To Vegas or not to Vegas?

To Vegas or not to Vegas?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Alex Rousso says go.

A lot of UK players say they can’t afford to go to Vegas for the WSOP: the flights, the accommodation, the nights out, the table games… it all adds up. Certainly, if you’re a recreational player, the thought of paying over a thousand quid just to do a week’s worth of tournaments will seem like a lot. However, if you’re a mid-stakes grinder or above, I reckon the numbers check out, so I’m going to look at= them in detail.

I see a lot of players whose regular tournament buy-in is in the £200 to £500 bracket, possibly playing the odd £1k tournament, either as a “treat”, a spin up, or because they’ve satellited in, either live or online. Moneymaking or regular recreational players in this bracket will tend to play whole festivals away from their hometown, or cherry-pick the individual tournaments in their hometown which they think are value.

The advantage of the festivals is that, despite having to shell out for travel and accommodation, the player will get to enter between two to five tournaments in, say, a four-day period, so they’ll get their money’s worth for their expenses.

In a year, I’d say such a player will go to between six to 20 festivals (the higher end being a full-time player). Granted, if a player busts out of the Main Event early, they may well decide to cut their losses and head home, but on average they will spend three nights in a hotel. Even if they are sharing, this will cost at least £40 per night. The travel will doubtless run to £50 or more, and the food will tend to add about £20 a day, even if they keep it basic. All in all, it works out at about at least £250 in expenses per trip, but could easily be double that. And that’s for entering between two to five tournaments.

Many of those tournaments will be side events with poor structures. Don’t get me wrong, there will usually be value in those tournaments, but often they will find themselves wondering why they drove 200 miles to sit with the same old (or young) circuit pros.

To put it simply, the expenses to do a UK circuit event will run to about £50 per tournament or more. Now the time constraints.

Circuit events such as Blackpool, Luton or anything in London will usually have a decent amount of cash games. In other festivals, players can often find themselves waiting a couple of hours to reg the next event, or hanging around (reading Bluff Europe) hoping the cash games will start up soon. So even though there may be about five tournaments one can reasonably play in the four-day timeframe of a festival, the combination of travel time and dead time between tournaments might mean that, per tournament, they are spending a good couple of hours faffing or travelling.

Compare this with our poker Mecca during the World Series. Yes, travelling there is expensive. Only seven years ago I paid £380 for my return ticket to Vegas. This year it was £680. For travelling there and back one should basically figure to spend a day each way (though the return flight is a red-eye, so assuming you can sleep, you won’t lose a whole day). Jetlag is a problem, but only if you need to be bright and breezy for a 12pm tournament start on the first day. For cash games, being awake at 1am might be a sizeable advantage. Either way, it shouldn’t take longer than a day or two to adjust.

This may present a problem if you only go for a week. However, the expenses per tournament greatly reduce the longer you stay in Vegas, as the big lay out is the flight.

Once you’re there, the expenses are actually pretty good. For the price of a British hotel (think £80 per night, which is about $130), you can stay in a decent Strip hotel and have at least one tournament per day on your doorstep. Even so, perfectly decent hotels such as Ballys and Gold Coast will set you back no more than $60 during the week and about $100 on the weekend. Go for a long time and you should be able to get an even better deal. In short, it’s really not a problem to find somewhere cheap near to at least one, but maybe two or three festivals.

The key point here is the sheer volume of tournaments on offer. This year, the Wynn had one tournament a day, the Venetian had four (11am, 12pm, 4pm and 7pm) and Caesars had two. That’s just on the Strip, and just the resorts that actually ran festivals. The Rio has, of course, the WSOP, but in addition this year ran its deepstack $235 tournaments, plus it introduced the “Carnivale of Poker” with daily $365 entry tournaments. There are two further festivals downtown at the Nugget and Binions, each running another two tournaments a day.

To give you an example of the action, I’m an Omaha player, and usually have to scour the UK circuit schedule for tournaments. If I’m lucky, there will be one Omaha tournament per festival. Very occasionally there are two. In the eight days I was in Vegas this year there was at least one PLO or PLO8 tournament every day.

And they are value. Completely gobsmacking, ohmygodwhatareyoudoing value. And the structures are great. Most of these side festivals have 40-minute blinds and 15k-plus chips to start – even for $300 buy in events. That’s the kind of structure usually only seen in the £500+ events in the UK.

I figure to spend about $100 a day in Vegas on accommodation, food, and a rental car (which saves on cabs: both paying for and waiting for, and means you can easily dart from one venue to the next). For that money, you won’t get extravagant living, but you won’t be slumming it either. The flight will set you back £700 these days, so over one week, that’s about £1200, or over two weeks, about £1600.

In a two-week period you could comfortably play 15 tournaments even if you went deep in a couple of them. Let’s call it 20 tournaments, so a cost per tournament of £80. Yes, that may be more than the cost in the UK, but you’re not stuck in a Premier Inn on the M4 in Bristol. Personally I’d stress this more than the other points. Before you head out for your day of poker, you can catch some sun by the pool. When you’re done with poker at the end of the day, you have hundreds of restaurants and bars to try out. Given that you’ve flown 5,000 miles, you could even take a day off and go for a hike in the desert. You can’t really do that from Walsall.

All of which is before we talk about the cash games. Suffice to say, they are abundant at virtually any stakes, deep, full of fish, and run 24/7. More to the point, the people in them are on holiday; they’re chatty, fun, and ready to gamble.

About five years ago a trip to the WSOP was the reserve of the high-stakes player, or possibly the cash game grinder. Since then, the action has multiplied so that even if you’re a £200 to £500 buy-in regular, investing in a June trip to Vegas might be better value than you think.

Tags: Alex 'Pickleman' Rousso, strategy, Las Vegas, WSOP, Omaha