So you want to report on people playing cards?
Veteran PokerListings.com reporter Arthur Crowson goes through every item he takes to poker tournaments around the world including computer, camera, lenses, playing cards and more.
I don’t travel for poker quite as much as I used to (I’m based in Vancouver, Canada) but I still make the annual sojourn to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker and then to Malta in November for PokerListings’ Battle of Malta poker tournament.
My bag is virtually unchanged between those two events and the key components are a collection of photography equipment, a laptop and an iPhone.
Poler Excursion Pack
A lot of serious photographers would probably scoff at the fact I use a Poler bag instead of the usual Lowepro, Timbuk2 or Incase but occasionally I have to walk back alleys between casinos and would rather have something that doesn’t necessarily scream “I’m carrying thousands of dollars in camera equipment and electronics.”
I also like this bag because it's low profile and fits under media tables relatively easily.
Apple 15” MacBook Pro
There are actually some significant advantages to using a PC in the poker world. There are still a few online poker sites that have yet to release MacOS versions of their software and it would be nice to be able to play on those sites.
That said, I really like Macs to work on and have found them to be fairly reliable. I tried to use a 13” Pro for awhile and I just couldn’t hack it. Despite the fact I’m usually just writing, I tend to want a bit more screen real estate.
Apple iPhone 6
As with most jobs these days a smartphone is essential equipment.
I use mine to record interviews, Tweet, take photos/video if I don’t have my camera, or check chip counts/Twitter in real-time if I’m worried an interview subject might bust from a tournament.
Twitter is actually utilized in a unique way in poker because players use it while they are playing so I tend to check it often while I’m working.
I have a theory that it would be possible to cover a poker tournament from start to finish using only an iPhone or Galaxy but typing out recaps on a touch screen would be pretty bad.
DigiPower Travel Adaptor
This one is underrated but if you’re traveling to Europe/Australia/Asia etc. you’re going to need a power adaptor.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this particular brand but it’s an essential tool for covering poker overseas.
One tip is that hotels generally have a few spare adapters kicking around (especially the high-end ones) but if they’re out then you’re hooped.
Canon 7D Mark 1
Here’s the deal with poker photography: You need to be able to shoot in low light.
Although the subjects are usually quite still (poker faces, you know) the lighting can be quite poor in casinos. In addition you should never, ever use a flash while people are playing poker.
That means you’re going to need a decent camera and some fast glass.
My Canon 7D is getting a little old in the tooth but I still like the quality of the photos it produces.
I’m actually seeing more mirrorless cameras being utilized in the tournament floor but for now I’m sticking with DSLR.
Canon EF 50MM f/1.8
The “Nifty Fifty” is a good lens for poker, especially if you're on a budget.
It’s generally a little tight but you can get some outstanding shots if you put some work into it.
It’s definitely the best option if you’re looking to photograph a poker tournament on a budget. If you shoot Nikon then the 35mm 1.8 is a great one to use as well.
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8
The 24-70mm range is pretty much ideal as an all-around lens for poker.
This Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 isn’t in the same league as the Canon version (Image Stablization, ftw) but it’s also hundreds of dollars cheaper.
I like this lens for wider shots but hate the quality when fully zoomed. I usually use it for winner photos and landscapes of the entire tournament floor.
Canon 70-200mm 2.8L IS
This might seem like overkill but it’s fantastic when you’re trying to shoot from one end of a poker table to the other.
You can also use it to get some great close up shots, which would be impossible with shorter lenses.
A cheaper option is of course the 70-200 4.0L, which is still pretty solid.
Sometimes you get into a weird spot with this lens where action is happening too close to focus. Ideally you’d have an additional body with a wide angle attached.
Apple iPad Mini 2
This thing is pretty much a Hearthstone and online poker player at this point although it's also great for watching movies or TV shows on long plane rides.
Funny story: I won this particular iPad in a media poker tournament at the WSOP. I like to think of it as the poker equivalent of paying the iron price from Game of Thrones.
Poker Swag and Misc. Poker Chips
You tend to accumulate this stuff when you travel the international poker circuit for 10 years.
It used to be that when you qualified for a big tournament like the WSOP Main Event through an online poker site they gave you a player bag that included a variety of branded-clothing and accessories to use while you played the tournament.
Quite often those items find their way to the media. I’ve received everything from PokerStars-branded hockey jerseys to Dearfoam slippers. The vast majority of it is garbage but there are a few gems.
Also you tend to rack up a few poker chips when you work in casinos all the time. I have no memory of getting that Gold Coast one.
Deck of Playing Cards
Come on. This is a gimme, right?
Go with Copag or Kem. Accept no substitutes. Paper cards are terrible.
Physical pen and paper are still quite useful for poker reporting. I don’t do that much tournament reporting these days but when you do it’s essential to have something to write down the various cards and the action. A big hand can take several pages.
I usually use mine to make notes, scribble out story ideas or questions for interviews. There are some tournament reporters who use tablets but I could never quite hack it. Too slow/awkward.
I have about 500 of these kicking around. You wear these so you don’t get kicked off the tournament floor.
Las Vegas is really sunny.
Hawkers are super cheap and polarized.
I feel like most people in poker have migrated to using touchpad exclusively but I still feel like I need a mouse.
The Logitech G602 is a little ostentatious but I like the fact that it’s wireless and fast enough to do a little gaming. The battery lasts forever too.
The Complete Kit
Here's a look at the entire kit one more time:
Arthur Crowson is a journalist that’s been exclusively covering professional poker for over a decade. He writes, edits and shoots photos for PokerListings.com. Over the years he’s interviewed poker pros Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey and Phil Hellmuth as well as poker-playing celebs Aaron Paul, Kevin Pollak and Jennifer Tilly among others. You can follow him at @arthurcrowson.