When you watch legendary card sharps like Daniel Negreanu dominating the World Series of Poker (WSOP) or World Poker Tour (WPT), it’s easy to focus on the glory and glamour. After all, poker pros like Negreanu travel the world playing a game, earning lavish sums along the way. Gold bracelets, the Champion’s Cup, and a long lineup of similar honors await the game’s top pros.
Speaking of meals, consider the options available to your average poker pro. Between the food court fare or a trip through the buffet, these folks aren’t exactly getting three square meals a day. The situation gets worse when you consider how the typical tournament pro’s day really goes down. These guys and gals roll out of bed at 10 a.m., hit the gym or a Starbucks to shrug off the slumber, and wander into the poker room to find their seat. From there, most multi-day tournaments like the ones you see televised via WSOP or WPT coverage take 12 to 14 hours per day, over the course of three to five days, to wrap up.
During the course of a grueling 14-hour session on the felt, tournament pros will get a handful of 15-minute breaks sprinkled in, but these aren’t long enough to leave the table and grab a bite. They do get a dinner break during the latter stages of the day, but at 60 minutes, the standard dinner break still isn’t long enough to find a nice restaurant.
At one point in poker history, this poor tableside cuisine led most pros to lapse into overweightness or obesity. Seriously, pull up a photo of Doyle Brunson at the WSOP circa the 1970s and you’ll see what I mean. Things are changing in 2018 and beyond though, as a new generation of poker pros has sought to gain a strategic edge via an improved diet. The young guns these days realize that proper nutrition is essential for anyone hoping to endure the grind of a 14-hour day spent playing high-level poker. While their less informed opponents find themselves dozing off in the latter levels, or losing focus in key situations, pros who eat right remain razor sharp until the last deal of the day.
Negreanu – a proud vegan who turned his back on greasy card room grub two decades back – summed up the situation nicely during a 2015 interview with Vice Munchies:
Negreanu’s position as the game’s leading ambassador – and top tournament money winner with nearly $40 million in live earnings – affords him a unique position within the poker economy. He’s sponsored by PokerStars, he has not one but two personal assistants who prepare his daily meals, and money is literally no object when it comes to sourcing high-quality food.
For those reasons, Negreanu has parlayed his power in poker to help guide fellow players onto a healthier path. In interviews like the one cited above, and several others conducted by nutrition-centric news outlets, Negreanu has sung the praises of a well-planned diet.
In his case, that means strict veganism, but Negreanu isn’t as picky when it comes to motivating others. He simply wants to see the poker world evolve past finger foods that don’t provide the body with the fuel it needs. With that in mind, take a look below to find out how poker players manage to eat right during multi-day tournaments, complete with guidance from “Kid Poker” himself.
They Stick to Health-Conscious Casinos
Right off the bat, the best way to ensure access to nutritional meals is to choose casinos and card rooms that cater to the health-conscious crowd.
In Negreanu’s case, that means hitting The Wynn in Las Vegas whenever he gets the chance, where the venue takes pride in offering a full slate of vegan fare:
Of course, Negreanu can’t add to his count of six WSOP gold bracelets grinding at The Wynn, so he’s forced to head out into the wild when circumstances warrant. We’ll touch on how the legend deals with less vegan-friendly casinos later on, but for now, let’s focus on cultivating your own selection of casinos where healthy food is a priority.
Below you’ll find the Top-10 healthiest casinos in Las Vegas, as listed by Foursquare.com:
- The Cosmopolitan
- Caesars Palace
- The Palms
- MGM Grand
Between the WSOP at the Rio, the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio, and a whole host of tournament series hosted year-round at the Aria, poker pros looking to eat right are in luck – when they’re in Las Vegas at least.
The quest for high-quality food gets a little harder when you branch out to regional tournament stops on smaller tours like the WSOP-Circuit or WPT DeepStacks. These “minor league” tournament series tend to play out in places like Biloxi, Mississippi or Atlantic City, New Jersey – not exactly capitals of the culinary world. Whether you find yourself grinding the mid-major circuits, or playing in your local casino or card room, dealing with substandard menus becomes an entirely different dilemma.
They Crowdsource Convenient Options
Speaking of Atlantic City – home to the Borgata WPT Main Event and a slew of local series running all year – Negreanu had quite the time trying to find a vegan meal while playing the recent WPT Championship.
Here’s how he summed up the situation in a blog post published on his personal website:
The beauty of social media platforms like Twitter is how the serve to level the playing field. Negreanu maybe poker’s megastar celebrity, but unlike personal chefs and other perks of the trade, anybody can use their social media account to crowdsource healthy meals.
The poker “Twitterverse” is a lively place, one where elite pros like Negreanu mingle with up and coming grinders and pure poker fans alike. All it takes is the right hashtag for the tournament stop – plus a few helpful followers to point you in the right direction – and you’ll be dining at a delicious healthy restaurant no matter where in the world the circuit takes you next.
