A week of poker at sea

Schmendr1ck

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To celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, last week I surprised my wife with a seven-day cruise on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas. It's a massive ship that is capable of carrying roughly 9,000 passengers and crew. In exchange for my undivided attention during the days and early evenings, my wife let me go for 3-4 hours each night to play poker in the ship's casino. ;)

Unlike previous cruises that used PokerPro electronic tables, Oasis actually features two standard nine-seat tables, chips, cards, and live dealers. Chips are ceramics and seem to be decent quality if a little plain in design:

IMG_20181019_224742.jpg


In addition to the daily tourneys (which I didn't play), the casino ran a 2-5NL cash game each night from 9:00pm until they closed the table games, which was typically around 2:30am. The table filled immediately on opening each night, and there was a wait list for the first 1-2 hours. Only one night, the list got long enough to open the second table.

The rake was astronomical: 10% up to $15 per hand. Starting stacks were really short on chips. What you see above is a $500 buy-in after going through the blinds, and I don't think I ever got more than $50 in red on a buy-in.

The good news is that the game was decent. I played with mostly the same people every night: several rec players and newbies typical of casino 1-2, a couple of party animals with deep pockets, a couple of OMCs, a couple of TAG "grinder" types, and one player who seemed like a solid 2-5 reg and probably gave me more trouble than anybody else all week. It was a really friendly, fun group (as you'd expect on a ship), and I would enjoy having most of the players in my low stakes home games anytime. Even the quiet, cranky 2-5 reg who I initially disliked actually turned out to be a really friendly guy once we spent a little time chatting away from the table.

The bad news is that the dealers were horribly inconsistent, and a few of them were also just plain horrible. They could shuffle and fling cards reasonably well, but they didn't enforce rules consistently. Some allowed chops, some didn't. Some strictly enforced the bet/fold line and required chips to be placed in a single action, others didn't. Some couldn't calculate side pots or chops and needed to be helped/corrected by players, and there were a higher than expected number of board/hand reading mistakes at showdown. It was pretty clear that they were table game operators with very basic poker training rather than the professional dealers we're used to in a casino.

In one hand on the first night, there was a bet of $10 and a call. A third player silently placed a $25 chip in front of him, and the dealer announces "raise to $25." The original bettor folds, the second player calls, and the third players sees the call and says, "No, I was just calling the $10." The dealer tries to roll it back but player 1's cards are already in the muck, and all players involved are annoyed. The dealer says, "Forget it, the hand is cancelled," and pushes chips back to the three players. Of course, this goes over like a lead balloon.

Another time, a player to my left drops his cards in front of him preflop, and a corner of one card touches the betting line. The dealer says, "Fold," the player protests to no avail, and after the fold claims he had aces. Considering the amount of time we'd been playing together and the fact that he was pretty grumpy about it for a while afterward, I believed him.

I also found it mildly annoying but more just plain weird that the game was raked in increments of $0.50. They had chips specifically for this purpose, and some dealers allowed these chips to play while others only allowed them in increments of a dollar:

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In spite of the above complaints, I had a great time playing in this game. It was a fun, friendly group to play with, I got to use real cards and chips on a cruise ship for a change, and I won enough to pay my shipboard expenses with a few hundred left over. While some of the dealer problems could be alleviated by using PokerPro tables, I think a traditional game was more fun and attracted more players.

As an aside, while playing one night I spotted a $500 chip on the floor and picked it up. I won't lie, I briefly thought about just sticking it in my pocket and not saying anything, but I did end up turning it in. My biggest concern is that I didn't want to cost an employee their job if they had lost it. The casino host took my name and stateroom, and I asked what would happen if no one claimed it and they weren't able to figure it out from video review. He told me that the money would just go back into casino funds. Nicely played, Royal Caribbean. (n) :thumbsdown:
 

Schmendr1ck

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$15 rake max with dealers who don't know what they're doing? That's craptastic, but they're literally the only game in town for you to play.

