Poker paradise – a tantalizing concept that is far from a dream. Las Vegas is, of course, the first place to come to mind. But is it the best? Sin City is definitely the regal grandfather of casino domination, a testament to its founders’ ingenuity and the fact that modern locations have outgrown its shadow. Barcelona is one such place, praised by poker players for the constant development of its gambling scene to accommodate all the needs, interests and luxuries of its visitors.
Why Not Vegas? | Based on accounts by locals and expert visitors, the flaws of Las Vegas glare as much as its lights, from the garish effects it has on the city’s look and culture to the dangers of cabs long-hauling you for an extra five bucks. Conde Nast Traveler points out the advantages of club programs players are advised to join before starting their casino voyage, including free credits and discounts at restaurants, shows and hotels, but it does so within a long list of things to avoid in Las Vegas, for the sake of your pocket and entertainment standards. As far as poker is concerned, there are as many reasons to not play there as there are to do so. There is strong competition, big blinds and an exhilarating atmosphere. At the same time, all this can blind visitors to the stakes, as well as other worthwhile sights, like the Grand Canyon and National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, side-lined by the Strip. The money spent on Las Vegas could instead be put into a trip to a poker destination that is different and rich in history, culture and unique experiences.
Why Barcelona? | While more restricted, the poker scene in the Spanish capital is just as vibrant. Casino de Barcelona, home to the European Poker Tour and the World Poker Tour, is the place to be. 2018 saw a record-breaking 1,931 entries for the EPT no-limit hold’em with the total prize pool amounting to a whopping €9,365,350. The winner, Piotr Nurzynski, and his €1,037,109, left behind another exciting tournament, but it was not the only one to take place this year. 888poker LIVE had a successful event in May after the Grand Final of MILLIONS in April. Regular games, not excluding slots, baccarat and other favorites, are available at the casino alongside tournaments. A dress code is enforced, however, requiring a bit more than a swimsuit and sandals, for example. On that note, the city itself, a feast for the eyes and soul, enriches any poker trip. Gaudi’s presence is palpable, from buildings to his own museum – Picasso too. Art and culture can be found around every corner or accumulated in the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. The Telegraph names several sightseeing options, renown and obscure, Gothic and Modernist, easily accessed and explorer-centric. Modernity mingles with antiquity but does not overpower it. A tour of the Sagrada Família in the morning and a game of poker or three in the evening is a good day. And what happens in Barcelona you will want to take with you.
Other Destinations | Exploring your options in terms of the best casinos in Europe, for example, will reveal that Barcelona is not the only place to enjoy poker and leisure. Catching a show at the House of Dancing Water or bungee jumping off the Tower are the cherries on the moving experience that is Macau. Appropriately dubbed the Las Vegas of Asia, it is also more accommodating to poker players, but the popularity of the game means that booking a seat ahead is usually essential to avoid hours of waiting time. Having said that, there are opportunities for both high and low rollers of Texas Hold’em, Omaha and beyond, ranging from tournaments at the City of Dreams and the Wynn’s HK$500 to the Starworld Casino’s modest stakes, but faster-moving tables.
San Remo is similar to Barcelona in that it only has the Casino Sanremo and a strict dress code attached to it, but which happens to be a beloved location for the EPT seven seasons running, from 2008 to 2014. And for good reason. Apart from the dining and entertainment pleasures available at this beautiful Art Nouveau building, you can take a scooter-ride along the cobbled, mosaic-flanked streets to La Pigna and the Madonna della Costa Sanctuary or a stroll through the numerous gardens and the Piazza for a pizza and a drink.
Monte Carlo has settled nicely as one of the top poker destinations in the world. As an example of the best casino experience to be had, it boasts a royal history, achingly wealthy clientele, lavish decor and services, and, of course, 11 EPT Grand Finals since the tournament’s very first season in 2004. Saving up before you go is an understatement, but rubbing shoulders with famous regulars at the old and prestigious Casino de Monte-Carlo is well worth the effort. Or admiring Prince Rainier III’s antique car collection. Or catching the Grand Prix. Or discovering the meaning of opulence when faced with its cathedrals, palaces and gardens.
Finding Poker Paradise | At the end of the day, the perfect location differs for every player. The laid-back or self-conscious may prefer a less intense environment, like the Barcelona or San Remo poker scene. The hyperactive thrill-seekers would feel more at home in Vegas or Macau, thriving in the city buzz. Those looking for a challenge could follow the tournaments. Going head-to-head with professionals, even simply watching them play, can be a valuable learning experience in terms of strategy and errors. Comparing different player styles within different settings is important to understanding poker psychology and the mind’s power over making correct betting, bluffing or folding decisions. The right environment can boost a player’s performance as much as honing their mental and observation skills can. Tilting at the merest bad call can be avoided. Each new game of poker can be a stepping stone to a better, more productive future in this highly competitive field. Fresh surroundings can certainly help to open the mind.