6 Poker Gadgets That Aren’t Lame

I usually agree with the writer Orison Marden: “He only is rich who can enjoy without owning.” I own a decent car, sure, but I’ve maintained it and kept it running for over a decade. I don’t have a massive house, I don’t wear any jewelry besides my wedding ring, and I try to live life simply.

Except when it comes to poker.

I’m a total sucker for poker gadgets. Over the years, I’ve bought enough eBooks, trainers, and fancy equipment for my poker room to operate a resale shop. Everyone has a vice, right? I own everything from Vat19’s giant playing cards to the ridiculous Belkin n52te mouse that poker pros seem to swear by. I’ll try anything twice, just in case the first time was a fluke.

My collection of poker gadgets that I used twice and got rid of could fill a small warehouse, but the list of gadgets that I continue to use and find useful? It’s really short. I feel uniquely qualified to offer up a list of six poker gadgets that don’t suck. The six devices below are items that I actually recommend to poker players – not just things that I think are neat.

Bestway’s Inflatable Poker Table
Once upon a time you had to track Betway down online and place an email order if you wanted this item. It cost $50 and I was lucky to get one when I did. Then I started seeing them on Amazon, at a slightly lower price. These days, you can buy Bestway’s inflatable Texas Hold’em poker “table and chair set” at Wal-Mart. For less than $30 you can take your weekly game out to the pool and get some Vitamin D for once. I swear by this thing during the summer, and it’s a great conversation piece.

Rush Creek’s Octagon Poker Table
If you value the ambience of your private poker game, it’s time to man up and invest in a legitimate poker table. The days of folding tables and plastic lawn chairs are over. Poker players have style and they demand a certain level of quality. Impress your friends and own this piece of furniture that you don’t have to hide when the boys aren’t over. Sure, it has a frontier look, but I don’t think it’d be out of place in a game room or man cave.

KEM Plastic Playing Cards
I got on the KEM train early. It’s rare that poker players come to anything like a consensus, but in the case of KEM’s cellulose acetate playing cards, everyone agrees. They’re the best. They’re beautiful, durable, and available in two sizes and a wide range of designs. Point your browser to KEM’s website to order the cards and browse their list of accessories, like chip sets, score pads, and card trays. I’ve tried switching to Copag PVC cards, mainly because they’re 1/3 the price and still a respected manufacturer, but I just hate the way the PVC feels in my hands. Go with the original and still champion playing card manufacturer – KEM.

Logitech’s G19 Programmable Gaming Keyboard
If my wife thought a $70 mouse was obscene, imagine how she’d respond if she knew how much I really spent on Logitech’s G19 keyboard. I told her I won it in a giveaway – but in reality it set me back $200. It’s worth every penny. From the customizable LED backlight (which has cut back on my mis-clicks) to the built-in LCD screen I use to display stats and YouTube videos while I play, I can’t imagine playing online poker without it.

An Aeron Office Chair
Herman Miller makes the famous Aeron chair, and though it was in no way designed specifically for use by poker players, I think it is a must-won for anyone expected to spend serious time in front of their laptop playing poker. The Aeron is beautiful, functional, and eliminates overheating and strain through the use of ergonomic design and modern materials and production. If I sound like a fanboy, it’s because I am. I cured years of muscle strain and sciatica by replacing my cheap office chair with an Aeron. I’ve probably saved thousands of dollars in chiropractor bills just by buying my Aeron, which set me back almost $800 but was totally worth it.

A Year of Poker Training at Ivey League
Not exactly a gadget, but still expensive enough to make this list. A year’s paid subscription to Ivey League will set you back between $70 and $500, but the access this membership gives you to training from real poker pros is (not to sound like a broken record) totally worth it. I recommend this service to poker players at all ability levels. If you can afford it, the Masters access (at $75 a month) gives you access to the most content and the most one-on-one contact with the site’s pros. Don’t take my word for it – check out PokerFuse’s review from last year.

Conclusion
Don’t get me wrong on this point – I don’t think gadgets are crucial to success in poker, online or otherwise. I know amazing players that own a twelve year-old laptop and absolutely no gadgets. I also know guys that buy everything on the market and never win a hand.

But I DO think that most players will enjoy themselves more if they incorporated gadgets into their poker game. My online poker play is a form of entertainment – I don’t make nearly enough money from poker to call it a job. If I think of entertainment as currency, anything that makes me have more fun increases my expected value.

