The Five Best Poker Cities
I’ll start by saying that these five best poker cities are the perspective of a casual/part-time female player (I have a day job). I also play mostly cash games. I started playing poker online in 2006, and since then have tried to get a cash game in most cities I’ve visited. I spent a solid month playing at Crown, Melbourne and about year playing fairly regularly in the Treasury in Brisbane, have checked out Townville, QLD, and the Star Gold Coast, Star Sydney, have spent a collective six weeks in Las Vegas, traveled through Canada (Niagara Falls, Calgary, Edmonton & Vancouver), dabbled in Europe (but not enough to give a solid opinion), Cape town in South Africa, and have just got back from my ‘research trip’ in Macau.
I’ll also note, while I will be giving my personal account of what I think are the best poker games in the best poker cities, your individual experience will vary greatly. Taking into account your mood, level of sobriety, people sitting at the table, time of play, and level of expertise among other things, your perspective of the city is going to be somewhat different.
For me, I usually buy in to the cheapest table with mid to max buy-in. I go in with two buy-ins, but never more. Most places I play I feel comfortable buying in with around $200 AUD and having a second buy-in should my ‘all-in’ play fail.
Firstly, there’s a lot of cash going through the tables at Macau. From the articles I’ve read the stats vary so I won’t quote any here, but I will say, I couldn’t afford to sit at any of the table games (except poker) even if I had wanted to (I don’t usually play table games, but as I was travelling by myself, I was looking forward to a bit of a flutter), but I couldn’t really sit down with less than $800 AUD to play Back Jack, and that was too much for me. It does, however make my five best poker cities list.
The poker games are not any cheaper, except you’re playing poker, so you’re not against the house. So I went with my strategy of buying in to the cheapest table, but couldn’t get close to the mid or max range. I bought in short stacked at the Wynn with $350AUD.
Most people at the table had at least $2000AUD in front of them. No-one was drinking. I have never seen a more sober table in my life, as I ordered my first glass of red.
I’ve played Chinese players in Brisbane, and Melbourne, but this was different. Firstly, they speak Chinese at the table. While this doesn’t really stop you from knowing exactly what everyone has said, (when you think about it, most players have the same reactions to hands and often use hand gestures and facial expressions to emphasise their “disgust in your calling their bluff”, and betting is the same everywhere). However, as a female player, this was the first time I felt relief that I didn’t have to talk to the dude sitting next to me. It was a nice silence, I also couldn't hear any sexist remarks from across the table, and I was finally able to really start getting reads on the other players.
The game was solid, everyone was making good reads, good folds, good bets, and of course, as I was short stacked would call everything I had. I quickly lost my first buy-in and knew that my second buy-in would be a one-hand win, with the guarantee that between 2-5 players would call my hand. I waited (like 2 hours), I bet, and I won, and I finished my third glass of wine, cashed out and breathed a sigh of relief that my first night was a win (I think the Chinese superstitions were wearing off on me).
I haven’t played many tournaments and I thought my Macau trip was a good place to start. I got my membership at City of Dreams (COD - you'll need your passport). I got better each time, with my third tournament finishing in 5th place, which I was proud of for my first real money tournament.
There’s heaps of professional players, so if you’re after a solid game it’s perfect.
The pollution got me. I felt sick after about a week of having no fresh air.
The Chinese read me like a book (this could also be a good thing, I’m certain if I was to spend more time there my game would improve tenfold).
There’s not much western nightlife and the Chinese don’t really want to engage westerner's in conversation. After 5 days I felt genuinely lonely here, I think I spoke to one guy the entire time I was there as he was trying to improve his English.
4. Las Vegas
Vegas was of course going to be in my best five poker cities as it has always been a lot of fun for me. Though, I do tend to get the end of each stint and swear I’ll never go back. That promise usually lasts as long as it takes for a mate to ask me to show them around. I can’t say no to Vegas, and I can’t say no while I’m in Vegas.
You’ll always get a game 24hours a day and you’ll always find one within your budget strategy. Whether it’s going short stacked for $50 after a night out at MGM, setting yourself up for a solid night at Caesars or Planet Hollywood with a couple of $200 buy-ins, or hitting up the Wynn/Encore or Bellagio and playing against some really solid players.
My personal favourite is the Venetian. The price is right, it attracts the right type of players for my skillset, so there will always be a couple donkeys (that aren’t me hopefully) at the table contributing to the poker economy. Drink runs are frequent, so you have the choice to have a solid poker night and keep the water’s up while the oxygen gets pumped into the casino, or turn it into a pretty fun party pretty quick. My favourite feature is the chairs.
Las Vegas Pros:
You’ll always get a game, and you’ll always find a game that suits your style of play and budget strategy.
Las Vegas Poker Cons:
There’s so much entertainment here, if you bring a non-poker-playing friend, it’ll be hard for them to let you play.
There’s the premise of a party every time you leave your hotel room, so it can be distracting.
My advice is to visit alone or with a poker buddy.
3. Capetown, South Africa
I’m putting Capetown down as my number 3 of my best poker cities, due to adventure, ease of action, and money at the table.
