Industry Insider: WPT at Sea Poker Manager Kirk Saunders Talks the High Seas

Kirk Saunders

You’ve probably heard about it by now World Poker Tour (WPT) and her upcoming WPT Travelwhich will take place from March 31 – April 6, 2024 You take over a complete cruise ship from Virgin Voyages – the 1,400-cabin ship Brave lady – For a Six-day poker festival with $1.5 million in guaranteesincluding one $5,000 buy-in, $1,000,000 GTD WPT Main Event.

Ahead of the WPT trip, PokerNews will feature several WPT employees at the Sea Poker Room in our “Industry Insiders” series. For those who don’t know, the WPT at Sea is the actual poker room on board Virgin Travel (currently on Scarlet Lady cruise ship, but will soon be expanded to others).

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Meet Kirk Saunders

Kirk Saunders
Kirk Saunders on a cruise trip.

A native of Michigan, 42-year-old Saunders is married to his wife Kelli and the two share a pair of Yorkshire terriers – Makki and Miso. Saunders attended Brandon High School, where he graduated in 2000 as class salutatorian. There he also earned varsity degrees in cross country, basketball and track and field (he threw shot put and discus). After attending Georgia Tech, Saunders earned a degree in management from the University of Phoenix.

“I learned poker from my dad at the kitchen table when I was about five years old,” Saunders said PokerNews. “The game consisted of five cards and there wasn’t too much strategy involved. I learned how to play Hold’em on WPT and other television shows we put out in the early 2000s. Strategy and the like were mainly learned by reading books from 2+2. My preferred game is Limit Hold’em as it is fun and a simpler strategy game for me.”

So how did he end up working in the poker industry?

“My first job in poker was as a poker room manager for a charity room at a bowling alley in Clarkston, Michigan,” he explained. “I worked in various charity rooms as a dealer, tournament director and room manager for about two years. The charity space scene has changed significantly since I worked there. They’re still running, but there aren’t as many as there used to be.”

From there, Saunders began his first house job at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, West Virginia, where he worked as a dealer for about three years. Since then he has worked as a traveling salesman and house dealer. Currently he travels and works primarily at the Wynn in Las Vegas, the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida and of course the WPT at Sea.

“I worked with Emily DeLaine “I attended many tournament stops and the job was discussed in January 2023,” Saunders said of his opportunity to work on the cruise ship. “The main reason she thought of me was how often my wife and I go on cruises. We are at sea for over 180 days and love cruises. The combination of work and vacation really fascinated us.”

Kirk Saunders
Kirk Saunders in Cozumel.

He continued: “I like the relaxed atmosphere of the players the most. When players come on the ship, they are there to have a good time. It’s great fun for players who appreciate a fun poker environment. Day 1 of the cruise is almost every player’s first day in the space and creates a fun energy.”

On board, Saunders is a big fan of all the restaurants on board.

“Generally, I get a filet at The Wake (Steakhouse), a strip steak at Extra Virgin (Italian), the ribeye at Pink Agave (Mexican), and the galbi (beef ribs) at Gunbae (Korean). Unfortunately, there’s no steak at Razzle Dazzle, so I’m going to get a chicken sandwich,” said Saunders, who also shared that his favorite port of call is Cozumel.

He also had some recommendations for those visiting WPT at Sea.

“Have fun. That’s the point of poker. There are a lot of new players and this is the best opportunity to learn to play. Many players are complete poker newbies or recreational players,” he said. “Also check out the beach club “Bimini. This is an extension of the ship, but on land. It’s a big party with your fellow sailors… Poker may not be your main focus on the cruise, but there’s enough of it to make booking a Virgin Voyage worthwhile.”

WPT Voyage vs. WPT at Sea – What is the difference? Here you will find everything you need to know

What is WPT at Sea?

WPT at sea
Outside the WPT in the Sea Poker Room on the Scarlet Lady.

Not to be confused with WPT Voyage, WPT at sea is a real poker room on the ship Scarlet Lady (and soon on other Virgin Voyages). As you read this, this poker room is currently operating on the high seas.

“After experiencing the magic of cruise poker with Virgin Voyages last season, we wanted to immediately establish a permanent presence,” said WPT CEO Adam Pliska. “Scarlet Lady provides the perfect residence for WPT at Sea, which will bring the WPT poker experience to the high seas.”

The room facilities eight custom-made poker tables staffed with professional traders. The following applies to cash games: The rake is a reasonable 10% up to $10, which is much lower than other cruises. For tournaments, buy-ins for a typical sailing sport range from $80 to $320.

Recently WPT at Sea hosted one $240 buy-in for the Main Eventwhich awards a WPT prize package to a future sailor.

WPT at sea
In the WPT at Sea Poker Room.

The room is aimed at players of all experience levels, from absolute beginners to seasoned professionals. For the former, the staff provides beginner training on every trip, and dealers also offer their services if 1:1 instruction is desired.

WPT at Sea goes where the ship goes, meaning those who play poker can also experience new and exciting destinations. The room is closed when the ship is docked, giving sailors an incentive to get off the ship and check things out. But don’t worry, once everyone is back on board, it won’t be long before the cards are back in the air.

Here are some other things you should know about WPT at Sea:

  • The WPT at Sea poker room does not accept cash. Sailors conduct all transactions via their wearable devices (all sailors wear a wristband that allows them to be scanned at various locations on the ship), so buy-ins can easily be charged to your account. Tournament winnings will also be credited to the account (you can cash out either at the casino cage or at the end of the cruise).
  • Private games and meetings are permitted at WPT at Sea.
  • Next door there is a casino area with a wide selection of slot machines, roulette, craps, blackjack and other table games.
  • The WPT at Sea poker room has windows so you can enjoy a view of the sea outside.
  • The poker room has its own bathrooms.
  • Not only is there a bar in the casino directly in front of the poker room, but beverage services also ensure quick service for sailors playing poker.
  • WPT at Sea offers up to 25% off depending on the cruise and free drinks worth up to $600. Be sure to inform yourself when booking.
  • WPT at Sea is very active on Instagram You can follow by clicking here.

WPT at Sea is accepting reservations through the end of 2024. To find out more or book your cruise,Visit

Check out the WPT at Sea Poker Room review here on PokerNews!

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Chad Holloway

Editor-in-Chief USA

Editor-in-Chief USA, co-host of the PokerNews Podcast and 2013 WSOP bracelet winner.


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