The gadgets above have all been tested extensively by myself and my poker buddies. This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list. But it is a list of amazing poker-related gadgets and merchandise that can enhance the entertainment value of your poker play. And that’s worth a few Amazon purchases, don’t you think?

BitCoin Poker – Is It Really a Thing?

It’s strange for an old-school guy like me to think that a virtual currency is being used to play poker.

I’m used to using what I’d consider traditional payment methods to fund my own action – cash, credit cards, and eWallets. A few months ago, I couldn’t have told you what BitCoin is if you’d sat down and patiently explained it to me for an hour first.

BitCoin poker is, really, a thing. A few poker rooms and other gambling sites are now accepting BitCoin as a payment method.

So what is it? And how is it being used to fund online poker accounts?

What Is BitCoin?
Bitcoin is a virtual currency invented in the year 2008 by a person going by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto.” The first mention of the currency was in a document sent to a cryptography mailing list made up of just a few people. Not much is known about the person (or people) behind the pseudonym, and they left the project altogether in 2010.

It’s interesting that the project was first mentioned among a small group of cryptographers – BitCoin was invented to exist without the need for a financial middle man. Taking banks and fragile world governments out of the equation produces a more stable and equitable currency, and it means that BTC (the currency’s acronym) are immune from seizure or asset freezing. Or so the theory goes.

So what is a BitCoin? You can’t hold one in your hand, in the traditional sense. It exists in the same way that an email exists – stored in a digital cloud. One important thing to note, for those of us used to fiat money, there is no FDIC or other insurance for your BTC.

Why Use BitCoin?
Here are some popular reasons suggested by blogs and message board posts:

BTC is crypto-currency, which means using it is completely private and anonymous.
Yes, transactions are recorded in a public log, for accountability purposes, but names of people involved in transactions are kept secret, hidden behind a generic wallet ID. There’s a dark side to this – goods can be bought or sold online and authorities can’t easily trace the people involved. That means lots of people are participating in illicit activity (see the story of The Silk Road for a perfect example) using this currency.

BTC allows you total control of your money.
Its value can’t be manipulated by any outside entity. Essentially, using BTC turns you into your own bank. The currency’s lack of physical production costs and non-existent need for storage makes it even easier to handle at the end-user level.

Big companies are bringing it into the mainstream.
BTC wasn’t well known until 2011, when the mainstream press got word of its early and rabid adoption by the Technorati. Now, thousands of businesses all over the world accept it as a mainstream payment method, including some surprisingly big names. You can buy your next Dell laptop with BTC, or shop for a cheaper alternative at Overstock.com. Cities saturated with tech geeks now have ATMs where you can exchange cash for BTC, and the other way around.

How Does BitCoin Poker Work?
The reason BitCoin struck me as so strange initially was simple – I am used to traditional (known as “fiat”) currency. So is everyone reading this – it’s what we’re used to, so any alternative feels a little strange.

The first thing a poker player who wants to use BTC needs to do is exchange their native currency for their new virtual currency.

The popular method of purchasing BitCoin is to deal with an exchange or brokerage. Exchanges are places where buyers and sellers are matched based on their bid criteria, while brokerages hoard large collections of BTC that they sell on-demand at a variable rate.

Exchanges and brokerages are pretty much identical for the end-user. It literally takes a minute or two to complete the transaction.

The BTC are then transferred to you through your unique Bitcoin wallet ID. Think of it as a hyper-focused email address for virtual currency. What’s neat about that is you can send money to anyone in the world using BTC, the same way you can send an email across the globe in a second.

Your wallet ID (BTC address) will be a randomized string of letters and numbers, anywhere from 27–34 characters long. That wallet ID is also the place buyers will send cash – which makes the whole email address analogy easier to understand. BitCoins can be sent or received from anywhere, or even sold among friends or in person.

Now that you’ve got your currency in your virtual wallet, it’s time to transfer it to the poker room of your choice. After confirming that the room you want to play at accepts BitCoin, simply send the appropriate amount to their wallet ID. It takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for the BTC to appear in the receiving account.

As an added bonus for poker players, transferring with BTC is totally free, thanks to the virtual nature of the currency. It costs nothing to send and receive virtual money, so you shouldn’t expect any additional transfer fees from your poker room’s cashier department.

Overview of the Major Comp Programs

Before we dive into the intricacies of blackjack and poker comps, I thought it might be a good idea to take a quick crash course on comp programs.

Thanks to the corporate conglomeration that has dominated the casino industry in recent years, most gamblers have two major comp programs to choose from – M Life and Total Rewards.

