I have been trying to teach a few of my friends the nuances of being a winning poker player. Over the summer we played once a week (where I would try to actively instruct them) and I think they are now ready for their first trip to the casino, which is happening this weekend. None of them have been to the casino before, so this week I've been preparing them for what to expect. Also, since I've taught them all to play a solid TAG game, they do not have experience playing against the large number of poor players you will find at the casino.
So, as the final step in their preparation, I want to write up a good list of what they need to know. I looked over the official thread on this topic, but its tone seemed to imply that if you make any mistake at all you're a mentally retarded douchebag, which is just silly. It also does nothing to address B&M specific poker strategy, which I wanted to cover as well. I post it here for comments because while I know a decent amount about poker, my experience is mostly online and thus I could use some help with the casino specific strategies.
After the god-forsaken drive through urban LA or the rural Indian Reservation, you've finally made it to the casino! You park the car and finger the large wad of cash in your pocket as the world transforms from the dull grey of night to the neon sunlight of what is to be your personal hunting grounds for the next several hours. There's a special something in the air (most likely the extra oxygen being pumped in) that lets you know that it's going to be a special night for you and your bankroll. You're itching to play, but it's not so clear how to get started...
The first step to playing poker is to actually find the poker room! It's not as easy as it may seem, poker rooms are always hidden in some back corner of every casino ever built (this naturally doesn't apply to cardrooms). Some casinos have signs! Otherwise, just keep going back until you've reached the kitchens, then you've gone too far.
Once you've found the poker room, your goal is to get seated at a table. Surprisingly, this is not accomplished by seating yourself at a table. At most every cardroom, there is a main desk (not always near the front) where you will put your name on a list. Nowadays, most large rooms have big electronic displays of the waiting lists for each game. Walk up to the desk and tell them which game you want to play, including the game type and the limit. For NL Hold'em, the limit is described by the size of the blinds, not the buyin amount. After you tell them your game of choice, they will ask for your name (give it to them, or make a better one up).
This next part will vary. At most places, you should expect to wait for a seat. Eventually, your name will be called. Check in with the main desk and they will tell you which table you have been assigned to. Now, you need to get to your seat and buy chips, not necessarily in that order. If you do not know, ask the main desk. Some casinos have you buy in yourself at the cage. Others prefer you to go to the table first and buy in there. Either way, you will eventually find your table (after one or two wrong guesses). You are allowed to take any open seat. I recommend taking the seat farthest from the fat smelly guy, but others prefer to prioritize differently by enduring the fat smelly guy if on the other side is a not horribly disfigured girl with a decent face (but she plays poker!). If you have not bought in at the cage, buy in now by telling the dealer how much you want and placing your money on the table.
You've finally managed to go through all the damned rigamarole and now have your seat at the table. Your giddy optimism has been gradually washed away by the slight haze of cigarette smoke and intermixing scents of cheap perfume, but you smile inside as you realize the rest of the table has been unknowingly placed in the path of a ten engine frieght train. As you try to count the number of teeth of the old man across from you (you conclude he has at least seven), the dealer says "Sir, would you like to post?"...
As you may be aware, the blinds are a rotating forced ante all players must pay. A player's blinds pay for his or her cards for a full orbit of play. When entering a game outside of the blinds you stand to be dealt a number of hands without having to pay for them up front. Since this can be considered unfair, most casinos ask you to 'post' a big blind when you first start. If you do not want to post the blind, you may wait until the actual big blind has come around to you and start your game there. Posting is a personal decision, but I find it reasonable to post if you're coming in near the button, and to wait if you're a few hands away from the blinds. It may be good to know that you cannot come in on the button this way (you must wait until you are in the cutoff), but that is rarely an issue. Also, some casinos do not ask you to post, so don't post until they ask.
