Traveling the World With the WPT and Matt Savage


7 minutes

Last Updated: May 3, 2024

As things are heating up here at the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Championship in Florida, I was able to “steal” a few precious minutes from Matt Savage, the WPT Executive Tour Director, and sit down for an interview focusing on his experience with the World Poker Tour and traveling the world to bring poker to every corner of the globe.

Q: Hi Matt, first of all, thank you for taking the time; I understand you must be quite busy, so it’s really appreciated. If I’m not mistaken, you’ve been with the World Poker Tour for well over two decades now?

Matt: I was there for Season One of World Poker Tour, did an event in a very small casino called Lucky Chances, but also was involved when Steve Lipscomb brought WPT to different venues. I was a big supporter of it. Mike Sexton and Linda Johnston brought it to our casino in Northern California, so I’ve basically been a part of the WPT since season.

Q: Wow, that must have been a journey. Have you ever counted how many trips you have per year these days?

Matt: This year, I’ll be on the road for six and a half or seven months of the year, which is a lot. I never expected it to be that much again. I used to travel a lot in the late 2000s and 2010, but this year, I seem to be traveling more than ever.

Q: And do you have a favorite place that stands out for you in particular?

That’s a tough one for me. I was married in Monaco, so my wife would want me to say Monte Carlo, but I’ve always loved Paris. Of other stops we did in Europe, Madrid was amazing. 

And, of course, there is my home casino, Bay 101 in Northern California, and the Shooting Star tournaments we had there. To me, those were probably the greatest tournaments we’ve ever held, only because I’ve been there since 1996. We might go back there the next there, so there’s a little teaser right there.

WPT Montreal

Q: Okay, great, I love those! During your travels, have you ever come across a certain location that had a rule or a certain piece of poker etiquette that you were really surprised by?

Matt: Absolutely. I was fortunate that when I founded the Tournament Directors Association (TDA), it kind of went global, and when you go from country to country and from location to location, that’s a great journey.

When I went to China, during the early days, I was going in and teaching dealers and the staff the procedures, and I walk into the room and it says “we use TDA rules” in Chinese – so that was always nice.

But, of course, there are many rules that are different, and when I go to these places, I try to change things so that they go with international standards. That’s been my biggest pride, teaching people to do things by the TDA international standards.

I don’t think that there is anything too shocking that I can remember, but I’ve definitely seen it all.

Q: What are some of the more common challenges that you encounter when setting up a new WPT location and working in different parts of the world?

Matt: I think the biggest challenge is scheduling dates and understanding the players’ market. A lot of times, you go to these different places, and they don’t play any other games besides No Limit Hold’em, or go to the places where Pot Limit Omaha is very big.

I think the scheduling is the biggest difficulty for me and finding the buy-in price. When we travel to some countries, maybe a smaller buy-in would be better; in some places where we go the buy-in might be bigger.

We’ve just been to Korea, and we had all big buy-ins, and players from all over Asia came to play. Then we went to Slovakia, and you have to have buy-ins a bit smaller; the same thing happened with Madrid; the buy-ins had to be a bit smaller to accommodate the market.

So I think, buy-in price, schedule, and the type of game they play are three biggest factors when we go to new places.

Q: This is actually a very interesting topic. So, how do you come up with the final decision about the buy-in price. Is it just the market, or?

Matt: Yes, it’s by the market, and now I work with these people where we do our WPT Primes, where the buy-in is always $1,000. You have to translate it into a local currency, so when we go to a place like Vietnam, it’s like a billion (laughter) – it’s 30,000,000 VND. Always translating those dollar amounts, but trying to keep it around the same amount.

Our Championship events for the main tour are always $3,500, so we have little parameters that we set up now. We are going to Montreal next month. We’re going to be doing WPT500, $1,100 Prime, and the $3,500 Championship event. We’re doing a little bit of everything because that event is going to be massive.

Q: You get to visit so many great places in your role as the Executive Tour Director, but between being on the floor and making sure things run smoothly, how much time do you actually get to enjoy what a certain place has to offer outside of the casino and is there anything, in particular, you like to do when traveling? 

Matt: I do. As a matter of fact, this trip right here in Florida, the weather has been beautiful. I went out and played golf, I went to an NHL hockey game and watched the home team, the Panthers, win. 

The restaurants here are great; the nightlife is very good, so you don’t get much sleep when you’re here. It’s not all about poker, there are other things to do, and that’s what we really like to focus on at the World Poker Tour – giving players not only the poker experience but the experience of being at the property.

That’s actually how the whole thing started with the World Poker Tour, it was more a travel destination show, and poker was kind of the background.

Q: Your work with the World Poker Tour has taken you all over the world. In many ways, traveling the world to set up poker tournaments and help spread the love for the game is such a great job to have, but I’m sure it’s also challenging at times. It must take some serious planning and compromises to be able to balance your personal and professional life. How do you prepare for all of that?

Matt: I’ve been very lucky that I have a very supportive wife. Marryann, my wife, she travels with me most of the time, she’s here with me now, but it doesn’t come without some sacrifices. My son is now 18 years old, he turned 18 last week, and I was in Slovakia.

There are some sacrifices and things you have to deal with, and it’s tough. He’s growing up, and he’ll be out of the house soon, and I’ve missed a lot of his life and a lot of things that maybe I should have been there for.

I’m very happy with my career and the things I’ve done with my career, but at the same time, there are some sacrifices you have to make. He’s been able to travel with me quite a bit as well, so we’ve been lucky in that respect.

In the summer, we have a San Remo event coming up in Italy, and hopefully he’ll be able to come with us, so gets to see the world, too.

Q: Is there still a place left that you would love to visit where you have never been before? 

Matt: The WPT has been to India and I have not been there. It’s one of the few places that I haven’t been to. I would love to go to India and be a part of that event. 

Other than that, maybe a tournament in Arctica or something really crazy like that. My son wants to visit Greenland or anywhere else I haven’t been to. I love traveling all over Asia and Europe, but of the places that the WPT has been to, India is the one I want to visit.

Good chat! Thanks a lot for taking the time; it was really a pleasure!

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