In spite of this it was still a very beatable game. I did well, and I'd've done better had I not made a couple of dumb mistakes along the way.
 

v1pe

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Cool story - I always thought it would be a blast to go one one of those poker themed cruises.

The lack of $5s tilts me.
 

moose

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Meh. NCL is 10%, $25 max. The dealers are excellent but I'd rather have the crappy dealers and lower rake.
 

Coyote

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That rake tilts me.
Everything can be absurdly expensive on a boat if not part of a package, where demand is unelastic and there is pure monopoly of supply.
In colloquial Greek, "boat prices" means high prices - or, e.g. you can say "we paid for that meal as if we were on a boat":)
 

Schmendr1ck

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Everything can be absurdly expensive on a boat if not part of a package, where demand is unelastic and there is pure monopoly of supply.
In colloquial Greek, "boat prices" means high prices - or, e.g. you can say "we paid for that meal as if we were on a boat":)

Oh yeah. Drinks, essentials, photos, etc. Everything not included in the base fare is extremely overpriced on a cruise. One of my few complaints about RC is the constant marketing. "Buy this drink package, get your photo package, got internet? Be sure to get the premium dining package and all the watches/liquor/jewelry you can shove in your suitcase."

The poker rake is simply one facet of milking a captive audience. But as long as you know what to expect and plan accordingly, a cruise can still be a fun vacation that isn't absurdly expensive.
 

Coyote

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Absolutely so.
If it's not a cruise, however, but a long ferry to an island, you 'd better bring your sandwiches with you:)
 

ekricket

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Next time bring cards and chips and offer to run a private, zero rake game, in your cabin...

I did this in on our last transatlantic cruise. 9 sea days, and we ran a tourney in the dining room everyday at 2:00 with some chips I had.
To get players I just sat at the poker table each night (cash game wouldn’t make in this cruise) and recruit players who seemed to have interest.
Full table everyday and one day we had two tables.
 

ekricket

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So when are we going to start the PCF casino or casino boat ?

We have everything we need, knowledge , funds, staff and chips.

We just need to do a meetup with Linda from here

https://www.cardplayercruises.com

We are going to Cuba on one of these in two weeks and I’ll talk to her about what it takes to organize. They usually partner up with another organization, like Heartkand or WPT, so PCF should be good too!

They take the conference room space on the third floor and set up about 20 tables. They run tourneys in sea days, and cash games all the time except when docked.

Excellent dealers and mild rake, and dedicated card players, not wild players who only know Poker from TV.

They spread any game and any limit there is interest in. Usually have pros there too.

We’ve done several of these and it makes the cruise a ton better if your a poker player. Booking through them gets you a better rate as well.

Their poker room is only open to those who book with them, so you don’t have anyone wandering in or looky loos.
 

Schmendr1ck

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We just need to do a meetup with Linda from here

https://www.cardplayercruises.com

I accidentally sailed on a Card Player cruise last year, meaning that I booked it as a family vacation not knowing that it was also one of their cruises. I spoke to a few people who were there for the event, and they said they really enjoyed it and went on these cruises regularly.

One of the players also told me (late in the cruise unfortunately) that I could pay a $200 registration fee and get access to the private games. This didn't come from a Card Player official, so I'm not sure if it was true.

Regardless, it definitely sounds like a fun idea for a meetup!

...dedicated card players, not wild players who only know Poker from TV.

Usually have pros there too.

...you don’t have anyone wandering in or looky loos.

Erm, I don't see these as good things. I want bad opponents with deep pockets, thank you. :D
 

dkersey

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One of my few complaints about RC is the constant marketing.

I'm glad you brought this up. I was on a RC cruise about a year ago and figured out on day 1 that anything that is loud or in your face, costs more money. If they were announcing it on the PA, it cost money. Any big signage or kiosk, it cost money. And we were always surrounded by tons of art on the floor propped up. Who buys art on a boat!?!?!? I quickly tuned out the PA system. I learned all this on day 1, where a pitch for "free liquor tasting", was a pitch for their liquor store on board. There would be a 15 minute pitch, tiny sip, 15 minute pitch, tiny sip. I left after 2 sips, but they still had a big audience. While the cruise was nice, it was still annoying to be constantly surrounded by overpriced crap. One deck felt like I was in a mall, which I avoided as much as possible.
 