You decide to post. After all, you'll be winning it back in no time. It's time to lay the hurt on. The cards come around and you are dealt Q9, both hearts. The first player, a middle aged dour looking man, limps in. The next player, a young asian kid with hip sunglasses and an iPod, limps in after him. A couple of folds and a crusty old man raises. You blink and check yourself, you had not even noticed the old guy, this was the first time he had physically moved since you arrived at the table. Action is on you and you think about rehizzling, but you decide it's better to suck the players in for more money post-flop and cold-call the raise. Everyone else folds and both limpers call. The dealer collects the money and lays out the flop. You see the beautiful K J 4, giving you a gutshot and a backdoor flush draw, a nearly insurmountable hand. There's no need to slowplay this monster anymore, it's time to go to valuetown! Dour Guy and Asian Hipster check and Crusty bets two thirds of the pot. His eyes seem alive for the first time tonight. You are slightly concerned about what long term effects this hand will have on the poor man's health as you go to raise...
On small actions, it is not always necessary to clearly define your decision. Calling bets and folding hands is very obvious for all to see (make sure you push your folded hand to the middle of the table though). When it comes to raising, things can get trickier than you may expect. Thus, when making a raise (or opening bet post-flop), it is best to verbally declare your action before making any phsycial move with your chips. Do this by announcing 'raise' clearly so the dealer can hear you, then by announcing the amount of the bet/raise. This will avoid confusion and keep the game moving smoothly. Remember, verbal declarations are binding actions, so make sure you mean what you say. After you announce your amount, count your chips without rushing by creating a single stack of five or ten chips and then making new stacks by matching the height of the original one. As your verbal action was binding, the dealer is able to help you count out your chips, so if you are having trouble it is ok to ask the dealer for help.
Not wanting to scare away the old man, you raise the minimum by doubling his original bet. The old man's eye's widen slightly and he blinks a few times. It's no wonder, you think, this is probably the first time in his extremely prolific life that he has ever encountered a player of such skill and vision. After a couple of seconds, the old man gruffly says 'call' and matches your bet. He is now sporting a pronounced frown on his face. You're just trying hard not to burst out in a grin. The turn brings the K, your path to ascendency has been assured. The old man has a coughing fit and almost dies. It's annoying, old players always slow the game down. The old man stops coughing long enough to check. You feign weakness and bet a quarter of the pot hoping he will come over the top. Naturally the old guy falls perfectly into your trap and raises, leaving him a pot sized bet left in his stack. You have a tough decision to make, put him in now, or wait for the river, you need some time to think it over...
Sometimes, the flow of the game will become too fast (ok, very rarely) and you will need some extra time to think over a big decision. If it's your turn and you know you need extra time, look at the dealer and say 'time'. This will let the dealer know you are going to take a little longer, and he will wait and only prompt you when it is truly time for you to stop thinking and make a decision. Do not let yourself feel rushed when it is your turn to act, take the time you need to make the correct decision.
You decide to trap the old man again by just calling. The dealer turns over the inevitable T. You'd act surprsied, but you aren't. As planned, the old man announces 'all-in'. You think about Hollywooding, but you're not a douchebag so you call quickly. The old man says "I think you've got me" with a twinkle in his eye. 'Of course I do', you think to yourself as you go to throw your cards in. As you do, you look over and see the old man is still holding his cards face down, looking at you with a queer smile on his face...
DO NOT throw your cards away until you have been physically awarded the money in the pot. Once you toss your cards your hand is considered forfeit and you no longer have any claim to the pot. To win the pot at showdown, you must turn over both cards. Do not let anyone take your cards until you get the money! A good rule of thumb is to keep it simple. It is tempting to take the initiative and try and determine the winner yourself. Save yourself the trouble and turn your hand up and wait. It is the dealer's job to award the pot to the correct player. This will avoid confusion and make things easier for all parties.
