Before we get into how to better play the game, let’s go over some things so you at least don’t embarrass yourself in a casino or a pretty professionally run home game. There’s no right place to start with this, so I will just do a brain dump and see what pops out.
When You First Approach a Casino Poker Room…
The following few items will show you are somewhat knowledgeable of the casino system, that you are polite and courteous, and not a Newb off the street waiting to be fleeced by the pros.
- The Lists – There are usually electronic boards, or large computer monitors showing what games are being played and how many people are in line to play them. Study these for a bit to see what games may be in your skill and budget range. You can also download the Bravo app for many smartphones and it will give you the same information if the casino is part of the Bravo system. It may save you a long trip across town if you know they have a list of 32 players for your particular games. Some casinos will let you call ahead and put your name on the list over the phone.
- The Podium – there will usually be a podium in front of the Poker Room where 1 or 2 floor personnel are waiting to put you on a list. Typical request would be “Hi, I’m Paul M. Do you have seats available of $2-5 No Limit?” Floor person: “Paul, you are 3rd on the list.” Paul: “Do you have any $1-3 No Limit available while I wait?” (You would actually probably know all this from the board, but are being polite.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Always be polite. These are the people that run the room. You want them to like you. It may get you some extra consideration down the line.
- The Wait – if no seats are available, find a comfortable spot nearby where you can hear them call your name and pick up a Card Player or Bluff or Ante Up magazine and catch up on the latest poker articles. Watch your prospective table. Pay attention to who is aggressive, passive, etc. Notice the typical betting size, raise size, and when shown, what hands are typically winning (two pair, top pair, full house etc.)
When They Seat You at a Table…
We’ll talk about seat and table selection later. Right now, we are just trying to avoid you embarrassing yourself. If you do have a choice of seats, select one to the immediate left of the most aggressive player. You want to know what he does before you have to act. Most likely only one seat will be open. You can ask the dealer for a seat change button so that if a better seat opens up at that table, you can move to it.
- Have your money ready. A chip runner will likely come by, count your money out, and go get your chips (or tokes as they are sometimes called). They will announce to the dealer (who may announce it to the table) that you are playing with $XXX “behind”. So if you gave them $400 for chips, they will say that you are playing $400 Behind. Essentially giving you credit till your chips arrive. Some casinos will let you play with some chips and hundred dollar bills stacked behind them. (Very recently, casinos are NOT allowing cash to play. I have heard it is an IRS thing.) For the superstitious, a $50 bill on the table is supposed to be Bad Luck. Most poker rooms won’t let them play anyway. When they say “money plays”, they mean $100 bills only. Tip the chip runner a$1 chip if you feel like they were fast, courteous, etc. Sometimes you may need to go to the cashier and get your own chips if the casino does not have runners.
- Know what The Max and Minimum Buy Ins are for your table. For example, at Bellagio, at the $2-5 NLH table, the maximum buy-in is $500. At Aria, it’s $1000. The minimum for that table is usually $100-$200. Buying in for the minimum amount shows fear. Buy-in for 75%-100% of the maximum buy-in. Even if you don’t bet it, it shows you are not playing with scared money and/or not a Newb.
- Play or Wait for the Big Blind or behind the Button? One of the first decisions you have to make is “to come in now, or wait?” Ask the dealer if “this casino makes you post or not?” What that means is that some casinos make you post at least a Big Blind anytime you sit down. Some don’t. If you are a few seats before the Big Blind, wait for the Big Blind to land on your seat. No sense in paying the Blind twice if you don’t have to. Shows you understand the economics of the button. Some people wait till AFTER the Button and post both Small and Big Blinds. This gives them a good position, but I look at it as they paid for 3 hands they didn’t get and are still not the button. Bottom line here: If the blinds are just a few seats away, wait. If the button has just past, either post or play for free (depending on the house rules). No sense in waiting 9 hands to get into the game. You came to play, not watch.
- Give the Dealer your Players Card to track your hours. If you don’t have one, get one. Most casinos will “comp” you (Compensate) for hours played. Poker does not make tons of money for casinos, so they usually just comp you credits to be used at the food courts or hotel restaurants. But hey! it’s still free money for something you are doing anyway. Use your card, get the comps. I haven’t paid for a meal in a casino in years. Some casinos pay $2 per hour for every hour you play cards. Some times they don’t let the comps expire. It can add up. A friend of mine has hundreds and hundreds of comp credits on his cards.
- Go Out of Your Way to Find Out The House Rules. It is your responsibility, not the dealer or the casino, to make sure you know the rules. For example:
- Know how long you can leave the table. In Phoenix, they will pick up your chips if you are gone from the table more than 15 minutes. In most Vegas casinos, they will give you and hour and ten minutes or so.
- Personal electronics – some casinos will not allow you to make calls at the table, some not while in a hand, some don’t care. Some let you text anytime.
- Video – Lately, I have been seeing a lot of “regular” players watching movies on iPads while in a game. This is not only rude, it slows down the game. Did you come to play cards or watch Bull Durham?
- Texting – First, texting while in a hand is speaking a foreign language at usually English only tables. (Granted it’s binary) But what’s to keep you from texting your buddy at the other end of the table that you just folded Ace King, making his hand weaker. That’s cheating.
- Phone Calls – step away from the table. Besides disrupting and slowing a hand, nobody wants to here you yelling at your wife.
- Earphones – I wear earbuds to listen to music while playing cards. Especially if the table is not communicating verbally. BUT… I only wear one earbud, so I can hear the dealer and pick up any loose conversation in case someone wants to give away some free intel. Plus, you want people to chat about themselves, feel comfortable, have fun. I love music, it makes the time go faster, but I m there to play poker, first and foremost.
- BOTTOM LINE: Electronics are fine AWAY from the table. Take your calls, texting and videos somewhere else while the rest of us play poker. It’s rude, slows us up, and shows a general lack of respect for the game and your fellow players.
Poker Etiquette to be continued…
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