As part of Team Pokerstars Pro I get the opportunity to travel the world and play poker. I have been to many countries as an ambassador to PokerStars, but never to Romania. I was first asked to go to Romania instead of going to my original destination of Costa Rica this week. I agreed and began to do some research on the country so that I would know what to expect.
I knew little about the place and its people, and thought playing in the PokerStars Romanian Open was a great opportunity to see a place I would never pick out on the map as a place to go for vacation. After a 15-hour journey I arrived in Bucharest ready to jump into the poker scene.
The first thing I noticed was the cold weather - about 45 degrees. The ride from the airport to the hotel was long for a short distance. I learned from my driver that the short drive will be awhile as traffic is always an issue in Bucharest. The city has almost 3 million people and the highways are always packed. I arrived at the hotel and was pleasantly surprised. I made my way down to the tournament area and met with the tournament director who informed me that this was the first tournament of this size in Romania and everyone was very excited to see how many would show. The turnout was great, over 300 people (the cap was set at 300 originally) and the Romanian players were eager to play.
I sat down to play the tournament with my standard plan for playing poker with unknown players. I will play very tight and observe the players. I don't get involved early and want to see what style they play. After about an hour I had pretty much established my whole Romanian poker strategy. NO BLUFFING. Romanian poker players are gamblers and believe strongly in luck. The first thing I notice both in the tournament and the big cash game I would later play is that the Romanians open with 5-7x raises compared to the 3x raises which are more common. Also, you can expect to get 4-5 callers with these raises. It is quite different than what I am used to seeing on the poker tour, so I had to adjust my strategy to play premium hands and play them for maximum value. I made it through the day relatively easy as one of the chip leaders, I never had much issue and was a nice tourney day overall.
The next day was an off day so I decided to get out and see the area and other casinos. Casinos in Romania are small but extremely nice. Each has a lavish buffet set up and they are very well designed. Each casino has several roulette tables and blackjack tables, but craps is not played in Romania. Each casino also has two or three poker tables where the games they play are rather large. I learn from talking with players that Romanians play less poker hours but higher stakes. Again, they are gamblers. I sit to play in a 25-50 game and notice right away the 5-7x raises.
You notice two more things when playing in a Romanian casino that is different than in other areas of the world. First, smoking is allowed at the table and many Romanians smoke, therefore filling the air with cigarette fumes. Secondly, it is incredibly loud. If you play poker in most places, people are quiet and focused on the game. You could hear a pin drop as someone contemplates calling a big all-in or during hands. Not in Romania, everyone is talking, everyone is having a good time. I have never seen people talk as much and have so much fun at a poker table. It truly was a blast to play with the Romanian players, they love to talk and they love to have fun.
I have always told people that poker should be fun and it is a social game that you should celebrate with friends. Here in Romania they truly live that every day. They love to play and have fun while they are doing it. Bad beats are laughed about and losers give the winner a high five after hands. Always having fun, it is quite amazing here.
Any poker player looking for a great fun poker game should look into Romania. The stakes vary from 3-6 nl to 50-100 plo at the casinos I visited. But at every level and every casino the people were the nicest and most talkative I have ever seen. This is a great country to play poker in and amazingly fun. I have been very impressed with Romania and its people. I have made several friends while I have been here and look forward to coming back.
As a side note, I learned something I didn't know previously about my friend Daniel Negreanu. Everyone knows he is from Canada, but I learned his name is of Romanian descent. Daniel speaks Romanian very well also. I would say Daniel embodies what I think of when I think of a Romanian person. He is outspoken, friendly to everyone, a gambler, and someone that loves life and lives it to the fullest.