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5 Tips for Live Poker in a Casino

The average live poker game is softer than its online counterpart. The barrier for entry is much lower and many recreational players overvalue their home game experience.

It can be very profitable for a battle tested online poker player to try a live poker casino game.

For some players, however, online is the only form of poker they’ve ever known. Live poker is out of their comfort zones, so they choose to miss out on the value of the live poker casino games in their area.

If this sounds like you then don’t worry, Upswing Poker has your back with these 5 live poker lessons for beginners to introduce you to the world of live poker rooms.  

Live Poker Tip #1: Night vs Day? Weekday vs Weekend?

First things first, at what time do you start playing? Most live casino poker games run until very late at night, even 24/7 in some areas. Just imagine dealers and recreational players shifting in and out while the same two or three live poker pros stay seated, printing money between bathroom breaks.

Most live poker pros agree that the best time of day for live casino poker is at night. This is due to some factors:

  • Average age of the recreational players: The night attracts younger players who can be a lot more willing to gamble. After all, for them this casino trip is a casual, fun night out. If you’re lucky they will have just seen Rounders or a rerun of High Stakes Poker where Tom Dwan does one of his fancy, inadvisable bluffs.
  • Alcohol: The cause and the solution to all of life’s problems can be great for you, as long as it’s your opponent’s glass. At night you will find more recreational players willing to do a few shots before shoveling chips into the pot.
  • Gambling Atmosphere: Recreational players who play live poker at night don’t just do it for the love of the game. They want to tell their co-workers a story in the morning. If you’re smart you can give them both the story they want and ‘‘charge’’ accordingly.

 While Weekends are naturally the best time for live poker games, there is something to be said about late night weekday poker. It lacks the sheer number of foot traffic going in and out the live poker room floor but it often features something else entirely, a deadline.

Let me paint you a picture. It’s late at night on a weekday, you are of course, playing live poker in a casino surrounded by recreational players. You have no plans in the morning, you’ll stay as long as the game is good.

Your opponent, however, looks uncomfortable. He’s staring at his watch, asking the dealer to hurry it up and sighing whenever he has to fold a hand preflop.

You don’t have to be a soul reader to know that your opponent has to leave, but is probably chasing his losses or hasn’t gotten his gambling fix just yet.

You can take advantage of his exasperation by value betting more and more thinly. If he is chasing his losses, then he will not be in the folding mood. If he hasn’t gotten his fix just yet, folding will feel painful. He doesn’t want to have to drive home unfulfilled.

Live Poker Tip #2: Getting a Good Seat in a Live Poker Game

Now you know what time to play, but your hunt for the best game doesn’t end when you walk into the casino.

First you need to know what games are available. Most poker rooms these days have a large screen listing the games and the waiting list, while some smaller rooms may have a regularly updated whiteboard. You can also use the Bravo App to check what games are running before you even leave the house.

bravo poker app

This guy is in for a bit of a drive

Examine the list and choose the game and stakes that best fit your skills and bankroll. If you have to wait, walk around the room and survey all of the games. Take a mental note which games look soft and which games look tough. It will come in handy later,

Once you’re in the game, it’s a good idea to buy some extra chips to keep in your pocket in case you need a reload. It’s much easier than having to call a chip runner over every time you lose a pot. Topping up regularly will increase any good players’ hourly, don’t overlook it.

Being friendly with casino staff can go a long way when it comes to getting you into the best possible games. A well timed heads up from a friend can be the difference between sharing a table with the 2/5 version of Guy Laliberté or the 2/5 Doug Polk.

Live Poker Tip #3: Changing Seats in Nitty Games.

Changing seats and switching games is something you will have to do almost every session if you want to maximize your profit. If you aren’t playing poker room musical chairs at least once per session, you probably aren’t changing seats enough.

poker room musical chairs

OCP Musical Chairs by Artaxerxes, CC 3.0 edited from original

The best place to be when playing in a tight table is a stealing position from the nittiest player. IE: You want to be in the cutoff of on the button when the nitty player is in the big blind.

They won’t defend their blinds unless they have a strong hand already, and you can increase your win rate a ton by just stealing the blinds once an hour. Even if they do eventually call, they will predictably play fit or fold post flop, giving you a chance to continue your bluff or fold before it gets too expensive.

If there’s a loose maniac at your table, look to get a seat on his left so you can take advantage of their shenanigans. If you’re unfortunate enough to be on his right, play tight until you’re able to get that seat change.

