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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Poker Plus - Poker at Sea – The Game

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With great anticipation, I waited in the casino for a Hold’em game to fire up after the tournament on our Alaskan cruise. It was after all advertised on the daily activity sheet and out of 1,200 passengers; I figured surely there would be at least eight poker players.

As time wore on, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Only three players were ready and a fourth didn’t want to play unless there were at least five. I was okay with playing four handed. From working as a poker dealer for years, I know it is easier to get players to sit down if there is a game going, even a shorthanded one. Once I resigned myself the fact there wouldn’t be a poker game, I decided on Black Jack. For whatever reason (besides to get more of your money) the table stakes for the pit table games all were a $10 minimum. Then, as the last days of the cruise approached, the table limits all went down to $5 or $3. All I can deduce from this is that the longer people cruise, the more they spend and are less likely to want - or be able to plunk down a ten spot every hand.

Actually playing Black Jack was an interesting and educational experience for me. Not educational in the sense of the game, but how the games are run by the staff. Since I sat at a table where I was heads up with the dealer, it gave me a great opportunity to talk to him. What surprised me was how much he talked. His name tag said something I couldn’t begin to pronounce, but since his name contained Dan in it, I asked if that is what I could call him and he said of course with a big smile. I learned he was from Romania and he told me about how poor his country is. Also, that he was married and his wife also worked in the casino. They got a stateroom together, just the two of them which many cruise lines don’t offer their married staff members.

Dan would sit there, deck in hand for several minutes while we talked. If I wanted a hand I had to ask him to deal. This would have irritated a gambler who wanted action, but I enjoyed talking to Dan so I didn’t mind at all.  Dan asked me what it was like for dealers in Vegas and other places. I told him what I knew, which wasn’t much, but I did point out he could never deal like he was dealing on the ship in any casino on land. He was stunned and asked why, to which I replied “They want you to deal so many hands an hour, you couldn’t stop and talk like this without getting in trouble.”

Dan couldn’t believe that and said, “We aren’t here to take your money, we are here to entertain you.”

I assured him it was true, it is all about the money in land casinos, more hands dealt = more money the house wins.  I couldn’t help thinking how different the cruise ship casino attitude was from all the land based casinos.

Poor Dan was disappointed when I told him he couldn’t deal like he was if he was employed on land. He did have thoughts of him and his wife dealing at a land based casino in the future. He does like his job because he is free during the day to do what he wants and works eight months then is off for four months. Not to mention free room and board. Many employees on cruise ships make low wages and work 16 hours a day. The only job that seems a good one is as a casino dealer because of the short work hours on most days.

When 1 a.m. rolled around, the casino host/pit boss called last hand. Another surprise for me as the casino had a lot of people in there playing. There were two full pit tables and several slot players. It had been so long since my last cruise I had forgotten this closing time rule. I was fine with quitting, but couldn’t help but think how NOT fine I would have been if I had been stuck in a 5/10 game and told we had to quit.

This is my poker mentality, I want to quit when I am ready, not when I am told I have to, not by a casino or anyone else. This is a good thing to know for any would be cruisers. If you are on a ship that offers poker, beware, it is not a 24 hour operation! If you start a game at 10 p.m., you will only get to play for about three hours, if you lose, you will have to try to get even another time. Later in the week I saw more tournaments and games on the activity sheet but never went to see if there was one. There were so many other fun things to do; I just didn’t have the time or the energy. The only time I even went to the casino again was walking through on my way to somewhere else and to sample the chocolate buffet, which by the way was sinfully wonderful.

Cruising is a wonderful way to vacation. You get to see a lot of places and only have to unpack once. The food is great, entertainment top notch and on our cruise, the Alaska scenery was breathtaking.  But if you want to play a lot of poker, you may wonder if you will find a Texas Hold 'em, Omaha or seven-card stud game on your cruise.

The answer is yes - maybe. Most of the larger cruise ships sailing from U.S. ports now have some form of poker. But just what kind of game you will find depends on which cruise line you are booking.

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Royal Caribbean offer Texas Hold 'em on many of their ships with live dealers. Carnival, Celebrity and Princess all offer poker, but mostly with automated PokerPro or Pokermate tables. On some ships, Carnival now offers players not only poker, but the opportunity to play in a tournament to win a $10,000 seat in the World Series of Poker.

While a select few cruise lines like NCL now offer higher stakes tables, if you are a poker player who is determined to combine poker with cruising, you still may want to book a special poker themed cruise. Several independent organizers advertise poker cruises which are available on selected Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America, and NCL sailings. These cruises are geared towards tournaments and the poker personnel (like dealers) are provided by the organizers of the cruise, not the cruise lines. The upside of this is that you will have a more experienced poker staff, making your playing time much more enjoyable.

There are some downsides to a poker cruise. They usually cost more due to the expense of hiring trained poker personnel. And, they have one or two a year, so there may not be a poker cruise sailing to where you really want to go. Plus, the ship casino is always closed during port days, so even if you don’t want to go into port, you won’t be able to opt for poker while the wife goes shopping. If poker is a high priority for you, look for a cruise itinerary that has a lot of “at sea days” as that is when you will be able to sail your chips on the green felt all day long.

With the huge popularity of poker and cruising, it is no surprise that more cruise lines are getting in on the action and offering at least automated tables for poker players. These tables are geared to make online poker players feel at ease. I love playing poker online myself, and the automated tables just don’t excite me. Playing online is faster, easier and more relaxing, but that is just my opinion. My first consideration when planning our cruise was not poker, in fact it never occurred to me it would even be available in any form. But if it is part of what would be your ideal vacation, then go for it, you will have a wonderful time, win lose or draw!

*Read PokerHack's Blog *

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