Schmendr1ck

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I'm glad you brought this up. I was on a RC cruise about a year ago and figured out on day 1 that anything that is loud or in your face, costs more money. If they were announcing it on the PA, it cost money. Any big signage or kiosk, it cost money. And we were always surrounded by tons of art on the floor propped up. Who buys art on a boat!?!?!? I quickly tuned out the PA system. I learned all this on day 1, where a pitch for "free liquor tasting", was a pitch for their liquor store on board. There would be a 15 minute pitch, tiny sip, 15 minute pitch, tiny sip. I left after 2 sips, but they still had a big audience. While the cruise was nice, it was still annoying to be constantly surrounded by overpriced crap. One deck felt like I was in a mall, which I avoided as much as possible.

Yeah, it's really a bit much, but I've sailed with RC several times, so if you go in knowing what to expect, it's reasonably easy to ignore it.

Also, AVOID CRUISE ART AUCTIONS LIKE THE PLAGUE. At best you'll pay way too much for a signed and/or embellished print, at worst you'll get completely fleeced. It's an amazing racket - RC doesn't operate it directly, but they allow a third party (Park West I think?) to conduct the sales and give RC a cut. All the other crap they sell (watches, purses, jewelry) is usually comparable to the prices you would pay stateside. As long as you're aware that you're not actually getting a 70-80% discount on that Invicta watch, there's nothing really wrong with doing a little shopping there.

I will usually buy some liquor when I cruise, and my advice there is to know your prices going in or look them up online while shopping. Some slight bargains can be had on board (e.g. I could have purchased 2L of Bulleit bourbon for $50 with no tax, where I can normally get a 1.75L at home for $48 plus tax) but many prices are the same or higher than what I can get at home. There are also a number of "travel bottlings" that aren't available outside of duty free shops, and those are sometimes worth a purchase just because you can't get them elsewhere. However, the better deals are usually found in port. This trip, I bought the following:

Caol Ila 12 (Scotch) 750mL for $45 on St. Maarten ($70 locally)
Highland Park 12 (Scotch) 750mL for $42 on St. Maarten ($66 locally)
Hennessey Pure White (Cognac) 700mL for $45 on ship (travel bottling)
The Balvenie 12 Triple Cask (Scotch) 1000mL for $65 on ship (travel bottling, seen online for $90)
 

Chris Manzoni

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I love cruising and probably one of the biggest reasons is that I don't drink. Carnival, cheap and fun, is super big on the up-sell for drinks; I just laugh at them but if I was a drinker it would likely be insufferable. Disney, expensive but excellent customer service and quality, doesn't do the hard sell on anything really, their branded merchandise sells itself so they don't have to push it really at all.
 

WedgeRock

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In one hand on the first night, there was a bet of $10 and a call. A third player silently placed a $25 chip in front of him, and the dealer announces "raise to $25." The original bettor folds, the second player calls, and the third players sees the call and says, "No, I was just calling the $10." The dealer tries to roll it back but player 1's cards are already in the muck, and all players involved are annoyed. The dealer says, "Forget it, the hand is cancelled," and pushes chips back to the three players.

I hope you made that dealer walk the plank.
 

allforcharity

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I have bought art on a boat. No, not $20,000-$50,000 originals. One original acrylic painting before Park West took over. Three limited edition prints from an artist whose technique I really love. 97% of stuff in the gallery I wouldn't want. The remaining 3% that has real collectible value to me. It's not so different than poker chips, really.
 

SixSpeedFury

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You can have a great time on a cruise as long as you go in with a game plan. Among other things they try to sell you, stay away from the liquor package as soon as you get onboard. Unless you're a raging alcoholic or college kid, of course. They're equally as bad as telemarketers.
 
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