A poker run is when a group of enthusiasts get together and travel from place to place, obtaining playing cards, trying
to end up with the best poker hand. ‘Poker Runs’ refer to events that use multiple stops, and while not all poker
runs are created equal, each one, large or small, has it’s own personality.
People who operate motorcycles, boats, classic cars, hot rods, bicycles, airplanes and even hot air
balloons, get together for poker runs. There are motorcycle poker runs, boating runs, classic car runs, etc. Poker runs come
in all sizes. Generally, the bigger the run, the bigger the charity. Larger runs with 500 riders or more usually benefit established
charities such as the Leukemia Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Jimmy Fund, etc. Smaller runs usually benefit homeless
shelters, food pantries, municipal charities, and needy individuals. Other runs are just for fun, and the money is used for
the ‘after party’ or to benefit a club’s membership.
HOW DO I JOIN?
Smaller events advertise by word of mouth, putting up flyers, and in the case of motorcycle poker runs,
posting their events on biker friendly web-sites. Larger events advertise using newspapers, magazines, radio and sometimes
cable television. When you see a poker run being advertised --arrive at the designated place, at the designated
time, called the ‘sign in
", to register and pay your entry fee. Generally the entry fee
covers admission to an ‘after party’ that includes food, entertainment, raffles, and prizes for the best and worst
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
At ‘sign in’ each rider receives a ‘tally sheet’
a list of designated stops called ‘checkpoints’
. There can be anywhere from 3 to 7 checkpoints
and the distance between checkpoints varies by event. A conventional run has 5 checkpoints with the 1st
being the ‘sign in’ and the 5th
checkpoint being your final stop. Conventional runs also have
a ‘shotgun start’
immediately following sign in, where all riders leave the sign in
at the same time and travel together on a predetermined route with scenic views or open roads.
WHERE ARE THE CHECKPOINTS?
Checkpoints can be anywhere. In many cases, especially for local poker runs traveling
under 60 miles, checkpoints are made up of bars or restaurants. After players obtain a card, they can relax for
a short time, have a beverage, use the rest room, etc. Some poker runs have checkpoints outside in parking
lots of privately owned businesses, supermarket parking lots, motorcycle body shops, garages, rest areas, and commuter bus
WHAT DO THEY DO AT THESE CHECKPOINTS?
Each rider is required to carry their ‘tally sheet’ with them, and
when they arrive they are directed to a group of volunteers who help the players obtain cards. Conventional poker runs have
bags that contain all 52 playing cards and the rider reaches into the bag to get a card. The volunteer then marks the
appropriate box on their tally sheet to identify their card. The card goes back into the bag and the tally
sheet is returned to the player. Each player takes one turn reaching into the bag to get a card. The players do not
take the cards with them rather they simply document their cards on their tally sheet. Once all riders receive a card,
they saddle up and, as a group, ride to the next checkpoint until all checkpoints have been visited. At the final checkpoint,
also known as the ‘final card’
, ‘final stop’
, they turn in their tally sheets, gather to socialize and wait for the rest of the riders, and the results
of the poker run, to come in. (Variation:
Instead of reaching into a bag, players receive an envelope
when they arrive at each checkpoint. Envelopes can sometimes contain more than one card but generally, the ‘final poker
hand’ will consist of your 5 best cards).
WHAT ELSE HAPPENS AT THE FINAL STOP? The ‘after party festivities’ depend on who organizes
the event, how big it is, and the amount of the entry fee. 95% of the poker runs provide food
with the entry fee and many offer a cash bar. I have been on runs where the final stop was a restaurant
and players ordered from menus, paying for their own meals. Other times I rode the gauntlet
(two lanes of tight staggered formation) with 3000 + riders and attended huge parties with well known bands.
Some poker runs feature Pig Roasts, bike shows and casual riding competitions.
HOW MUCH IS THE ENTRY FEE AND WHAT CAN I WIN? Entry fees, sometimes called donations,
are generally between $10 and $20 with prizes for best hand ranging from cash to hotel accommodations,
to airline tickets and beyond. Large, well established benefit runs may sell or give away tee
shirts while using merchandise donations from local retailers as door prizes. Smaller poker runs mainly
sell cash and merchandise raffle tickets.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT POKER RUNS?
Poker runs vary by event and have unlimited possibilities.
They began decades ago, and now happen nationwide in the USA every weekend of every year.
Regular runs, or rallies, differ from poker runs by having a sign in and final stop only.
Many people join poker runs for the ride or to socialize, and are not motivated by first prize or the designated
A poker run is not a race, but rather a recreational outing for people with the same interest.
Many events are family oriented and some last for an entire weekend or longer.
Passengers are welcome and some entry fees are per bike, as opposed to per person.
Poker runs are ‘ride at your own risk’ events and some require signed release forms from all participants.
Size may matter…Very large runs raise lots of money and the festivities are usually more elaborate
however they can challenge a rider's confidence because of the crowds. Smaller runs
may be less hectic and don’t raise as much money but you can connect with other riders easier as a smaller group and the
parties are more intimate and relaxed.
Not only can poker runs use volunteers at checkpoints, but along the roads as well. Road Captains
and Ride Leaders are riders who volunteer to lead the poker run along the route. Road Guards ride
along to keep the group together (think cattle drive). Volunteer riders also block traffic and the Tail Gunner
juggles the rear of the run so no one gets left behind. These people are a blessing on larger runs for safety
reasons, but not all poker runs require them.