Industry Insiders: WPT at Sea Poker Manager Kirk Saunders Talks High Seas
By now youve no doubt heard about the World Poker Tour (WPT) and their upcoming WPT Voyage, which will take place from March 31-April 6, 2024 as they take over an entire Virgin Voyages cruise ship the 1,400-cabin Valiant Lady for a six-day poker festival that features $1.5 million in guarantees, including a $5,000 buy-in, $1,000,000 GTD WPT Main Event.
Leading up to the WPT Voyage, PokerNews will be profiling several staff members of the WPT at Sea Poker Room in our Industry Insiders series. For those that dont know, the WPT at Sea is the actual poker room aboard Virgin Voyages (currently on the Scarlet Lady cruise ship but soon to expand to others).
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Get to Know Kirk Saunders
Hailing from Michigan, the 42-year-old Saunders is married to his wife Kelli, and the two share a pair of Yorkshire Terriers Makki and Miso. Saunders attended Brandon High School where he graduated in 2000 as class salutatorian. It was also there that he earned Varsity letters in cross country, basketball, and track & field (he threw shotput and discus). After a stint at Georgia Tech, Saunders went on to earn a degree in Management from the University of Phoenix.
I learned poker from my dad at the kitchen table when I was about five years old, Saunders told PokerNews. The game was five-card draw and there wasn't too much strategy involved. I learned how to play holdem from the WPT and other television shows that we're coming out in the early 2000s. Strategy and such were mainly learned from reading books from 2+2. My game of choice is limit holdem as it is a fun game and an easier strategy play for me.
So how did he come to work in the poker industry?
My first job in poker was a poker room manager for a charity room at a bowling alley in Clarkston, Michigan, he explained. I worked in different charity rooms for about two years as a dealer, tournament director, and room manager. The scene for charity rooms has changed significantly since I worked in them. They still run, but there aren't as many as there used to be.
From there, Saunders started his first house job at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, West Virginia where he worked as a dealer for about three years. Since then, he has been a traveling dealer and a house dealer. He currently travels and mainly works at the Wynn in Las Vegas, Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida, and of course WPT at Sea.
I have worked with Emily DeLaine at many tournament stops and the job was being discussed in January 2023, Saunders said in regard to his opportunity to work on the cruise ship. The main reason that she thought of me is how often my wife and I cruise. We have over 180 days at Sea and love cruising. The combination of work and vacation was very intriguing to us.
He continued: The laid-back atmosphere of the players is my favorite part. When players are coming on the ship, they are there to have a good time. It is good fun had byplayers who appreciate a poker environment that is fun. Day 1 of the cruise is almost every players first day in the room and it creates a fun energy.
While on board, Saunders is a big fan of all the restaurants on board.
I will generally get a filet at The Wake (steakhouse), a strip steak at Extra Virgin (Italian), the ribeye at Pink Agave (Mexican), and the Galbi (beef short ribs) at Gunbae (Korean). Unfortunately, there is no steak at Razzle Dazzle so I get a chicken sandwich, said Saunders, who also shared that his favorite port of call is Cozumel.
He also had some recommendations for those who check out WPT at Sea.
Have fun. That's the point of poker. There are a lot of new players and this is the best opportunity to learn to play. Many players are brand new to poker or recreational players, he said. Also, check out the beach club at Bimini. This is an extension of the ship, but at land. It is a big party with your fellow sailors poker may not be your primary focus on the cruise, but there is enough of it to make booking a Virgin Voyage worthwhile.
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What is WPT at Sea?
Not to be confused with WPT Voyage, WPT at Sea is an actual poker room on the Scarlet Lady ship (and soon-to-be other Virgin Voyages). That poker room is operating on the high seas right now as you read this.
After witnessing the magic of cruise-line poker with Virgin Voyages last season, we instantly sought to establish a permanent fixture, said WPT CEO Adam Pliska. Scarlet Lady provides the perfect residence for WPT at Sea, which will bring the WPT poker experience to the high seas.
The room features eight custom poker tables staffed with professional dealers. For cash games, the rake is a reasonable 10% up to $10, which is much lower than other cruises. As for tournaments, buy-ins on a typical sailing range from $80-$320.
Recently, WPT at Sea has held a $240 buy-in Main Event, which awards a WPT prize package to a future sailing.
The room caters to players of all experience levels, from absolute beginner to seasoned pro. For the former, the staff holds beginner training courses on each sailing, and dealers also offer their services if 1:1 instruction is desired.
WPT at Sea goes wherever the ship does, meaning those who go for the poker will also get to experience new and exciting destinations. The room is closed when the ship is docked so sailors are incentivized to get off the ship and check things out. But fear not, when everyone is back on board it doesnt take long for cards to get back in the air.
Here are some other things to know about WPT at Sea:
WPT at Sea is taking reservations through the end of 2024. To learn more or book your cruise,visit wptatsea.com.
Check out the WPT at Sea Poker Room review here on PokerNews!
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