What Is a Poker Run?

A poker run is typically organized by motorcycle clubs and community centers to raise funds and bring community members together. Maybe you’ve tried your hand at the poker variants out there, but a poker run is like nothing you’ve played before. In fact, it’s not a card game at all!

A poker run is a game where participants are expected to travel to five or seven different locations and collect a playing card at each stop. When they get to the final stop, the player with the best poker hand wins the event. 

Sounds like a lot of fun, right? In this article, I’ll delve a little deeper into poker runs and how to organize one in your locality.

What’s the Point of a Poker Run?

In my 10 years as a professional poker player, I’ve never seen something quite like a poker run.

Based on the format, it’s clear that there’s no skill involved when you’re part of a poker run. You don’t need to know the perfect poker preflop strategy to participate or to win. All you have to do is travel to predetermined locations outlined at the start of the race and collect the cards waiting for you there.

The point of a poker run is to create a trail of checkpoints that allows people to explore different localities, like a new bar in town or a revamped part of the neighborhood. Poker runs are often organized to raise funds for a charitable cause.  

The element of luck and the thrill of the race makes poker runs exciting (and legal) for people of all ages.

Video: WInter Poker Run in Florida

Rules of a Poker Run

You’ll need a ticket to attend a poker run, often sold a few months before the event. Most poker runs are organized by motorcycle clubs and typically span over seventy-five miles, with numerous stops along the way.

Motorcycle poker runs help bring the biking community together while allowing many participants to explore new areas in and around their town.

However, as of lately, poker runs also involve different modes of transport, like bicycles, cars, and even boats! It’s also possible to participate in a poker run on foot.

The method of transportation and checkpoints will differ significantly depending on the people organizing the run and where it’s organized.

The rules for winning remain the same for most poker runs, regardless of how they’re organized or the mode of transport used. However, the number of cards collected and the goal of each checkpoint will differ based on the event. 

Here are some general rules you can expect at any poker run:

  • You will be given a scorecard when you enter the competition. This scorecard is where all the cards will be recorded as you pass through the stops.
  • When you reach a checkpoint, you will be asked to draw a card. The value of this card will be recorded on your scoring sheet. You will receive a stamp indicating that you have passed through the required checkpoint. 
  • Most checkpoints may have a task you need to complete. These tasks are usually fun ways to bond with the other participants. For example, a checkpoint at a bar may need you to finish a beer or two before receiving your card. This small activity allows players to chat with each other.
  • In most poker runs, you need to reach the final stop before the time runs out. If you fail to do so, you’ll be disqualified. Some events allow you to pay a small fee and draw an extra card at the last stop. 
  • When you have reached the last stop, you’ll submit your scorecard. The best five cards will be marked as your hand. The highest poker hand at the end of the run wins the event.

Some poker runs have more than five checkpoints, but players will only be able to use their best five cards when submitting their final hand. The best hand is determined using the standard poker hand ranking system

I should mention here that a poker run will involve only one deck. This is so that hand values aren’t repeated.

Most runs are organized in a way that participants are grouped into teams. By creating teams, it’s easier to get more people in on the excitement, even though there’s only one deck being used.

What is a Poker Run? It is often a fundraiser.

How To Organize a Poker Run

If you’re planning an event to promote awareness, raise funds for a charitable cause, or simply let people have a good time, a poker run is an exciting way to do it.

Organizing a poker run isn’t so straightforward, it’s a surefire way to build rapport within a community. I’ve seen all kinds of people bond during these events, even if just for a short while.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered that should help you organize a great poker run:

1. Figure Out Your Cause

Think about why you’re planning a poker run in the first place. Is it to raise funds for an underprivileged group? Do you want the people in your community to know each other better? Whatever the reason, figure it out and advertise the event in a way that people understand why you’re doing it.

For example, if you’re raising money to donate to cancer research, market your poker run in a way that people know what they’re paying for. You’ll be surprised at the number of people who want to donate to a charitable cause but aren’t sure where to get started.

2. Partner With Local Businesses

If you want to make the checkpoints both personal and exciting, it’s best to reach out to local businesses in your area, like small restaurants or bars, and let them know about the event you’re planning. 

Ask them to cooperate in setting up checkpoints and other activities, like handing out cards and marking scoresheets—in permanent markers, of course. 

You might be able to sell the idea to local business owners by highlighting how their establishments can benefit from the event. Restaurants can get new customers to know them, and some participants may even stop for a meal before heading out to the next checkpoint.

Most businesses will agree to cooperate, since there’s not much effort required from their side, except giving participants a card and marking their sheets.

3. Get the Scorecards

You’ll have to leave a scorecard in the first business or establishment participants pass through during their run. The employees at the first stop will be responsible for handing these scorecards to participants and briefly explaining what they mean. At the end of the run, the scorecards will be used to determine the winner.

4. Determine a Prize

Once you’ve figured out the route and gotten a few local businesses on board, it’s time to determine a prize for the winner. The prize can be money, but if you’re organizing a charitable event, make sure there’s another prize involved. In general, a poker run is organized for fun, and a monetary reward doesn’t really fit the vibe.

One of the best prizes you can offer is a deal at a bar or restaurant that forms part of the trail. Organizing this prize may take a bit of effort from your side: you’ll have to coax the establishment owner to agree on the award. 

For example, a free beer every day for a week at the local bar strikes a good balance between attractiveness and feasibility. The award won’t cost the owner much, and the participant will take full advantage of that free beer.

Alternatively, if it’s a restaurant, a free meal every weekend for a month sounds like an epic prize.

Of course, the reward will depend on your imagination and what you’re willing to offer in exchange for the poker run. As a general tip, it’s best to tie up with one of the local businesses that played a part in the poker run.

5. Figure Out Transportation

A significant element in poker runs is the mode of transport used during the event. While organizing an entire poker run on foot is possible, they’re often more fun when using vehicles. By requiring a car or motorcycle, you can also expand the scope of the event.

The mode of transport will depend on the social circle you’re involved with. If you cycle regularly and have a few cycling friends, a bicycle poker run should be easier to organize. If you aren’t too big on any transport, a poker run with cars should work well—depending on where you live, most people own one.

Figure out the type of transport you want to include in your event and advertise that from the start.

USA biker poker run
A poker run is not as much about competition as it is for the cause. They are often of a fundraiser nature, although the rewards are not to be ignored for the winners.

Is a Poker Run Considered Gambling?

A poker run isn’t considered gambling as there’s no traditional buy-in involved, and the prize rarely consists of money. Most poker runs are organized for charity to raise funds and awareness towards a specific cause. To be safe, it’s crucial to check your state laws before organizing a poker run.

Do You Need to Arrive First to Win a Poker Run?

You do not need to finish the race first to win a poker run. Most poker runs specify a time limit for all participants to visit the checkpoints and collect their cards. 

Your hand will qualify as long as you arrive at the last stop before the time limit is over. The player with the best poker hand wins the run, even if they finished at last place.

Final Thoughts

A poker run is an exciting way to get people together for some friendly competition while raising funds or spreading awareness for some cause. The best part of it is that you can organize a poker run as a part of any gathering, like a bachelorette party, wedding, or even a birthday. Overall, it’s a great way to add excitement to any event.

Before organizing one, I suggest you figure out the kind of crowd you’re working with and your reason for hosting a poker run.

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