For a lot of United States poker players, live poker options are limited. The nearest casino with live poker tables may be several hours away, making it difficult to just wake up one morning and decide to spend a day at the tables.
Buy-ins for tournaments can be as high as $150, and cash games usually require a minimum $100 buy-in, which is a significant leap for online players accustomed to playing multi-table tourneys or buying into cash games for $5 or $10.
All is not lost, however. There is a growing bar poker circuit in many large metropolitan areas, complete with its own national championship tournament. Bar Poker tourneys are typically low key and held at restaurants or pubs.
Some feature a modest fee to cover the cost of a meal and the poker tournament; others do not charge a fee to play in the tournament or even require you to purchase anything from the restaurant. Players deal the cards themselves, manage the chips, and a trained Tournament Director runs the nightly event.
The Atlantic Poker Tour
I have been playing in events sponsored by the Atlantic Poker Tour in and around the Raleigh, N.C., area for the past year. The Atlantic Poker Tour hosts events six nights a week. Players pay a fee, which covers a buffet dinner, non-alcoholic drinks and the poker tournament.
The tour splits the revenues with the restaurant, which gets additional traffic, and sponsors of the tour donate prizes. Players get the chance to play poker in a relaxing, friendly environment against serious and casual players while competing for cash prizes.
Larry Kohn and Bruce Rennert are the founders of the APT. Both are avid poker players who were playing in a couple of bar poker leagues in the area but were not satisfied with the experience. The tournaments did not require any kind of purchase at the restaurant and didn’t give out prizes. There was no reason for players to take the events seriously and the level of play was not very high.
“We are big poker fans, and we have played quite a while,” Kohn said. “We did not find the competitive model in a bar league that we were looking for, so we researched and came up with the model we are operating right now that we believe offers the players a very competitive environment and a very fun, relaxed atmosphere.”
Slow, Steady Growth
The APT relies on repeat business. The tour conducts a season-long competition, with players earning points in an NASCAR-style format. The APT hosts two season-ending championships, a points championship for players who finished in the top 30 percent for the season standings, and a tournament of champions, which is open to any player who finished in the top three of a nightly tournament at least once during the season. This year’s two season-ending tourneys drew fields of more than 80 players and offered a top prize of $450.
“When we started three years ago, we could barely fill one table,” said Kohn. “Today we are averaging anywhere from 20-25 on the low end up to 40-50 on the high end on a nightly basis. The demographics are a wide range. We have players that go from 20 to 80 age wise, males, females, players from all walks of life.”
The APT relies on social media, word of mouth from existing players and some marketing in the locales that host tournaments to increase its player pool.
Kohn and his partner, who are looking to expand into new markets, believe that Pub Poker is a legitimate alternative for players who can’t afford the large buy-ins at casinos or World Series of Poker Circuit events. If you live in or near a fairly large metropolitan area, just google the name of your city plus the words “Bar Poker” or “Pub Poker” and see what comes up.