You pull your cards back in time to see the old man turn over two kings. Doing the math in your head, you figure that this gives him four kings, which would be a good hand against any other player. The table oohs and aahs in appreciation and the dealer moves to push the old man the copious pot. You just smile and turn your hand over. At first no one notices, but soon a huge commotion has enveloped the table and the surrounding area. The old man has just won the bad beat jackpot! The dealer pushes you the pot and looks at you expectantly...
After winning a hand, it is customary to tip the dealer $1. Do this after the dealer has given you the pot, usually when he takes your cards. The dealer should verbally thank you, and will tap the chip on the table to signify to the floor that the chip was given to the dealer as a tip. You do not need to tip the dealer for very small pots, such as when you raise and win the blinds. It is not uncommon for people to tip more than $1 when they win larger pots. You are under no obligation to do so, $1 is easily sufficient for any sized pot. Tip more if you feel like it, you'll make a new friend for sure.
The old man is the hero of the hour. The bad beat jackpot just paid him $43,000. He is surrounded by the hordes, some giving him congratulations, some asking to 'borrow' money. You sit alone at your table dejected. 'Some people get all the luck' you think as you pack up to leave. There's no way you can continue playing in such a sour mood. It's so frustrating when such a crappy player like that gets such miracle cards while a true pro like yourself never catches any breaks. You comfort yourself with the knowledge that in the long run, skilled play will always prevail over such lucksacks as that crusty old man. Your mood ruined, you cash out and walk dejectedly out to the parking lot. As you walk out into a light drizzle your mood improves slightly. After all, there's always tomorrow.
These are strategies which are more specific to casino settings. Some have to do with being in extremely loose/passive games and thus are not exclusive to B&M settings, but the tips still apply. I can't verify the accuracy of any of these, nor the completeness of the list. Please feel free to improve upon it if you so like.
The first and most important tip is to have fun! People come to the casino for multiple reasons. Some are serious players and want to win money. Others are recreational gamblers just looking for a chance to hit it big. Usually it is the second group that donates to the first. Thus, if you are there to win money, it is in your best interest to keep the donators happy. Do this by giving them the environment they want. Be friendly and jovial, small talk is encouraged. If poker strategy comes up, just use phrases like: "My brothers friend won a lot of money playing a few weeks ago so I figured I'd come and give it a shot too", or "QQ is so overrated, an A or K comes out 80% of the time so you always lose", or my favorite "everyone always plays high cards, so I play the low cards and get them all to myself". Keep up the image of a recreational gambler while you do your best to dominate the table.
Take some time and watch the players at your table. There are three basic tendencies I find most important to watch at a low-limit live table.
1) Who limps a lot. Limping in too much is the largest sign of a donator. A secondary (and often more glaring) sign is how often they call raises preflop. Find the people at your table who play too many hands preflop and target them.
2) Who raises a lot. This is more difficult. Good players can raise a lot, but often you will encounter action players who like to play for large pots. If you are new and not playing on a comfortable bankroll, these players can take you out of your comfort zone. If that is the case, it may be best to avoid them by simply folding to them preflop more often. But, if you have seen them raising with hands such at A7o and K9o, you can begin to target these players as well. Be prepared for the higher variance that will come with the higher win rate though.
3) Who calls a lot. Even more profitable than players who call too much preflop are players who call too much post-flop. The farther in a hand one goes, the larger the bets become. Thus, you must find the players who call down after the flop too much. These guys are your bread and butter (which we will discuss a bit later). This may be a bit tough because often they will lose their money so fast, you will not have an opportunity to take advantage of them.
Adjust your hand ranges. Live tables play very loose and often very passive. This allows you certain options that aren't available in tighter and more aggressive games. First, open-limping with solid speculative hands (suited connectors and small pairs) becomes profitable. Also, if you are in late position with several limpers to you, you can limp behind with a huge range of hands: suited 1-gappers, suited aces, even some suited kings (just make sure you don't put too much value in a flopped pair of kings in this case).
