Your first trip to the casino is usually an overwhelming one. Players are huddled around tables, cheers and cries of winners and losers ring out, bells and flashing lights echo from the casino floor. The casino environment is a feast of overstimulation. It's only natural to feel a little freaked out when you enter it for the first time.
Once you get to the poker room it's usually no better. There are the TVs plastered to the walls and diminutive figures with piles of chips in front of them, managers and chip runners and security all milling about. If you aren't careful you can find yourself easily distracted. This article is to help make your first trip to the casino poker room a smooth transition from your regular game.
What to Do Before You Play Poker
1. Put Your Name on the Wait List. Get the poker room number off the Internet, call and put your name on the waiting list before you leave for the casino.
Usually the poker room will allow one hour between the time you call and the time you arrive at the casino to check in. If there is a waiting list, this will save you from having to sit around the casino for an extra hour getting tempted by rigged house games.
2. Check in. When you first arrive at the casino head straight to the poker room and check in with guest services. If there's still a large wait list you may be offered a pager that will beep when your seat is available.
This is a good idea if you'll be wandering around checking out all the action. Now is the time to ask any questions you may have about buy-ins and things like that.
3. Avoid the Trap of Casino Pit Games. This needs a section of its own. You are a poker player and poker players are above playing -EV games. So don't waste your time or money!
You can stick around the poker room and watch TV or read some poker magazines to kill the time. Whatever you do, don't put your buy-in down on one hand of blackjack!
4. Learn the Rules. Familiarize yourself with the particular poker room's rules. Most, if not all, poker rooms have their rules posted somewhere in the vicinity. Every room will have different rules so it's always a good idea to look over the rules and avoid surprises.
It sounds kind of dumb, but if you're a real beginner at poker and only played in home games, it might be worth it to have a quick refresh of the poker hand rankings. Your mind does weird things when under new pressures and you never know what gears might get stuck.
5. Get Your Own Chips. To save time you can go to the cage yourself and get your chips. You may choose to wait until you are at the table and then give your money to the dealer or a chip runner but it will just take longer. So while you're waiting, just get your chips from the cage yourself.
6. Lay Your Money on the Table. When handing money to a casino employee it's good to get into the habit of just placing the money on the table. Casino employees are not supposed to accept money directly from a player's hand so just lay your money on the table and they'll take it from there.
7. Listen for Your Name. Your name will most likely be called over a PA system. So if you don't have a pager, keep an ear out. If you miss your name getting called you'll be taken off the list. So make sure you listen!
When your name is called, report to where you checked in and they'll show you to your seat.
Your First Live Poker Game
1) Post to Get Dealt In. Most casinos require you to post an amount equal to the big blind before you can get dealt in. Not all casinos have this rule, so if you're in doubt don't be afraid to ask the dealer.
If you're close to the big blind, don't bother posting as you'll have to pay the big blind soon anyway. Once you're seated the game plays exactly like any other poker game - except now you have a trained dealer running the game for you.
2) Always Call Out Your Action. This will make the game infinitely easier for you and everyone else at the table. There are so many situations that arise that would never happen if everyone just called their action. So get in the habit now.
If you want to call, say call; if you want to raise, say raise, say the amount and then move your chips; if you want to fold, say fold.
If you call your action you can also avoid the infamous string bet. (A string bet is when you wish to bet or raise and you come out with only part of the bet and then go back to your stack for the rest of the bet. This is not allowed and only the first part of the bet will count.)
3) Always Have Your Cards Visible in Front of Your Stack and Protected with a Chip on Top of Them! This shows everyone you are still in the hand.
The chip on your cards protects your hand. If a player throws his cards toward the muck and they accidentally hit your hand and it's not protected, your hand is dead no questions asked.
Likewise, if you're sitting in seat 1 or 10 and the dealer takes your unprotected hand and puts it in the muck, your hand is dead, no questions asked.
So always, always always protect your hand. You don't even have to use a chip - you can use your lucky Hello Kitty bobblehead if you really want.
4) Follow the Action. Always follow the action at the table. Don't be that guy who never knows whose turn it is. The dealer makes it obvious who the action's on so always be prepared when it is your turn to act.
5) Arrange Your Chips into Stacks of 20. This makes betting much easier. A stack of twenty $1s is $20; a stack of twenty $5s is $100; a stack of twenty $25s is $500; etc. Stacks of 20 make the game run smooth as silk. Which the video below for help on stacking your chips:
6) Always Make Sure You're Awarded the Pot Before Relinquishing Your Hand. Many people have thrown their hand toward the center of the table thinking they're the winner only to find that someone else holds a live hand.
In this situation the pot is awarded to the last player with a live hand. So don't ever give your hand up until the pot is shipped your way. Some dealers may even ask you to give them your hand first.
Never do this; tell them, "I'll trade you - the pot for my cards."
7) Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions. Asking questions does not tell everyone at the table you're a fish. If you are unfamiliar with how a casino does something ask the dealer, ask the poker manager, ask anyone.
Remember it's only natural to feel intimidated your first time playing at a casino. So don't let your nervousness faze you. It's the same game you've played your whole life.
Just find your zone and concentrate on playing good solid poker and eventually all the distractions will just melt away.
Once you become acclimatized to the casino you'll see past all the glitz and glam and your eyes will be open to the beauty that is casino poker. A game that is just one step above shooting fish in a barrel!
Bonus tip: If you really want to look the part at the poker table, practice shuffling your chips at home before you arrive. Check our video below for a full lesson!
Good luck at the tables!!!
Switching from Online Poker to Live Poker
Are you an online player making the transition to being a live player for the first time? Check our advice on making the switch from online poker to live poker here:
More on Poker Basics
- Daniel Negreanu's 7 Golden Rules for Poker Beginners
- Casino Poker Games | Play Casino Poker Games Online
- Poker Basics: Complete Poker Basics Video Series
- How Not to Suck at Poker: Play Fewer Hands
- 10 Simple Poker Tells You Can (Usually) Count On
- 10-Minute Texas Hold'em Poker Crash Course
- How to Survive Your First Live Poker Tournament