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Top-10 tips for planning your trip to the WSOP

18 May 2009

By Gary Trask

Believe it or not, the 2009 World Series of Poker begins in 10 days. Last year after returning from a month in Las Vegas, the Casino City team presented our Top-10 reasons to attend the WSOP.

We're assuming that after you read the list you were swayed into actually doing it and heading to Las Vegas for this year's WSOP. If that's the case, we have decided to take things a step further and provide some tips to consider as you plan the trip and when you land in Las Vegas. Take these tips to heart and your experience will be that much more enjoyable this summer. See you at the Rio!

10. Book your hotel room…now!
There has been one upside to current economic conditions. Hotel rates in Vegas are as low as they have been in a very long time. But this may be starting to turn as seen by a report in last week's Casino City Times that said some properties are getting ready to hike the rates back up. So if you are planning on heading to the WSOP, make your reservations now. And keep in mind that Fourth of July Weekend is a prime weekend so expect to pay top dollar. The rates at the Rio are very reasonable right now and that is obviously the most convenient place to stay if the WSOP is the main reason for your trip. But shop around. There are deals to be had.

9. Know your transportation options
If you do end up staying at the Rio, your only concern here is rolling out of your bed and walking downstairs to the Amazon Ballroom. Otherwise, keep in mind that the Rio is about a mile off the Strip and it's not a particularly easy walk – especially in the summer when temperatures routinely hit 100 degrees. A cab ride is always an option, but be ready to spend in the neighborhood of at least $12 to $15 each way, depending on where you're staying. Also, an important note if you take a cab. Tell the driver to drop you off at the "poker entrance" instead of the main Rio entrance. This will save you a good 10 minutes in walking time. One great option for getting to the Rio to consider is the free shuttle that Harrah's runs between its other properties on the Strip (Caesar's Palace, Bally's, Paris and Harrah's). The shuttle runs every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Wednesday and all the way until 4 a.m. on Thursday through Sunday.

8. Look at the WSOP schedule
OK, now that you've got a place to stay and transportation to the Rio, it's time to decide which days you are going to go to the WSOP. First off, make sure you take a good look at the WSOP schedule. If you're going all the way to Vegas to see the WSOP, you want to make sure you're there for one of the premier events so you can see some of the big names. All of the events that have big buy-ins are certain to draw some of the better-known players. But the three events expected to draw the most interest this year are the $40,000 40th Annual No-Limit Hold'em event (May 28-31), the $50,000 World Championship H.O.R.S.E. event (June 26-30) and, of course the $10,000 Main Event (July 3-15 and Nov. 7-10).


It's always exciting to witness a final table inside the ESPN set with a beer in hand at the WSOP. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

7. Arrive early and bring a camera
One of the great things about attending the WSOP is that there's no charge to be a spectator. So take advantage. Get there early to avoid the lines that can sometime form for big events. Arriving an hour or so before the doors opens may also allow you mingle with your favorite players. Say what you want about poker players (Hello, Joan Rivers!) but the majority of them are very friendly and willing to sign autographs and pose for pictures before the event begins or even during the 20-minute breaks throughout the day. Just be strategic. Don't expect to get a player get in a picture with you right after he just suffered a bad beat.

6. Attend a final table
As great as it is to get to the WSOP early and take in the atmosphere, you should look at the schedule and plan at least one night where you stay until the wee hours of the morning and watch a final table come to a conclusion. It's not uncommon for some events to last until 3 or 4 a.m. so be prepared. But you'll find it satisfying to actually be there in person to see someone win a bracelet, whether it's a big name or not.

5. Visit the ESPN featured table
If you're a WSOP fan, you've probably spent more hours than you'd want to admit watching the coverage on ESPN. So in order to give yourself some perspective as to where all of this poker takes place, head over to the featured table and spend a couple hours seeing how it all goes down. In previous years this was called the Milwaukee's Best Light No Limit Lounge and the beer was incredibly cheap for Vegas at $3 a can. Sure, it was Milwaukee's Best Light, but it was still a cold beer for less than $5. This year the new presenting sponsor for the WSOP is Jack Link's Beef Jerky and the new name of the lounge is the Wild Card Café. So maybe the beer won't be as cheap, but the beef jerky should be available in abundance. Either way, the atmosphere should remain festive. And if you sit up on the top back row, you can easily lean over and watch the action at the secondary ESPN featured table.