If the table is loose, high card hands lose a lot of value out of position. Where before you may have open raised early with hands like KQo, now you put yourself in a tough position, playing a bloated pot out of position against players with enormous hand ranges. While you should still be raising in late position, it is often acceptable to limp in early with hands like AJo and KQo for pot control. (Although this whole point is debatable I'm sure).
Match the table dynamics. Once again, you don't want to single yourself out as a mathematical pokulator at a table of recreational players. So, when accepatable, match your play to that of the table's. For example, in a 1/2 blind game, is it customary to open raise to 7 or 8. At the casino, I usually switch to 10, as this has been the standard opening raise where I play and it looks more natural throwing in two red chips than counting out a red and a few whites. Also, note that a larger intiial raise size helps a tighter player.
Don't play scared. For new players, it is often an intimidating experience the first time you go to a casino. One way this is manifested is by players playing it safe by betting and raising smaller than they should, or often by not betting at all. Do not make the mistake of playing to win pots and not lose money. A true poker player plays to maximize their expectation. Thus, a missed value bet is as large of a mistake as a bad call for the same amount (possibly even more if the call had a small amount of equity). Which brings us to:
Value Bet! In a loose/passive game, your main profits are made from bad players calling your bets with worse hands. This gives you enormous control over your results. Remember the player who calls too much post-flop? You must single out these people over any others as they will be responsible for the vast majority of your winnings. Once you find these people, bet large and bet often. Since you control how much you bet, you control how much money you get! Don't be scared, bet as much as you think they will be willing to call. Play to maximize your profits. Yes, it can be scary out of position with AQ on a AJ649 board, but force yourself to put a solid bet out on the river, you'll be amazed at what they will call with. Which brings up another important point...
When first learning poker strategy, new players are usually taught the basic ideas behind preflop play and then simple flop play ideas. This is because these areas offer the largest opportunities for quick improvement (and are also a required foundation for later street play). What is often lost is that, especially in no-limit, turn and river play is absolutely crucial for one's success. In a game where the bets effectively double each round, a single river bet may be as large as all the other bets combined. Thus, missing out on a solid river value bet can be a huge mistake. So, although it may be scary, suck it up and make those bets. Your bankroll will thank you.
Anticipate bad beats. When first learning and playing with friends who play similarly, bad beats will be a fairly rare occurance. This is because by definition, a bad beat occurs when one gets their money in way behind and hits a miracle card to suck out. When playing with other solid players, it is much more rare for a player to put in a solid amount of money while way behind. Thus, the opportunities for bad beats to occur are far less. Converesly, a loose passive casino game is a breeding ground for suckouts. Playing with people who take their hands too far too often will inevitably lead to a significant number of suckouts. To a new player with a small bankroll, this can be extremely defeating. There is no easy cure for this other than to realize that in order for someone to suck out on you, you must have outplayed them and should have plenty of other opportunities to make the money back in the near future. Do not let yourself get frustrated, just keep playing your game.
Ok, that's all I have for now. It turned out to be much more than I originally planned on anyway. As always, any comments are appreciated, I don't claim to be the end all authority on any of this. Hopefully though, this will be a good guide for knowlidgable players making their first trip to a casino.
Something i think should be in there since this is for newbies probably starting at 1/2 is that the Standard Preflop raise is rather large. In the 1/2 games i have played in in Atlantic City the standard raise seems to be $12-$15 preflop with is 6x-7.5x the BB. New players should be aware of this. Also, I think people should try to buy in for the max if they can afford it.
Moozh - The SSNL and Full Ring forums both linked this thread in their forum stickies - congrats! I will do the same here in B&M, great post - I hope others have something to add to this thread, adjusting to various B&M textures is an important skill to learn.
A very relevant (and funny) post indeed. The "Casino Strategies" bit is pretty much exactly how I play in small stakes B&M games. I'm probably breakeven overall now in them, but would probably be ahead by quite a lot if I had known and followed these recommendations from the start. The three last paragraphs are really the key differences between small stakes online and small stakes B&M in my experience.