Packing a Proper Backpack for the WSOP Grind


As you stride through the hallways of the Rio during World Series of Poker (WSOP) season, one fashion accessory will stand out more than most: backpacks.

It doesn’t matter if the person is 81 or 21, whether they’re American or European or otherwise, or even if they’re playing in an actual tournament. If they’re wandering the WSOP, odds are you’ll see them toting a backpack.

Folks who haven’t yet had the pleasure, and the pain, of competing in the WSOP may not understand what this backpack obsession is all about. This isn’t a college campus, after all, so why do thousands of poker players fall back on their backpacks during the daily grind?

Well, without one over the course of a grueling 14-hour day on the felt, you can wind up lacking essential resources. The WSOP may technically take place at the Rio, but the main hotel and casino area is a long – and I mean long – walk from the tournament rooms over in the convention area. Unless you’re prepared to sprint back and forth when the need arises, having a backpack handy lets you bring the creature comforts of your room on the go.

Backpacks have become standard poker player attire during the last decade plus, and for good reason.

On that front, I’d like to help everybody planning a trip to the upcoming 2018 WSOP prepare the most efficient backpack possible. With limited room to work with and a laundry list of need-to-have items, organizing your WSOP bundle correctly can go a long way towards building a big stack.

Check out the following essentials that every poker player needs to have in their backpack when the WSOP arrives.

Hoodie and/or Long-Sleeved Shirt

Five years ago, I had the pleasure of attending the WSOP, and while the cards ran cold for me on that occasion, everyone else in the room suffered through the same fate.

The 2013 edition of poker’s premier festival was notorious for its frigid temperatures, as the Rio failed to live up to its Brazilian inspiration. The inappropriately named Amazon Room dipped into the low 60s seemingly all day, even when the sun was shining over Sin City for a 100-degree scorcher outside.

The cold snap that marred that year’s WSOP led to players bringing mittens and earmuffs to the table, leading to some spectacularly funny scenes on the felt.

Daniel Negreanu even took to Twitter to vent his frustrations, letting WSOP organizers know just how cold it happened to be (68.5 degrees) by snapping a pic of his portable thermometer. Later, “Kid Poker” told the media exactly how he felt about the Rio’s inability to keep its tournament rooms at a comfortable temperature:

“Every major casino should be able to control the temp. Rio fails miserably its constantly 68 degrees, and someone should be fired.

(It’s) a constant complaint among poker customers and its simply never addressed adequately. It boils down to awful customer care and service.”

And while that year may go down as the coldest tournament in poker history, 2013 wasn’t an outlier by any means.

Whenever you combine the desert heat of Las Vegas – which routinely hits 110 during WSOP summers – and massive crowds, a casino like the Rio is going to have trouble with climate control. Their goal is to make the place as cool as they can, what with guests streaming in from the sun-soaked Vegas landscape.

This is relatively easy to accomplish in the main casino and hotel areas, where space is relatively tight and contained. But head over to those cavernous convention halls where the WSOP is held, and you’ll notice a different story altogether. With high ceilings and expansive interiors, the tournament rooms just don’t work as you’d expect.

Set the temperature a tad too high and the Amazon Room becomes a sauna. Move the dial a degree or two on the low side, and suddenly it seems like a subzero icebox.

The folks at the Rio have certainly improved since the 2013 debacle, but I was there as a spectator just last summer, and it’s still colder than most casinos I’ve encountered. At this point, the poker community has adapted to the conditions, with most players donning a T-shirt while outside the building before pulling on a hoodie or a sweatshirt when they’re at the table.

For this reason, a nice warm sweater should be considered a backpack priority for any WSOP attendee. There’s nothing worse than sitting down for a tournament you’ve been excited for all year, only to find yourself fidgeting and shivering throughout the day. Comfort goes a long way towards creating confidence, and if you’re busy breathing on your hands to stay warm, you won’t be paying attention to the hands that count.
h2 class=”basic”>Banana, Granola Bars, and Other Brain Food

Another way to keep the internal fire burning is by maintaining your caloric intake, which is just a fancy way to say stuffing your face.

