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So you’ve been beating the online games and want to give live casino poker a try at your local casino / card room. Or maybe you’ve decided to take a trip to Vegas and you’re feeling a bit anxious about that first visit to the brick and mortar?
Everyone has a little bit of anxiety, or is a little bit nervous about their first trip to a live card room to play poker. How do you get in a game? How many chips should I buy? Are there any special rules to follow that would differ from my home game? What if I make a mistake?
Fortunately, there are easy answers to all of these questions, and this article should help answer any questions you might have. After reading the following tips you will be ready for the live game, and can go do what you came there to do – win money!
Q: How do I get into a game?
A: When you first get to the casino, the first thing you’ll want to do is get into a game. Most establishments will have a front desk area where you can talk to one of the floor people who can either put you in a game right away, or put your name on a list.
Q: What stakes should I play?
A: Next, You’ll have to decide what casino poker game you want to play, at which point the floor will put you on the appropriate list to get seated in that game. Most casino poker rooms will spread a “lower” limit game (typically $3-$6 or $4-$8), a “higher” limit game ($10-$20 or $15-$30), and possibly a no limit game ($1-$2 NL, or $3-$6 NL) and/or a dealer’s choice game. Bigger establishments will spread more games and possibly higher / lower stakes games, but your average sized casino will likely be as above. Most Las Vegas casinos will be spreading any game you can think of.
Q: Is there anything I should know before sitting down at the table?
A: Before sitting down, it is generally a good idea to read the house rules. Different casino poker rooms have different rules with regards to things like smoking, rabbit hunting, spoken languages allowed at the table, etc. These rules are usually posted on the wall, or you can ask a floor person for a copy of the house rules. While you are waiting to be seated, you might as well read over the rules to avoid making any costly mistakes.
Q: Alright, I’ve decided what game I want to play and my name has been called… how much should I buy in for?
A: Chips can generally be bought at “the cage” in the casino poker room. The floor should point you in the right direction. If you are playing in a limit game, then typically 20-25 big bets is a good amount to buy in for. So if the game is $4-$8, 20 big bets would be $160 ($8 x 20), 25 big bets would be $200. If you are playing no limit, then typically the casino poker room will have a min. and a max. buy in. It’s usually best to buy in for the max so as to get the most value for your hands. Some people are of the belief that buying in short stacked gives you some kind of strategic advantage, but in my opinion, buying in short stacked only ensures that when you do get a big hand, you won’t be fully paid off for it. If you’re worried about losing the money that would be involved in buying in for the max in no limit poker, then you might want to re-think buying in to the game. Also, be prepared to have enough money on hand to re-buy should you lose your initial buy-in.
Q: OK, so I’ve been seated at a table, and just won my first hand! Should I tip the dealer? If so, how much?
A: You should absolutely tip the dealer EVERY SINGLE TIME you win a pot. Tipping is expected and dealers depend on tips just like a waiter in a restaurant does. How much you want to tip is completely up to you, but don’t feel that you have to go overboard with how much you tip. Remember, the casino poker room takes a portion (the rake) of every pot which cuts into your profits, and some take a portion of each pot for the “bad beat jackpot”. In a $4-$8 game, depending on the casino, this could mean as much as $5 is taken from a pot before you even tip the dealer. In a $4-$8 game you will sometimes be given $0.50 chips in some of the pots you win, as this is change from the amount of rake that was taken… I generally just give these to the dealer as a tip. In the lower limits, I would say generally a $0.50 – $2.00 tip is perfectly acceptable, although once again this is completely up to you. Just remember that if you tip $2.00 each time and win 20 pots that night, you’ve just tipped $40 for the night which is quite a bit. Obviously higher stakes games would warrant different tipping standards.
Q: I just won two hands in a row, and the dealer has announced that the “kill” is on. What does this mean?
A: Some card rooms have what are called kill games. In these games, there is a kill button which is given to the person who wins the pot. If this person wins two hands in a row, the “kill” is on. This generally means that the stakes have doubled (although different casino poker rooms may only have a half kill), so a $4-$8 game would now be $8-$16 for this hand. The person who turns on the kill has to post a kill blind which is usually double that of the big blind – so in the above example, the kill blind would be $8.
Q: Uh oh, I’ve just lost a bunch of hands and am now finding myself with a serious lack of chips. Should I buy more now or just wait until I’ve gone “all-in”?
A: As mentioned previously, you want to make sure that you get full value for the hands that you win. If you are find yourself short stacked and finally get that monster hand, you will miss your opportunity to get a lot of your money back. Ie: In a $4-$8 game, you are short stacked with only $40 left. You pick up pocket Aces, and someone else picks up pocket Kings. It is capped preflop (you have $16 in if capped at 4 bets), and capped on the flop ($16 more). You now only have enough for one bet on the turn as you will be all in. You win the pot, but had you bought more chips you probably would have won a lot more. Make sure you always have enough money on the table to cover a cap on every street – if the betting is capped at 4 bets, then make sure you have at least 12 bets (4 small bets preflop + 4 small bets on flop + 4 big bets on turn + 4 big bets on river). Use your best judgment in a no limit game, but usually you won’t want to go much below what the minimum buy-in requirements are.
Q: I don’t understand something / the dealer made a mistake / I think a card was exposed / I have a question:
A: If you have a problem with something that happened, don’t understand something, or just have a question, don’t hesitate to ask the dealer. If you feel embarrassed and don’t want to ask in front of the other players, find a floor person and ask them. If the dealer makes a mistake or a judgment call that you don’t agree with, call a floor person over. Just remember that dealer’s make mistakes just like anyone else, so give them a chance to call the floor over first before you go over their heads if there is a problem.
Q: I’ve just played a hand to showdown where I bet the river and the other player called. Who has to show their cards first?
A: The rules state that the last person to put a bet in has to show their cards first – if it was checked down, then the person in the earliest position shows first. A lot of people at the casino like to wait for the other person to show their hand first… this often leads to a stare down which holds up the game causing the hand to take much longer to finish than it needs to. DON’T BE ONE OF THESE PEOPLE! If you have played a hand to showdown, table your hand immediately (place both cards face up). You cannot win the pot if you do not turn BOTH cards face up. There are some circumstances where if you know the other person has to show first, and you know this is a thinking player and don’t want to give them any information, you might wait for them to show their hand first and then muck if you lose. This usually won’t be the case in lower limit games, so for the sake of the other players, table your hand at showdown so the dealer can award the pot to the winner and then move on to the next hand.
Q: HAVE FUN!
A: That’s what you’re here for, right? Talk to other players, meet new people, play the game you love and have fun! You’ll get used to the intricacies of playing in casino poker rooms pretty quick, so don’t get too hung up on not making a mistake if it’s your first time there. Try to avoid petty arguments with other players (not that they’re likely to happen often), relax, and have a good time!
I hope this article was helpful to anyone who is planning to go to the casino for the first time, or just had a few questions they were unsure about. Good luck and I’ll see you at the tables!