4. Wear proper attire
Las Vegas is sweltering in the summer months. So chances are you'll be wearing summer gear. But if you're going to spend an extended amount of time at the WSOP, keep in mind that it can get chilly in the Amazon, especially later at night when not as many people are in the room. So bring a light sweater or jacket. Or else you'll end up buying one of the cheesy WSOP sweatshirts in the gift shop. Also, remember that you're going to be on your feet for a while so wear comfortable shoes.

3. Make your dinner plans
Every day during the Main Event there is a 90-minute dinner break, usually around 5 p.m. local time. If you're there for one of the bigger events, don't expect to go waltzing into one of the restaurants at the Rio without having to wait because that's when everyone else there is planning on eating, including the thousands of players. The Sao Paulo Café, which is the closest restaurant to the Amazon Ballroom, gets crowed the quickest. The most convenient place to eat is the Poker Kitchen, a make-shift restaurant located outside under a tent, but the food is average at best and way overpriced. So instead of settling for a line or bad food, plan ahead and make reservations for somewhere else at the Rio. One great option is McFadden's, an Irish pub with a fun atmosphere and "Great American Pub Food." If you're looking for something more upscale Buzios Seafood Restaurant is a nice option and if you want something real casual and relatively cheap you can't do much better than the Sports Deli, located right next to the sportsbook. Grab a slice of pizza and a brew, find a booth in front of the big screen TVs and those 90 minutes will go by pretty fast.


Chris Moneymaker gets into a heated game of foozball during one of his breaks at last year's World Series of Poker. (photo by Gary Trask/Casino City)

2. Take advantage of player lounges
Last year, Casino City wrote a review of all the lounges that are located outside the Amazon Ballroom. And while some of these lounges are restricted to the players and their families, what many spectators fail to realize is that there were a couple last year that were open to the general public. All you had to do was register at the front door and you would receive a pass. Last year, the Champions Lounge was created by PokerStars pros Joe Hachem, Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker and Daniel Negreanu. Inside there were a line of comfy red sofas, a couple of Nintendo Wii units, a pool table, a foozball table and a 55-inch TV. Not only was it a cool place to step in and have a complimentary soda and snack, but a number of PokerStars pros were in and out the entire time. And Moneymaker was taking on all comers in foozball – even on days he was playing.

1. Watch and learn
The greatest advantage of attending the WSOP for a poker purist is that you get to see all of the things that the ESPN cameras don't have the time to include in their coverage. This gives you the opportunity to focus on players you've always liked and see how they not only play the game itself, but how they handle themselves when the cameras aren't on them.

Growing up – and to this day – my favorite athlete was Larry Bird. I remember when I went to Celtics' games at the Boston Garden, I used to just zone in on Bird, not just when he had the ball, but the entire time. In doing so I got a much greater appreciation as to how much of a brilliant basketball player he was. I learned how well he moved without the ball, how he made his teammates better and how just a single glare at a teammate who wasn't giving his all would fix the problem immediately. These are the kinds of things the TV broadcast wouldn't always pick up on.

So when you're at the Rio for the WSOP find the players whose style of play you admire and watch how they make it work for them. You'll be surprised at how much you'll learn both about how they play the game and how they handle themselves at the table.

Top-10 tips for planning your trip to the WSOP is republished from
Gary Trask
Gary is an expert on all things gambling. The Boston native has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years, including a few at Casino City and was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's Media Committee.

No Limit Hold'em tournaments are a favorite of Gary's, but he also enjoys a night of dealer's choice with a variety of games like Seven-Card No Peek, Guts or Five-Card Draw with a qualifier. In addition to playing cards, another of Gary's interests is golf, a game that allows his two favorite hobbies to collide quite naturally.

Gary Trask Websites:!/casinocityGT