Assuming you eat a decent breakfast before hitting the tournament area, you can expect the hunger pains to come calling right around 3 p.m. With most events kicking off at 11 a.m., the lunch hour arrives in the afternoon, and it usually strikes with a vengeance.

Poker can be deceptively draining on the mind and body, especially for players who aren’t accustomed to the WSOP’s extended hours. You can expect to play for 14 hours – with regular breaks and a dinner hour sandwiched in there – in order to bag chips for Day 2. With that in mind, it’s crucial to keep your belly full throughout the day.

A backpack makes this task so much easier because you’ll always have a meal or two within arm’s reach. And don’t worry about eating at the table, either. The Rio offers food service and meal deliveries directly to the tournament table, and so long as you keep your food on the plate and not the cards, the dealer and fellow players won’t bat an eye.

I like to pack my own snacks, however, and I advise you to do the same.

First of all, the culinary quality of the infamous “Poker Kitchen” – an improvised food court added to the Rio’s convention area during WSOPs – is lacking, to say the least. You’ll be paying top-line prices for barely edible slices of pizza, soggy sub sandwiches, and sushi that didn’t make the Seafood Buffet cut.

And even if you ditch the Poker Kitchen for a meal delivery service like “All American Dave” and his healthy food truck creations, the $25 price tag can quickly eat up your spending money.

On the other hand, a few dollars will stock your room fridge with enough bananas, blueberries, and granola bars keep you nourished all day.

Those three items represent the bulk of my diet during a WSOP grind, both because they’re easily portable in a backpack and due to their powerful impact on the brain. The concept of “brain foods” – or food that plays a positive role in cognitive functions like memory, focus, and concentration – has been well-documented by modern science.

In laymen’s terms, foods like bananas, blueberries, and granola contain essential enzymes and neurotransmitters that directly influence brain activity. Your brain converts glucose into energy, for example, and as Barbara Shukitt-Hale of the USDA Nutrition Research Facility at Tufts University explains, bananas are jam-packed with the perfect level of glucose for optimal brain function:

“Graze slowly throughout the day to regulate glucose levels. It turns out that too much of a good thing is just as bad as under doing it. The brain operates best with about 25 grams of glucose in the blood stream, which is about what you’ll find in a banana.

Beans, lentils, whole grain pastas, and split peas are all good foods to casually snack on to keep your brain charged with glucose and optimized for thinking.”

The brain’s ability to send messages can be enhanced with a potassium-heavy diet, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a single banana contains 422 milligrams of the stuff. For that reason, I always make sure to grab at least two bananas before heading out into the wilds of the WSOP.

Another brain food to consider bringing in your backpack is blueberries. Back in 2006, Hollywood agent turned Texas Hold’em savant Jamie Gold famously won the WSOP Main Event while steadily munching from a bowl of blueberries. The fruit never left Gold’s side throughout his storied run, and when his $12 million victory was in the books, he attributed his mental focus and clarity to the power of blueberries.

Water Bottle

This one’s more of a personal preference, as the ever-present cocktail servers walking up and down the aisles, will always have tiny bottles of water available free of charge.

But if you’re anything like me, the sight of a thousand 4-ounce water bottles littering the Rio floor will leave you looking for a better way. Plastic waste is a scourge on the environment, and even if the Rio is recycling every last one, wasting an entire bottle on a few sips of water just doesn’t seem sustainable.

That’s why I like to bring a water bottle of my own.

First off, I can save a few bucks in tips during a long day. Second, and most importantly, I can easily reduce the number of bottles used by 10 or more daily (you can work up quite the thirst playing for a million bucks).

The tournament areas all have water coolers scattered throughout the room, so you can always take a quick walk to refill your bottle. And if you like to add lemon or tea to the mix, just ask a server for help, and they’ll gladly bring you whatever you need.


Imagine, if you will, the sound of a thousand chip stacks all being riffled in concert.

