I've been traveling the tournament circuit since the late 90s and a lot has changed since then, both in terms of where I go and also what works for me in terms of a schedule. When I first started playing the circuit, I just couldn't imagine missing a tournament! The buy-ins were smaller. I was playing anything from a $100 tourney to $1,000 and occasionally something bigger, but they were few and far between.
I also played all the preliminary events which looked very different to what you see today. You'd have a $300 Omaha HL, followed by a $500 7 Card Stud, a $200 limit hold'em, $300 Razz, and a $300 no-limit hold'em. Poker has changed a lot, though, and the focus of most prelims today is no-limit hold'em.
The other big difference was the fact that all of my travel happened within the United States. Poker wasn't as popular globally before the internet boom, but in America there was a tournament every month. For example I remember my schedule in late 1997 and it looked something like this:
September- Legend of Poker- Bicycle Club in Los Angeles
October- Four Queens in Las Vegas
November- World Poker Finals at Foxwoods in Connecticut
December- Taj Mahal in Atlantic City
January- Carnivale of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas
February- LAPC at the Commerce in LA
April- WSOP Las Vegas
June- California State Championship at the Commerce in LA
July- Orleans Open at the Orleans in Las Vegas
July- Heavenly Hold'em at the Commerce in LA
These trips were each close to a month long and I would play every single tournament! There was a stretch there where I won a tournament at four consecutive stops. At the World Poker Finals I won back to back limit hold'em tournaments and the player of the series award, then won my first bracelet at the WSOP, followed by wins at the California State Championship, Orleans Open, and another win at the Heavenly Hold'em. The WSOP win was obviously the biggest score: $169,460 while the next biggest purse was just $40,000.
There is something to be said about putting in high volume which allows you to stay "in stroke." I admire Jason Mercier's tenacity and commitment to the circuit as he mentioned his 2013 plans. As for me, I'm at a different point in my life where I don't want to commit the same amount of time to travel, and it's different now with most of it being overseas in Europe. I was single back then, and not at all looking to settle down. I'm 38 now, and there will be little Negreanus running around in the not too distant future, so that will require me to scale back a bit on the travel. I will always play tournament poker-- literally for the rest of my life. As you get older, though, and have more responsibility, it requires you to choose wisely.
Essentially you need to figure out what works best for you, and that could change at different times in your life. For me, I know six straight weeks on the road in Europe is too much. The schedule is about to really heat up, and I'll step up, but much like working out, the rest time in between is crucial for me to be at my best.
Daniel Negreanu is a member of Team PokerStars Pro