casino sign, 5 tips for live poker

How to Play Poker in a Casino (Beginner’s Guide & 5 Pro Tips)

You can find many different ways to play poker without ever stepping into a casino. That first trip to a casino poker room can be an intimidating venture, however, no matter how much time you’ve put into online poker or home games.

Casino poker rooms operate with their own sets of standards, and the specifics of certain rules can vary at different casinos. If you know how standard etiquette works at a poker room, however, you can comfortably play at any casino.

If you’re pondering how to play poker in a casino, read on.

Keep reading until the end to learn 5 pro tips that will help you win more often and feel more comfortable on your next trip to the poker room.

How to Play Poker in a Casino

Any session at a live poker room starts with a trip to the main counter. This is where you’ll either register for your tournament of choice, or get your name on the list for a cash game.

If you’re playing in a tournament, you’ll pay the tournament entry fee and receive a ticket. The ticket displays your table number and seat, and you just have to make sure you’re at that table and seat when the tournament begins.

For cash games, most poker rooms will offer a few different games to choose from. Most cash games run as No-Limit Texas Hold’em games at various stakes. Many poker rooms offer Pot-Limit Omaha and other poker variants as well.

To get into a game, simply tell the front counter staff which game you want to play.  If a seat is available, you’ll immediately be able to start playing.

If there isn’t an open seat right away, you’ll be put on the waitlist. When your seat becomes available, the staff will call your name, and you’ll be directed to your table.

Many poker rooms allow you to call in ahead of time and reserve a spot on the waitlist. Calling in holds your spot in the queue until you arrive. After calling in, you generally have 1-2 hours to show up and check-in at the poker room.

How Do I Buy Poker Chips at a Casino?

At some poker rooms, the front counter staff will ask how much in chips you want to buy. Most poker games have a minimum and maximum buy-in amount.

A $2/$3 No-Limit Hold’em cash game might feature a $40 minimum and $300 maximum buy-in. At any time during the game, you can “top up” and replenish your stack back up to the maximum buy-in.

To buy chips at the table, you can generally just put the cash on the table and tell the dealer you want to buy chips.

You can get up and leave the table at any time. Look for the cashier cage to convert your poker chips back to cash.

What is Casino Poker Room Etiquette?

A few things to note about general etiquette at a casino poker room:

Don’t act out of turn – This is often one of the toughest things to get used to if you’ve never played live poker. Pay attention to who’s turn it is at all times.

How to bet – You can either verbally declare a dollar amount you wish to bet or raise, or simply put the chips in the pot. Many casino poker tables have a betting line around the outside of the pot, so be sure to place all chips you want to wager over the betting line.

The one-chip rule – If you put a single chip of any denomination in the pot without verbally declaring “raise” or a specific bet amount, that counts as a call. For example, if a player in front of you raises to $10, and you put a $25 chip in the pot without declaring a raise, the dealer will count the action as a call. You’ll get $15 change back and your bet will stand as a call of $10.

Avoid string betting – If you don’t verbally declare a bet size, be sure to put all betting chips in the pot in one motion. For example, you can’t push $25 into the pot, then grab another $25 and put that in the pot in a second motion.

Don’t discuss hands at the table – Whether you’re in a hand or not, it’s best not to discuss a live hand while it’s still playing out.

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5 Pro Tips for Live Poker

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. Improving live casino poker play can be difficult but not impossible. Take a look at these 5 tips and learn how to play poker in a casino better.

For some players, online is the only form of poker they have ever known. Live casino poker is oftentimes out of their comfort zones, so they choose to miss out on the value of learning how to play poker in a casino better and taking advantage of the live poker games in their area.

If this sounds like you then don’t worry, Upswing Poker has your back with these 5 live poker lessons to teach you how to play poker in a casino better, specifically geared toward beginners.

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

First things first, at what time do you start playing? Most live games run until very late at night, even 24/7 in some areas like Las Vegas. 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, largely due to the:

  • 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. Even though it lacks the sheer number of foot traffic going in and out of room, 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, so you’ll stay as long as the game is good.

Your opponent, however, looks uncomfortable. He’s staring at his watch and asking the dealer to hurry up while sighing whenever he has to fold a hand preflop. You don’t have to be a mindreader to know that your opponent has to leave, as he is likely chasing his losses or trying to fulfil. his gambling fix.

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.

Note: Want a quick and easy way to win more money at poker? Of course you do! Grab our free preflop charts by clicking here or below.

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 revenue, so don’t overlook this tip.

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.

How to Play Poker in a Casino 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.

how to play poker in a casino

OCP Musical Chairs by Artaxerxes, CC 3.0 edited from original

The best place to be when playing in a tight table is in a stealing position from the nittiest player. In other words, you want to be in the cutoff of on the button when the nitty player is in the big blind.

These players won’t defend their blinds unless they already have a strong hand, and you can increase your win rate a ton just by stealing the blinds as infrequently as once per hour. Even if they do eventually call, they will predictably play fit or fold post flop, thereby 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 his 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 to reserve your right to change seats once your desired position becomes available. You have to speak up before the seat you want is vacated, and 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 coveted button.

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

upswing lab

Live Poker Tip #4: How to Play Poker in a Casino: Tipping

How much to tip each pot is a longstanding discussion in the poker world. So much so that reading through poker forum threads about the subject can feel 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 both comfortable for you and 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 in 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 these 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 the poker world, 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 rarely see.

Here at Upswing Poker we find tipping $1 on most pots between $25 and $100 is sufficient. As the pots increase in size, feel free to 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. 

how to play poker in a casino

This kayak is about to tip. So should you.

Live Poker Tip #5: How to Play Poker in a Casino 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 or feelings 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 s/he depends on it? 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 uncontaminated restaurant food, for that matter.)
  • Learn to stack chips. Stack them in a way that’s practical and so other players can figure out your chip count. No, you are not giving away valuable information by giving away your chip count, everybody at the table is supposed to know where s/he is, 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 player, not Norman Chad. Commenting on someone else’s hand may be seen as collusion and could possibly change the outcome of the hand. This happens every so often in the WSOP, EPT and other live poker tournaments, and it’s embarrassing to watch. So please, don’t joke about how others are playing, avoid narrating the action, don’t count others’ chips, avoid giving advice on what you would do, and don’t react when your folded hand would have flopped a monster.
  • Don’t tell bad beat stories at the table. Everybody has a million of them to tell, but nobody wants to hear them, usually not even the person telling them. One of the cardinal rules of how to play poker in a casino is to be aware that players want a fun, lively game and usually won’t leave if the game is good. So don’t torture them; 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 logical thinking, yet people blame dealers for their garbage hands or poor play. Yelling or even throwing things at the dealer is pretty much the worst thing you can do in live casino poker, short of cheating. You don’t want to look like a fool or bad person.

Do you have any tips on how to play poker in a casino to share? Let us know in the comments or tweet us at @UpswingPoker.

If you want to read a bit more about how to play poker in a casino as well as strategy for live cash games, check out our crush live poker article.

Note: 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!new lab banner

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About the Author
Jose Aguilar

Jose Aguilar

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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