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Poker is notorious for bringing people from all walks of life together in a common love of the game. The most diverse games tend to take shape around big tournament series like the World Poker Tour, PartyPoker LIVE, or 888Live. But the biggest of them all is the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas during the summer.

People gather from more than 100 countries around the globe to compete in the WSOP tournaments as well as smaller series and cash games around town. In 2016, there were a total of 107,833 entries into the series, though several tournaments allowed reentries. Even so, approximately 100K players competed at the Rio in the tournaments alone, and they represented 107 nations. The United States represented the largest percentage with more than 84K entries, though Canada and the United Kingdom each exceeded 4K players. France and Russia each showed more than 1,200 entries, with Germany not far behind, and Brazil, Australia, Austria, and Italy rounding out the top 10. In the category of earnings, other countries made it into the top 10, such as Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Spain.

Those numbers don’t even tell the real story of the diversity at the tables, as many players who list the US or Canada as their home countries originally hail from other parts of the world. Even the most popular players represent a wide array of nations, such as Antonio Esfandiari from Iran, Eli Elezra of Israel, Freddy Deeb of Lebanon, and Pratyush Buddiga from New Zealand.

The opportunity to play poker in Las Vegas during the summer is a grand experience in and of itself, but to absorb the culture all around is something that expands horizons and makes players feel that they are part of a global game.

Getting to Know Opponents

Anyone who plays poker knows that any information gleaned from an opponent can be used to devise a strategy for optimal play. However, it can also be an opportunity to dive deeper into the game to find out where and how people began playing, how cash games or tournaments are run in other parts of the world, and what brought them to Las Vegas in the heat of the summer.

That kind of conversation can also help others – those who have traveled thousands of miles to the United States, some for the very first time – feel more comfortable and welcomed. Poker is a competition, and it is every player for himself or herself, but it never hurts to befriend international players and become more educated about other parts of the world.

Do It Without Being Offensive

Since places like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom tend to be melting pots of various cultures and ethnicities, it is wise to avoid making assumptions about the nature of anyone’s background. The “where are you from” question implies that they could not be from the United States and that their skin color or facial features indicates they are “from” somewhere else. That’s not a way to start a friendly conversation.

Instead, try to start with simple and open-ended questions.

  • Do you live here in Vegas or travel here for the WSOP?
  • Where are you staying while you’re in Vegas?
  • I traveled here from xxx for the summer. What about you?

And avoid questions and comments that can offend.

  • Where are you from?
  • What is that accent?
  • Is this your first time in America?
  • I really like your country/people/food.
  • You look a lot like my friend xxx who is from xxx.

Stay in a mindset that allows you to get to know other players and absorb the different backgrounds and cultures that come to the tables. It not only broadens one’s view of the world, but it offers a look into the worldwide appeal of poker and the diversity of the many different people who play it.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.