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Poker Pub Leagues

by Ashley Adams

I’ve got to hand it to the American entrepreneurial spirit. Where there is a need for a service, someone, somehow finds a way to provide it—and make money at it. Such is the case in the poker world.

 Consider, for example, the lack of legal poker opportunities in much of our American landscape. True, there are more states with legal public poker rooms than ever before—35 at last count. But in many of these states, poker is still only publicly available in very few locations. In 15 other states, poker, as a form of gambling, is completely banned.

 Here’s where those clever entrepreneurs step in. Fortunately, they have created a form of poker that skirts the definition of gambling. They have taken the money out of it by creating poker leagues that sponsor free-to-the-player poker tournaments. Some require that players first buy a buffet for some small amount of money, and they get their tournament for free with their meal.

 These tournaments are often held in restaurants, bars, and pubs. They’re often referred to just as “Pub Leagues”. Players just show up, sign in, and play a tournament. They play for a combination of some small cash prizes, restaurant, and bar comps, and points that are typically used to award seats in a free-roll tournament at the end of the “season”, where players do play for some meaningful prize—cash, gifts, or sometimes a seat in some large poker event like the World Poker Tour, the Heartland Poker Tour, or the World Series of Poker. Players have an incentive to play “seriously” and regularly, since the points are accumulated all season long.

 These leagues abound. I’ve played in them in Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. I also know of many games in a league in New Jersey. Some, like the Eastern Poker Tour in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, are very large—with dozens of venues. Some, like the Hatteras Island Poker on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where I just vacationed, are very small—with only two or three venues in a very small geographic area. But regardless of their size, they provide the same service: tournament poker to poker-starved players. They exist everywhere, but are obviously most popular in those parts of the United States where there are few or no public poker rooms.

 Some question whether these free tournaments are “real” poker. They argue that it is more like the free internet games than like a real poker tournament. I’d strongly disagree. For me, the important question isn’t what a player puts at risk when he plays, but whether he is playing for something of value. Freeroll tournaments, run by casinos as promotions to help build traffic for their rooms are “real poker”—even though the players don’t put up any money directly to enter. Similarly, big name professionals, who are staked to play by a corporate sponsor, are playing real poker, even if the money for the tournament didn’t come out of their pocket. So, in my book, free pub league tournaments are certainly “real poker”.

 As it turns out, from my experience, the general level of play in these “pub leagues” tends to be a step or two less skillful than in most casino tournaments—if only because there is usually a great deal of drinking going on. But that doesn’t mean that the players aren’t serious about their poker. While some are just there to pass some time, drink, and socialize, many take them very seriously. They play thoughtfully and well—and are really trying to win.

 If you live in an area that doesn’t have convenient casino poker, and you don’t have a good home game scene, let me suggest that you try to find out about any of these numerous pub leagues that might exist near you. I’ve also noticed that the tournament operators are always looking for new venues in which to set up their poker games. So if you don’t have a pub league near where you live, contact the nearest league, even if it’s in another state, and maybe they’ll bring a tournament to your backyard.

 Ashley Adams is the author of Winning No Limit Hold’em and Winning 7-Card Stud. He hosts the radio show House of Cards, broadcast in markets throughout the US and on the Internet at http://www.houseofcardsradio. com. Contact Ashley at

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