All poker great and small

The 42nd World Series of Poker is under way at the Rio. Is there a “deal” involved in that? Not in playing it—you don’t want to pay $1,500 or more to compete against these players unless you really know what you’re doing. Note the emphasis on “really.” Over the past decade, tournament-poker experts have gotten amazingly good at their craft. And on top of that, 5 percent is taken out of every prize pool, which means that even if you’re on a par with the rest of the field, your expectation is to lose 5 percent of every buy-in you make.

The deal is in being able to observe these guys (and gals) in action for free. Just walking into the big poker hall is something that anyone even remotely interested in poker should do at least once. The enormity of the thing can’t fail to wow you (and someone’s gonna win about $7-$8 million before it’s over). Once upon a time, you could find a beer deal here, too. When Old Milwaukee was a primary tournament sponsor, a can of Old Mil was just $2. This year it costs more, with the cheapest beer going for $4.

Back to playing, it’s less expensive to try your hand at one of the alternative tournaments running concurrently with the WSOP. The Venetian’s Deep Stack Extravaganza tourney offers buy-ins starting at $340. And downtown you can take your shot for even less, with buy-ins beginning at $150 at the Binion’s Poker Classic and $125 at the Golden Nugget’s Grand Poker Series.

Another way to get your feet wet in tournament poker is with the daily tournaments that run in casinos all over town. Many of these have $25 to $50 buy-ins (the lowest is the $18 daily at Poker Palace). It’s a good—and fun—way to learn. More frugal still is the Nevada Poker League, which is free to play (minus an expected, but not mandatory, gratuity for the dealers), and you can win real prizes, like bar tabs and even a little cash. The league meets in the evenings every day of the week in different bars, such as Rush Hour on Sunset Road on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and even the Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club on Sundays. Get the weekly schedule at