiday either. Indeed the best poker trip I’ve had involved going to Vegas for four weeks and only playing poker for two of them. That’s a shame from a poker point of view because the standard of PLO in the Rio is only slightly better than in Aviation and Cercle Cadet.

The problem is that much as these destinations are fishy, the costs to get there and stay there make the equation a bit tough to balance. I budget about $1,000 a week to stay in Vegas including the flight (and that’s spreading the cost of the flight over a few weeks). Paris won’t cost you £600 in airfare, but the costs when you get there will make up for it. If you manage to put in 50 hours per week, that’s $20 per hour you’ve got to take off your hourly rate before you’ve even started.

If you’re going all that way purely to work, you might be better off grinding at home. That, of course, is not why we do it, which in turn begs the question as to how seriously you should take the poker once you get there. Why not just go the Matt Perrins route – bink a bracelet when you get there and then spend the entire rest of the trip clubbing?

For recreational players the win / win is much clearer: not only do they get to go on holiday, but they get to spend all hours away from the wife / kids / job playing poker. For pros I’m less convinced. I find it quite ghoulish to think that we fly 5,000 miles across the world to spend the entire time sitting at a poker table with slightly different, slighly fishier players. Maybe the WSOP is a different story and there’s an obvious reason why we all do it. But I’m not sure I want to spend half a day travelling, live out of a hotel room and get tilted by different card room rules in return for an extra few quid on my hourly.

So, my personal conviction is that the holiday aspect should come first and the poker should come second. There are pros such as Cody, Eames, Lewis et al who travel the circuit and for whom the poker does come first. If you’re playing for the stakes they do (€5k and upwards a pop), I daresay the numbers do check out. However, if you’re playing for stakes that don’t justify the cost of the trip so easily, I’d recommend saving most of the poker for the grind back home and sampling the local delights as much as you can while you’re away. Just steer clear of the prawns.

Tags: Pickleman, Alex Rousso, live poker, WSOP