I just got back from a fantastic trip to Spain. I saw Roman era aqueducts and bridges, 11th century mosques, gardens, palaces, and baths, 13th century Sephardic Jewish synagogues, and dozens of impressive cathedrals. I toured great art museums featuring paintings by Dali, Picasso, Miro, and El Greco. I drove on serpentine roads around four different mountain ranges and past beautiful coastal and white hill towns. I sampled delectable tapas, flavorful wine and beer, while walking dozens of miles through the streets of Barcelona, Madrid, Cordoba, Seville, Tarifa, Granada, and Tarragona. I conversed with Communists, barbers, immigrants, pharmacists, students, teachers, merchants, Francoists, and historians—filling my brain with stories that will last me until I die.
And of course I played poker and met dozens of poker players.
There is legal poker throughout the country, played in public casino poker rooms that are typically located in and near cities and touristy areas in all parts of Spain. Poker tends to run from 7 p.m. until 4 a.m. The best, though still incomplete, directory of rooms is: http://www.worldcasinodirectory.com/spain/pokerrooms.
Spanish poker rooms are, generally speaking, not very different from those you’ll find in the United States—though they call four-of-a-kind a “poker,” a flush a “color,” a check is “passo,” and when you fold you say “no voy.” The ambiance varies from extremely luxurious as it is in Casino de Torrequebrada near Seville, and in Casino de Torreledone near Madrid, where they made me rent a sports jacket for my playing session, to quite pedestrian as is in Casino Gandia near Valencia where poker was played on what looked like folding tables.
They have cash games and tournaments and spread no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha. There is no stud anywhere (except for the house game of Caribbean Stud). Currency conversion from dollars to euro chips is easy. You exchange your dollars into euro chips at a very bad exchange rate, but then when you leave you can get the same rate when you exchange your chips, if you have any left, back into dollars.
There was one weird variation that I noticed in the two casinos near Madrid: Casino Aranjuez about 40 minutes south and Casino Torreledone about 30 minutes north. They dealt and bet backwards! The game went counterclockwise. Curiously, they dealt all of their tournaments in the standard clockwise rotation. The rest of the poker rooms in Spain deal and play their cash games and tournaments clockwise as we do.
As a typically chauvinistic American poker player, I figured that the games in what I considered to be the poker backwater of Spain would be very soft and highly profitable. While there are surely excellent cash games around—especially the cash games in Aranjuez, Torreledone, and Torrequebrada, and I heard that they were also great games in Cadiz and San Roque on the southern coast—I can tell you that there are many very serious and very experienced tournament players in Spain. They have a tournament circuit, and many players frequently go from one casino to another playing in the regular tournaments they hold. I can also tell you that the $2-$5 no-limit game in Barcelona is one of the toughest games I’ve played in—rivaling the toughest $2-$5 no-limit games at Foxwoods. Most of the hands I played in Barcelona were three-bet pre-flop. And with the twenty euro maximum rake, I think even a true expert would have a hard time making a profit.
While I wouldn’t recommend that you travel to Spain just for the poker—there’s too much else going on to ignore for even the most purposeful of poker players—it’s certainly accessible and profitable enough to warrant your attention while you’re there. If you want more information about poker in Spain please email me or check out my blog at www.houseofcardsradio.com.
Ashley Adams is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud and Winning No Limit Low Limit Hold’em. He hosts the radio show House of Cards, broadcast Mondays at 5 – 6 p.m. in Boston, MA, on 1510 AM, and on the Internet at www.houseofcardsradio.com. Contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.