The M Life program is operated by MGM Resorts International, while Total Rewards is a product of Caesars Entertainment.

If you enjoy visiting sunny Las Vegas for a stroll along the Strip, chances are good you’ll wind up in a casino owned by one of these behemoths. And I’m not talking about the MGM Grand or Caesars Palace flagship properties, as the two companies own dozens of casinos between them.

Check out the list below for a full accounting of MGM-owned properties on the Strip where the M Life card is used to track and distribute comps:

ARIA Las Vegas
Bellagio Las Vegas
Excalibur Hotel and Casino
Luxor Las Vegas
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
MGM Grand Las Vegas
The Mirage Las Vegas
Monte Carlo Resort and Casino
New York New York Hotel and Casino
And below, you’ll find the Caesars-owned casinos on the Strip where the Total Rewards card is accepted:

Bally’s Las Vegas
Caesars Palace
The Cromwell Las Vegas
Flamingo Las Vegas
Harrah’s Las Vegas
The LINQ Las Vegas
Paris Las Vegas
Planet Hollywood Las Vegas
Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino
Expanding the scope outside of Sin City, these are the MGM-brand casinos worldwide where M Life membership is accepted:

Beau Rivage – (Biloxi, Mississippi)
Borgata – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
The Water Club – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Gold Strike Casino Resort – (Tunica Resorts, Mississippi)
Grand Victoria – (Elgin, Illinois)
MGM Grand Detroit – (Detroit, Michigan)
MGM National Harbor – (National Harbor, Maryland)
MGM Springfield – (Springfield, Massachusetts)
MGM Grand Sanya – (Sanya, Hainan, China)
MGM Macau – (Macau, China)
Bellagio Shanghai – (Shanghai, China)
And finally, take a look below for the full list of Caesars-owned casinos worldwide where Total Rewards membership is accepted:

Bally’s Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Caesars Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Caesars Windsor – (Windsor, Ontario, CA)
Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino – (Phoenix, AZ)
Harrah’s Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Harrah’s Cherokee – (Cherokee, NC)
Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River – (Cherokee, NC)
Harrah’s Council Bluffs – (Council Bluffs, IA)
Harrah’s Gulf Coast – (Biloxi, MS)
Harrah’s Joliet – (Joliet, IL)
Harrah’s Lake Tahoe – (Lake Tahoe, NV)
Harrah’s Laughlin – (Laughlin, NV)
Harrah’s Louisiana Downs – (Bossier City, LA)
Harrah’s Metropolis – (Metropolis, IL)
Harrah’s New Orleans – (New Orleans, LA)
Harrah’s North Kansas City – (North Kansas City, MO)
Harrah’s Philadelphia – (Philadelphia, PA)
Harrah’s Reno – (Reno, NV)
Harrah’s Resort Southern California – (Valley Center, CA)
Harvey’s Lake Tahoe – (Lake Tahoe, NV)
Horseshoe Casino Baltimore – (Baltimore, MD)
Horseshoe Bossier City – (Bossier City, LA)
Horseshoe Council Bluffs – (Council Bluffs, IA)
Horseshoe Hammond – (Hammond, IN)
Horseshoe Casino Tunica – (Tunica, MS)
Horseshoe Southern Indiana – (Elizabeth, IN)
Tunica Roadhouse – (Tunica, MS)
Along with these titans of the gambling industry, you’ll also come across a few smaller casino chains like Boyd Gaming or Stations. And of course, the over 400 tribal casinos operated on reservation land nationwide have their own in-house players club cards.

These smaller casinos tend to model their comp system after the big boys, however, so I’ll stick with M Life and Total Rewards going forward for the sake of clarity.

For both of these programs, you’ll also have two main forms of comp credits to work with – base points and tier points.

A base point equates to $0.01, so you’ll need to score 100 of them to add $1 to your comp account. Base points effectively serve as cash in an affiliated casino, so you can use your accumulated points to purchase that morning latte or some headphones from the gift shop.

A tier point doesn’t have cash value per se, but these points are how you climb through the ranks of either M Life or Total Rewards. You can visit the overview pages for each program that I linked to above to learn about the various tiers used in each. But put simply, accumulating tier points grants you access to a higher tier in the program, which in turn unlocks additional perks. Think priority access at the cashier’s cage line, free valet and parking, tickets to the in-house show, and even free rooms.

Now that you know who is handling your comps and where the players club cards in your wallet are accepted, let’s see exactly how they work for both blackjack and poker.