Most casino poker rooms have a ‘‘seat change’’ button, just ask for it and it would reserve your right to change seats once your desired position becomes available. You have to speak up before the seat you want is vacated, the button exists to avoid arguments on who claimed which seat first. You can express your desire to change seats but it means nothing without the ‘seat change’ button.

Always remember that in cash games players can leave the table whenever they want, so try to not make your reasons for seat changing too obvious. People understandably don’t want to feel hunted.

Live Poker Tip #4 Tipping in Casino Poker Rooms

How much to tip on each pot is a long standing discussion in the poker world. So much so that reading through poker forum threads about the subject can read like a tired Seinfeld bit. Here are some factors to consider before you pull a George:

  • Your Bottom line: Tipping is a cost of doing business in poker society, so find a number that is comfortable for you, while still fair to the dealer. Recreational players tend to tip more than professionals because they’re less concerned with how it affects their overall profit.
  • The law of the land: Most people on the service industry, be it waiters, chip runners or dealers, make most of their money from tips. They usually get a minimum wage on top, but depending on your state, ‘‘tipping’’ minimum wage may be lower than what others make. With this in mind, be considerate and remember that this people need to eat and pay rent if they are to be good at their job.
  • Your reputation: As mentioned above, it pays to have friends in poker society and the best way to get on a casino staff’s good side is to be a good tipper. Obviously being a good tipper won’t give you better cards or any kind of unfair advantage in the game, but it can give you some great perks less generous players never see.

Here in Upswing Poker we find tipping $1 on most pots between $25 and $100 is sufficient. As the pots you win get larger, you can tip slightly more. At the end of the day, it’s up to you how much you want to tip, as long as you do so. More on this in tip #5. 

This kayak is about to tip. So should you.

This kayak is about to tip. So should you.

Live Poker Tip #5: General Live Poker Room Etiquette

There are live poker players out there who couldn’t care less about etiquette. They just do their thing and act however they want to with no regard for the opinion of others, be it casino staff or fellow players. Those players are known as ‘‘a**holes’’. Here are some live poker etiquette tips to avoid becoming one of those.

  • Just in case it wasn’t clear enough, tip fairly. Do you really want to be the guy who wouldn’t pay the service provider a tip, knowing that they depend on it for their living? If you answered yes, then don’t expect to make any of the many friends in casinos that other live poker pros would have (or to ever eat spit-less restaurant food, for that matter).
  • Learn to stack chips. Stack them in a way that’s practical to play with and so that other players can figure out your chip count. No, you are not giving away valuable information by giving away your chip count, everybody in the table is supposed to know where they are at, including you. Being disorganized with your chips just slows down the game and makes you look a bit foolish.
  • Don’t comment on a hand that’s being played if you are not in it. You are a live poker player, not Norman Chad. Commenting on someone else’s live hand may be seen as proof of collusion and change the outcome of the hand. This happens every so often in the WSOP, EPT and other live poker tournament series and it’s embarrassing to watch. So Please:
    • Don’t joke about how others are playing.
    • Avoid narrating the action (this one in particular doesn’t usually affect the outcome of the hand, but is incredibly annoying).
    • Don’t chip count for someone else.
    • Avoid giving advice on what to do or what you would do in that spot.
    • Don’t react when your folded hand would have flopped a monster.
    • Hell, don’t even mention your many ex wives, just to be on the safe side.
  • Don’t tell bad beat stories at the table. Everybody has a million of them to tell but nobody wants to hear them, not even the person telling them. Remember people in a live poker table usually want to keep things lively for the fun players, they won’t want to tell you to shut the hell up. They also won’t be able to leave if the game is good. Don’t torture them like that, it’s inhumane.
  • Don’t blame the dealer for the cards dealt. It’s embarrassing how prevalent this is. Poker is a game that rewards cold, logical thinking, and yet you got people blaming dealers for their garbage hands, or worse, their garbage play. Yelling or even throwing stuff at the dealer is pretty much the worst thing you can do in live casino poker, short of cheating. It makes you look like a fool and just a bad person in general.

Got any tips for live poker of your own? Let us know in the comments or tweet @UpswingPoker.

(Serious about improving your poker game? Check out the Upswing Lab! Doug Polk and Ryan Fee collaborated on this A to Z poker training course and the great reviews keep rolling in!)

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Latin American Poker and Film blogger. When I’m not playing Stud 8, I’m complaining that not many people play Stud 8.

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