This strange buzzing sound provides the background noise for a busy WSOP event, and while it can be rather relaxing, you’ll eventually grow tired of the rapid-fire clicks and clacks. Add a few chatterboxes at the table to the mix, and even the most laid-back of players will find their patience wearing thin.

Headphones have become a standard addition to the poker player’s uniform of late for that very reason. The younger generation isn’t content with somebody else setting the soundtrack to their lives, so they simply retreat into the safety of their smart devices.

With a nice pair of quality headphones, you can catch up on Game of Thrones, run through the latest Jay-Z release on Tidal, or even pretend to ignore talkative tablemates. Headphones let you drown out the unwanted noise that comes with a crowded tournament, freeing you to focus intently on the game at hand.

>Portable Phone/Device Charger

If you’re using a smartphone or tablet at the table, the slow pace of a WSOP tourney will wind up draining your battery in no time.

But while other casinos have been committed to updating their tables, adding built-in charging stations underneath for each seat, the Rio has lagged behind in that regard. This turns the WSOP into a wild west of sorts when it comes to accessing electricity. There’s only so many wall outlets in each room, and even with the power cords present at the media tables, thousands of players are left with nowhere to charge their device.

You can solve this dilemma by making sure to pack a portable charger or battery pack. These ingenious tools let you soak up all the juice you need back at the room, so you can double up on your charging ability while playing poker.

When your phone or tablet gets low on battery power, just reach into your backpack and pull out your fully stocked charger. No need for outlets with this bad boy, so plug your device directly into it for a quick battery boost.

Portable chargers like this are a hot commodity during a long WSOP grind, and many players actually ask for a few bucks to “rent” their energy reserves.

The point of a portable charger is maintaining control over your own situation. Rather than run around the room during breaks searching for an unclaimed outlet – a fruitless quest, for the most part – why not carry your own outlet with you at all times?

Aspirin, Tylenol, Excedrin, Etc.

Maintaining control can be easier said than done when a headache or backache strikes.

Casinos are notorious for their garish fluorescent lighting, and the Rio is no exception. Spend a few days staring opponents down under the bright lights of the Amazon Room, and anybody can succumb to a tension headache.

And don’t get me started on those ramshackle chairs the Rio uses at the tournament tables. These things are hard metal overlaid with a thin cushion that doesn’t do much to pad your back and bottom. After a few hours in one of these contraptions, you’ll be feeling sore in places you never knew were there.

It’s always nice to have pain relief close at hand, so I like to carry a small bottle of aspirin or something similar whenever I’m at the WSOP. If I feel a migraine or stiff back coming on, I just take two and hope the pain subsides. More often than not, if I’ve been eating right and staying hydrated, the aspirin does the trick, and I’m right as rain.

Books or Reading Material

This is another one of those optional things, as you can certainly survive the WSOP grind without a book in your bag.

Even so, I find many players casually immersing themselves in a good story while the tournament plays out around them. Bracelet winner Leif Force comes to mind, and every time I played against him or sweated his table from the rail, he seemed to be engrossed in a sci-fi novel.

Nowadays you can probably use your tablet to catch up on your reading, but I’ve always been partial to the paperback. In any case, though, folks who grow bored or restless easily can benefit immensely from reading at the table.

Believe it or not, even the prestige of a WSOP event doesn’t change the actual poker gameplay. You’ll still be waiting for solid hands and favorable spots during the early levels, and even if you’re playing “loose,” you’ll be folding 60 percent of starting hands before the flop.

These facts of life combined with long 14-hour days can produce long stretches where nothing really happens. Sure, the table is still competing for pots against one another, but whether through cold cards or patient play, you’re sitting on the proverbial sidelines. Bringing a book you’ve been dying to read is a great way to make the day go by.

Just be sure to avoid poker strategy books at the table, or you’ll risk outing yourself as the “fish” in the game.

Use this step-by-step guide, and you’re sure to have everything you need in your WSOP backpack. Having everything you need saves time and added frustration you don’t need when you’re playing in a big poker tournament.

Petko Stoyanov
Get in touch with Petko
About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.