All it takes is one informed dealer to steer you in the right direction, and from there your healthy meals will be covered through the duration of the trips.Between social media and shaking a few hands, you should always be able to locate at least one decent dining option to tide you over during a tournament.
They Bring Along Personal Care Packages
Finding a new restaurant that fits your nutritional bill is always a treat, but as I mentioned in the introduction, tournament players seldom have time on their hands. Between the grind of competing on the felt, blowing off steam at the bar after bagging and tagging, and getting a good eight hours in the sack – there’s just not enough hours in the day to run out and have a sit down meal.
That’s why pros like Negreanu always make sure to pack a backup reserve of nutritious snacks:
All you need is a sturdy backpack and some proper planning to ensure easy access to healthy food. Apples, bananas, and other fruit can be brought along for the ride and eaten right there at the table in between hands. When the dinner break arrives, you can take Negreanu’s lead and skip the long lines, heading upstairs for a quick smoothie, salad, or sandwich.
I recommend scoring a small cooler too, which will help keep your leafy greens, skim milk, and other perishables intact over the course of several days on the road.With a well-stocked backpack for playing periods, and a mini-fridge filled with the right stuff back in the room, a prepared poker pro always has a healthy snack handy.
They Order In Using Delivery Services
If you’ve ever been to the WSOP at the Rio in Las Vegas, you’ve probably noticed a curious process playing out on the floor of poker’s premier tournament series. Every few minutes or so, scantily clad young ladies hustle through the room carrying white paper bags. A closer look reveals a red and white logo reading “All-American Dave’s,” and soon enough the bag is dropped off to a thankful player.
Early in their friendship, Esfandiari mentioned how hard it could be to eat right during a long tournament day, so Swanson began packing his pal a daily Tupperware package filled with expertly prepared healthy options. I’m talking egg white omelets, almond Dijon chicken with, ginger scallion salmon, chilled seafood salad, all served with a heaping helping of wild brown rice and veggies.
Before long, Esfandiari’s fellow pros began hassling him for their own healthy meals, prompting Swanson to launch his All-American Dave concept. Before long, his white paper bags became a staple at the WSOP, with hundreds of players per day ponying up $25 for one of the best meals a poker player can buy.
Here’s how Swanson described his WSOP menu during an interview with Food and Wine magazine:
Jeff Gross – a successful poker pro with over $3 million in tournament earnings to his credit – is an All-American Dave’s devotee. In the same interview, Gross explained why poker pros crave the creative combinations Swanson manages to curate each summer:
Gross makes a great point about how a poor diet can lead to fatigue and lack of focus. Remember, multi-day tournaments reserve the top payouts for players who make it to the endgame. And you’d be surprised at just how many pros find themselves drifting off when the final table approaches, costing themselves precious equity in the process.
All-American Dave’s has the WSOP covered, but you can find a whole host of health food delivery services throughout Las Vegas.
Check out the list below, courtesy of Eat 24, to find the Top-10 healthy delivery restaurants in Sin City:
Top-10 Health Food Delivery Services in Las Vegas
|Vitality Bowls||7170 N Durango Dr Ste 130||(702) 786-6802|
|Greens and Proteins||6180 N Decatur Blvd||(702) 853-0650|
|VegeNation||618 E Carson Ave Ste 120||(702) 366-8515|
|Sammy’s Restaurant & Bar||1501 N Green Valley Pkwy||(702) 567-4000|
|Teriyaki Boy Healthy Grill||2315 E Cheyenne Ave 120||(702) 405-7776|
|Leticia’s Mexican Cocina||7585 Norman Rockwell Ln||(702) 779-0873|
|India Palace||505 E Twain Ave||(702) 796-4177|
|China A Gogo||5960 N Losee Rd Ste 128||(702) 583-3742|
|Fix8 Protein Grill||90 S Stephanie St Ste 140||(702) 629-3773|
|Capriotti’s||7540 Oso Blanca Rd||(702) 645-5558|
By planning ahead and placing your order before starting up the tournament, and timing delivery to your breaks, you can easily enjoy a chicken salad wrap or quinoa bowl while playing for big bucks. A word of warning, however, as some restaurants won’t deliver within casino property. But when you can find a delivery service that can accommodate casino diners, the experience is a game-changer to say the least. While your opponents are scrambling to get a seat at the buffet, or scarfing down a quick hot dog and soda, you’ll be relaxing with a well-rounded meal delivered straight to your seat.
The line separating the most successful pros like Negreanu from legions of others who barely break even is razor thin. By this point, they all have the ins and outs of game theory optimal (GTO) strategy, pot odds, and hand ranges down pat. What divides the best from the rest is dedication to improving oneself away from the tables.
Until you’re able to avoid the temptation offered by nutritionally deficient table food, you’ll always face an uphill climb against a properly fueled opponent. Poker players who take the time to eat right, using any or all of the tips provided on this page, are capable of playing longer hours, retaining more information, and maintaining focus through to the final table. It takes the perfect combination of luck and skill to win a multi-day poker tournament, but the best pros have long since realized how to make their own luck by eating right every day.