For many poker players, playing their favorite game in a live poker room often requires a bit of travel. Those living in the United States — unless they happen to reside in either of the gaming meccas of Las Vegas and Atlantic City or close to a local casino — will often have to drive considerable distances in order to get themselves into a seat at the nearest available game.
Professional players who are successful have learned how to endure the rigors of travel while still playing at the highest level. But even the rawest of rookies can prepare to pack their A-game for the next poker road trip.
Taking Stock of Your Travel Situation
In my case, a legitimate session of hold’em action requires a two-hour drive to Scottsdale, Arizona, where the Salt River Pima Indian Reservation provides a venue for legalized poker. While there are smaller Indian casinos located closer to my neck of the woods, they typically spread only fixed-limit games, and many times there are no games running at all. This means driving to the Valley of the Sun is usually necessary in order to find steady games on a constant basis.
A quick review of my personal ledger indicates that I suffer losing sessions significantly more often playing in Scottsdale — compared to home games, sessions at closer Indian casinos, and trips to Las Vegas — and I suspect that travel has been taking its toll.
To remedy this leak in my own game, I’ve tried to examine my travel habits more consciously, searching for ways to enhance my routine. Playing at an optimal level after arriving from a long journey is easier said than done, with a number of factors coming into play.
Personally, I find that the initial adrenaline rush which is derived from the decision to play poker is delayed after a two-hour drive. No amount of strategizing or advanced planning can change the fact that 120 minutes of highway driving is draining, both mentally and physically. When I finally take my seat after dodging distracted drivers and speeding 18-wheelers, refocusing on the game at hand can often be a difficult transition.
What’s worse, my sessions after traveling long hours are inevitably shorter than most, something I attribute in part to that delayed adrenaline rush. Basically, after thinking about poker all night beforehand, and daydreaming of perfect flops all through the drive, I’m raring to go as soon as I sit down. Then after hours on the road I usually find myself contesting pots early and often, eager to mix it up and experience some action at long last. Combined with the natural fatigue which results from hours behind the wheel, this initial impatience precipitates poorly played hands, and before I know what hit me I’m heading home.
Follow the Roadmap to Positive Results
The game of poker involves lifelong learning, and although I consider myself to be a competent player in terms of strategy and skill, knowing that these travel-related issues are undermining my ability to play a profitable game has provided ample motivation to improve.
To help me in this effort — and hopefully to help any of you who find yourselves in the similar position of having to travel to play poker — here are a few bits of advice I’ve compiled. Integrate these into your own game plan, and you can put yourself in position to win on the road.
- Avoid energy drinks, coffee, or other stimulants while making the drive. While it may be tempting to “fuel up” your body to stay alert on the road, the boost provided by Red Bull or coffee is only temporary. When the inevitable “crash” occurs — and your mental alertness and concentration tail off considerably — having a few hundred dollars in play and at risk is a recipe for disaster. Instead, eat a hearty breakfast beforehand, ensuring that you won’t be feeling drowsy or run down midway through the trip.
- Develop a game plan on the way there. If you’ve played before at the casino to which you’re heading, it helps to envision the scene which awaits. Think through various aspects of your previous experience at the venue, from key hands you played to your game selection, and ask yourself what could be done better. If you know the room’s best players frequent the $3/$5 no-limit hold’em game, for example, and you’ve had trouble there before, planning to start with a little $1/$3 action may work wonders for your confidence.
- Pace yourself upon arrival. After being cooped up in the car for hours on end, the sights and sounds of a casino can become intoxicating to a certain degree. If you’re not careful, the game plan you worked so hard to come up with can be abandoned before you know it as you rush headlong into the fray. Consider including a “cool-down” period upon arriving at the casino, giving yourself a chance to calm the nerves, concentrate, and play to the best of your ability when you do.
Regarding that last idea, sometimes instead of playing right away I will first pay a visit to the buffet or a restaurant. The few minutes spent scarfing down a sandwich can become invaluable as your poker session progresses. With your belly full of fuel, you’ll find the effects of a long road trip begin to fade away, as your mental acuity and sharpness are honed naturally.
Next, I sometimes like to sit down in a $3/$6 or $4/$8 fixed-limit hold’em game before moving over to the no-limit games, just to get those first few hands out of the way without facing substantial risk. This allows me the chance to play a few early pots, satisfying my urge to get involved with “junky” hands that just don’t play well in no-limit hold’em. After an orbit or two of limit play, I’ll then rack up and head over to my preferred NLHE game.
If you’re also an “itinerant” poker player who often has to travel considerable distances in order to play, consider whether the lengthy journey to the table might be affecting your game in a negative way. If so, incorporate these tips so as to ensure your mind and body are fully prepared to make optimal decisions once you take a seat and real money is on the line.
Photo courtesy Adam Kliczek / Wikipedia, licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0