I was nervous heading out here, I told the cabbie I was meeting friends and avoided too much conversation, and I had a wraparound handbag with a zip.
My entrance to the Grandwest casino was met with a concierge asking me where my husband was, (it is apparently custom for males to be accompanying women to the casino). Once we’d figured out this wasn’t the case for me, he proceeded to propose, because well… South Africa.
I had to put my name on a list and wait for a text, so I found a casino restaurant, ordered dinner and waited. While this was a normal casino restaurant, I felt odd for being alone. I shook off the feeling, smiled at myself for being brave, finished my dinner and beer and headed back to the table with my buy-ins.
I sat at the table and everyone acknowledged that I was, indeed, a woman.
The game was great (for me). There was enough mystery about my womanly style of play, that I’d be called when I wanted to be. I had a good enough read on everyone that I avoided getting trapped.
I stayed a couple hours, left well ahead, cashed out, and proceeded straight to the female toilets to hide my money where ever I could. I had enough money left in my wallet to pay for the cab. The rest was hidden in my bar and undies, but mostly in the foot of my high heeled boots. The fact I was walking funny was no different to any other woman walking in heels after a night out, so my cover was set.
I made it back to my private room in my Capetown backpackers (choosing backpackers over hotels in an effort to meet people on my solo trip), and spent some of what was in my shoe to book in a Safari and a dive with Great White Sharks.
Easy game, so much to do and see in Capetown
You do get the feeling you might get mugged once you leave the sanctuary of the inner city.
2. Edmonton & Calgary, Canada
Finding the balance of getting a good game, and not being around the smells of a party casino can be a challenge, but Calgary & Edmonton nail it.
Calgary & Edmonton are both really rich cities. Edmonton especially, the closest city to Fort McMurray, and a big party town for oil-rig workers, and indeed, oil tycoons, to visit and spend their money.
I visited after I had just completed a stint for a hunting lodge on Calling Lake, just North of Edmonton, and was staying in hotel that overlooked the city. I remember setting my alarm for sunrise just so I could see the most magnificent sunrise for the second time taking over the whole sky. I’ve never seen anything like it again, the sky was on fire. I made myself a coffee and sat and watched for a solid 30mins.
That night, I picked a poker table in second favourite on my best poker cities list, and couldn’t have asked for a better set up. There were 3 other decent players at the table, 2 first-timers, and 2 Oil-Tycoons that had the most unjustifiably hot wives. I’ll be lumping myself in with the decent players in the story cause I killed it. Between us, we made solid moves, didn’t do anything rash, folded where I needed too, but most importantly, made the most of the ridiculous amount of money being thrown on the table. As a collective, the table was so polite. It was fun, a little rowdy, but definitely polite, gracious and understanding of other players weird and beautifully unprofitable moves.
Townsville in Queensland, Australia, also had pretty similar characteristics being located near a coal mine. However the poker room is not always running, with long wait times when it is.
If I had the chance to play in Edmonton more, this would probably be my number 1 city.
Edmonton & Calgary Pros:
Loose cashed up game
Calgary is close to Banff and Lake Louise, so perfect to mix a snowboarding/poker trip.
Edmonton is a long way from anywhere – well worth the visit though!
1. Melbourne, Australia
Number one on my best poker cities list... Ah Melbourne. Take a moment, close your eyes and imagine you are in the actual most live-able city in the world. The culture, nightlife, people, architecture and food in this city make it really great for me.
I visited Melbourne on a two week holiday in 2010 which extended to 3 months. I spent my first month playing in Crown and I’ve put it down as the best poker city due to the professionalism of the casino, the culture at the tables and level of play. I would have played for longer if I hadn't let my play deteriorate relative to my martini consumption.
That being said, when I'm on my game, I’ve always been able to have a good night playing here (I haven’t always won here, but it’s always been a solid game). I’ve always chosen the cheaper tables, but there’s enough action to walk away with double or triple your buy-in, with many professional players sticking it out on these tables earning their usual ten times the buy-in.
Melbourne is a pretty rich city, so you’ll always get the business professionals come in of a night, dropping a couple hundred on the table while their mates watch over their shoulder, then head back to black jack to round their night off. There’s also a really good cultural mix at the Melbourne tables too.
Stick around Crown for long enough and you’ll find out about the home games, and these are always good to mix it up a little. The poker community in Melbourne is a lot of fun. Home to the Aussie Millions, it has some of the best professional poker players in Australia, and it hands down the best poker room in Australia.
Other Australian casinos which are okay are Star Sydney and the Star Gold Coast, Sydney is the better option for a more reliable game, but both games kick you out early in the morning. The most frustrating casino in Australian is Brisbane Treasury with absurd rules, the last time I was there you could take money off the table, weren’t allowed to swivel on your chair or have a drink on or near the table (no side tables), there’s also a really long wait list.
Best game – good for new players for professional players – enough high stakes for those that need it.
It’s a beautiful casino, located right in the city centre. The casino has awesome luxury accommodation, with cheaper accommodation right across the river.
Crown is a great central meeting spot when catching up with mates once you’ve finished on the tables.
The martinis are a little too great, and the temptation for a party a little to rife. Gotta bring your discipline to Melbourne.