You've got your visa. You've booked your flights. Maybe you've even bolstered your bankroll with a nice online score. There's nothing left to do now but get excited about one of the more unique poker stops out there.
Following on from May's PokerStars Championship, we're returning to the Russian city of Sochi in October for what's sure to be an amazing PokerStars Festival. Kicking off on October 16th and running until the 22nd, the Festival offers a healthy schedule of affordable tournaments and cash games - with healthy guarantees to boot - all set on the beautiful Black Sea coast.
You might remember Sochi from its hosting duties at the 2014 Winter Olympics, but this city doesn't have to be covered in snow to be enjoyed. In fact, it's known as a summer beach resort for holidaymakers, and throughout the Festival the weather is expected to be warm and sunny.
So if you've been too busy planning for the poker to see what else there is to do out in Sochi, we've got you covered. Here's your guide to Sochi and the PokerStars Festival.
WHERE TO STAY?
All the poker action takes place at the elegant Sochi Casino and Resort. The casino is attached to the Sochi Marriott Krasnaya Polyana Hotel, which is where all online qualifiers will be staying. Due to its location it's ideal for this poker stop, but if you're making your own arrangements here are some other suggestions.
If you want to remain close to the poker action, the Hotel Calipso is just a short walk away. A modern ski resort complex, the hotel offers everything you'll need including restaurants and bars, with at very reasonable prices per night.
However, if you're looking for something a bit more extravagant, the Rixos Sochi hotel is just a 15-minute drive away from the casino (and there are shuttles that can run you back and forth). Set high on a mountain, the luxury hotel offers incredible views and is complete with a spa and a choice of fantastic restaurants.
BUILD A MEGASTACK
Kicking off with the 11,000P (approximately $180) PokerStars MEGASTACK event (with one re-entry per flight), the Day 1A flight begins at 2pm on Monday 16th October. Players get a 50,000 starting stack with blinds beginning at 100/200/25, and with 30-minute levels throughout there's plenty of play to be had.
Should you bust two bullets, don't worry. Not only can you re-enter the next day, but now you get your first chance to get out and about.
Sochi is simply stunning to look at, and all the better from the highest vantage point. We recommend beginning your explorations by taking a hike up the mountains (helped by a cable car, if the thought of trekking it terrifies you), where on clear, sunny days you can look down upon the city and see all the sights. Along the way you'll spot several Olympic sites, from ski-jumping slopes to luge tracks.Sochi's Olympic legacy is clear for all to see throughout the city
Evening recommendation: For a fun yet relaxing environment, wind down at Harat's Irish Pub, just a short walk from the casino. If you're looking to watch live sports with some good grub while in Sochi (or you want to do some late-night drunken karaoke!) this is the place to go. If that's not your thing you can cross the road and check out Burger Pub Khorosheye Mesto for a great selection of burgers (obviously), steaks and local Russian craft beers.
Depending on how you did during Day 1A, you can either take Tuesday 17th off or hop in the MEGASTACK Day 1B at 2pm. There's also a reduced-clock Day 1C flight at 8pm, should things not go to plan.
If you're taking the day off from poker, you might want to spend it down the beach. You can get to the Black Sea coast via trains that run from Krasnaya Polyana (just ask in your hotel reception for more information), or alternatively it takes around an hour by car.
Dinner recommendation: take a short taxi ride from the poker rooms down to the Rosa Khutor hotel, and enjoy an amazing meal at the Red Fox restaurant. Widely considered one of the best restaurants in the area, you can enjoy local delicacies including lamb neck with oyster mushrooms and pear sauce, or some of the finest seafood around. It's on the pricey side, but it's well worth it.
Wednesday 18th sees the Day 1 MEGASTACK survivors merge for Day 2, while also hosting PokerStars Festival Main Event satellites and a Win the Button side event.
THE MAIN EVENT
Things really start to heat up on Thursday 19th, with Day 1A of the PokerStars Festival Main Event. The 66,000P (~$1,100) tournament comes with a massive prize pool worth $500,000 (~RUB 30million), so is sure to have a great turn out. Play kicks off at 12pm.
Pavel Shirshikov took down the Championship Main Event in May, beating Russian poker legend and high roller regular Vladimir Troyanovskiy heads up. You can expect plenty of Russia's best players to be in this event too. After all, while Day 1A is underway there's also a satellite to the High Roller taking place at 6pm.
Should you bust the Main Event during Day 1A, don't fret. Day 1B begins at 12pm Friday, with a turbo Day 1C flight starting at 9:30pm for everyone who played and busted one of the other starting flights.
However, if your Main Event is over for good but you still want to play some poker with a lower buy-in, you can hop in the 22,000P (~$370) Sochi Poker Cup. These tournaments are incredibly popular at every Festival stop, and with two starting flights (and one re-entry per flight) the eventual prize pool is sure to make this event well worth a shot.
Evening recommendation: If you're looking to try some traditional Russian fare for dinner, head over to the River Cafe situated right in the Sochi Marriott hotel. Try some Classic Borscht - it's delicious!
By the time Saturday 21st rolls around, the Main Event will be moving onto Day 2, while the Sochi Poker Cup holds its Day 1B. If you're out of everything and have the bankroll to keep on grinding, then the 132,000P (~$2,200) High Roller is where you want to be.
Players begin with a 30,000 starting stack and blinds at 50/100, with 40-minute levels increasing to 60-minute levels on Day 2. There is also a single re-entry option in this one, just in case your aces get cracked.
Of course, while we love poker (and trust that you do too, as you're reading this), it's always worthwhile getting away from the tables for a bit.
If you need some fresh air, head down to the Sochi Arboretum where you'll find more than 1,800 exotic and rare plants that are brought to the park from different parts of the world. There are also rare animals and birds living within the arboretum, and if you enjoyed your first cable car experience earlier in the trip you'll be happy to know there's one here too. It gives you spectacular views of the mountains and the sea, which open at the top point of the arboretum.
History buffs may want to check out Stalin's Summer Residence, and the Stalinist period Empire Style buildings. And then there's the StarsFun events, including the player's party, and the chance to meet and greet the Team PokerStars Pros in attendance.
The Main Event, High Roller and Sochi Poker Cup all come to an end on Sunday, drawing a close to the festivities. In this article we've listed only a handful of possible attractions and activities you could see and do while in Sochi; there are dozens more, so you'll never be bored.
Ultimately though, we hope you go deep and take down the Main Event. Good luck!