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If you’ve never journeyed to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker or to Sin City, Los Angeles or a host of other locales for the World Poker Tour, you are depriving yourself of a true experience. Actually watching a final table event play out can be pretty exciting, depending on what is at stake (history, the money, etc.), but what should you be prepared for if you decide to get “on the rail” for a major poker tournament? Here’s five things you should think about if you ever decide to “rail” a friend at a major poker tournament or just watch one for your general enjoyment.

Read More: 5 Ways to Tell if You’re a Poker Railbird

It’s Not Quick…

When you reach the final table, be prepared for an extended stay. In most cases, a final table for a WSOP event will begin sometime in the mid-afternoon, between 2PM and 4PM, and will normally last somewhere in the six to eight-hour timeframe. This can get lengthened out if the play is a bit slow, the players aren’t eliminated as quickly as expected and/or the players take a dinner break during the final table. If the stacks are deep, you could reasonably be there until the next morning.

In 2006, I had the pleasure of covering the WSOP Tournament of Champions, a final table that featured such players as Chris (the man formerly known as ‘Jesus’) Ferguson, Andy Black and Mike Matusow, among others. When it came down to Matusow, Daniel Negreanu and Mike Sexton for the championship, it was already late and the resulting sixty hands that it took to eliminate Matusow pushed the clock past midnight. Little did we know what was coming.

Over the next THREE HUNDRED HANDS (a final table is normally played in about 150-200), Sexton and Negreanu jousted for the title. When Sexton was able to finally win the title at about 7AM the next morning, there were only him, Negreanu, the dealers, myself, Nolan Dalla and I believe BJ Nemeth (who might have been there for photos) left standing. What fans had been there had long since left the scene, even Sexton’s family.


For a WPT event, a similar situation can arise. Although there are only six players at the final table (versus the nine-handed final table for the WSOP), the WPT events normally start around 4PM and can last six to eight hours. When I saw Minh Ly defeat Dan Harrington for the 2005 WPT Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship, it was an eight-hour plus slog, with Hours 2-5 being the type of grind it out poker that produced no eliminations and not much excitement.

Bottom line…be prepared to spend some time sitting and watching, sometimes nothing at all. It isn’t going to be a two hour show that you see on television!

Welcome to The Free-For-All!

The biggest thing to remember about hitting the rail for one of these final tables is that, unless you are a part of the “entourage” for one of the players AT the final table, then the seats are on a first come, first served basis. This means that, if the final table has some notable names in play, you might have to get to the seats hours before the actual play begins. If you don’t get there before the seats are filled, you either have to wait outside the playing arena until a seat opens or try to get another view from a less-than-optimum location. This “festival” style seating also presents problems when it comes to our next issue…

The Wait Staff? They’re Not There for You…

If you’re going to be sitting there for a long period of time, then you are going to get a bit thirsty. At both the WPT and the WSOP events, you might see the wait staff that will come through the final table to take beverage orders from the players. Don’t even think about stopping one of these ladies or gentlemen to order something for yourself – they are there simply to serve the final table, NOT the audience in the stands.

While there will be those instances when someone will enter the stands for such service (a rarity), the audience is left to their own devices when it comes to being served. If you know you’re going to be sitting at the final table, then a backpack of snacks and/or drinks might be in line, provided that it is allowed at the final table as some venues don’t allow the railbirds to do this. The other option isn’t one that many would like to entertain.

Many a time I’ve been at a final table and someone on the rail has left to either get a beverage, some snacks or even to answer “the call of nature.” Depending on who is playing at the final table, those empty seats are immediately up for grabs for whomever is waiting in the wings to take them over. When that person comes back, they immediately either go to the back of the line and have to wait to get back in or find another seat that they might not have been in previously.

You’re A Part of the Show

Prior to the start of the final table, the folks that are taping the tournament for broadcast on television (this isn’t so much a problem if it is just being streamed online!) want to get some “stock” footage that they can intersperse into the edited show. As such, they will come around and ask the crowd to “clap politely,” “clap excitedly” and do fake cheering for the players that are participating in the tournament (“DO YOU WANT [insert the player’s name here] TO WIN! LET ME HEAR YOU!”), among other crowd reaction shots.


The more animated that you act, the more likely that you’ll get onto the broadcast of the final table, if that’s your goal. As many people might remember (because it seems they certainly didn’t remember the poker being played), famesque Dan Bilzerian got more attention from a woman stroking his beard on the rail than anyone who was actually playing at that time.

But Don’t Overdo It…

It can get a bit exciting on the rail of these tournaments, but don’t overdo it, either by drinking too much during the course of the final table or being overly exuberant. As of late at the WSOP events, it’s been a close race between the British and the Brazilian fans as to who has the most vociferous crowds and it has sometimes brought about problems for the conduct of the tournament (to the point of action from the tournament director or, even worse, security staff at the Rio). As always, try to conduct yourself in a proper manner, enjoy the event and support your favorite player, because the next best thing to being at the final table playing in a tournament is being able to watch one take place.

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Earl Burton

Earl Burton has been at the forefront of the poker media for more than a decade. In both print and digital media, Earl is a highly respected voice that has covered the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour and several other poker events across the United States. Whether it entails covering the political side of poker, its tournaments and players, the strategy of the game or its other myriad of nuances, Earl brings an inquisitive mind, a player's desire to learn and a journalist's quest for knowledge and tries to pass that knowledge along to the readers.