Brodie discusses games, seats and opposition in the brick and mortar poker setting.
DaNutsInYoEye suggested that someone write up a brief guide to playing poker in B&M venues. I do a fair amount of B&M playing, so I thought I’d start it out as sort of a series of tips, similar to how some other guides have been posted here. Any thoughts, additions, subtractions, etc. are welcome!
Playing in a B&M casino can be a little strange for players that have only played online. It’s usually easy to pick out internet players in a casino game because they have a firm understanding of the game (tending toward the hyper aggressive side), but lack a detailed understanding of the etiquette and process of the casino game. Hopefully this guide will help you successfully and profitably blend into a live game.
Finding a Game
Those that play online are spoiled by the availability of games. When wanting to play live, a player’s choices are limited by geography – if there is only one casino or card room in your locale you are generally stuck with whatever they offer. Even in places like Las Vegas and Reno where there are many locations to choose from, the actual decision to leave a casino and go to another one can sometimes be complicated by other factors (significant others, desire to be near friends who are playing in the pit, need to fit in with scheduled activities, etc.). The bottom line is that often you will be playing in games that aren’t exactly what you were looking for, both from a structure perspective (i.e., higher or lower limits than you’d like) and a table texture perspective (i.e., tighter or more aggressive than you’d like). If you have the time to find a good game, by all means do so, but be aware that many times you just won’t be able to and you’ll have to make the difficult decision to either not play or to try to adjust to the conditions.
Available Games and Structures
Contrary to what a lot of the older Poker Books says, you will probably have a hard time finding games other than Hold ‘Em and Omaha in many casinos. In fact, many of the smaller card rooms offer Hold ‘Em exclusively. The larger places (Bellagio, Mirage, etc.) are likely to offer stud or razz, but these games tend to be played at high stakes. This guide is focused more on the lower stakes Hold ‘Em games because these are the most prevalent and easiest to find.
Hold ‘Em is offered in most casinos in a variety of structures and stakes. All games have some sort of minimum buy-in, but it usually very small (usually about 10 BB). Here are some common limit structures and where they are likely to be found in Vegas (the games the casinos offer actually can change based on demand, so be sure to call before you head down to any of these places to confirm):
2/4 (Luxor, Aladdin, Imperial Palace, Golden Nugget, Binion’s Horeshoe, etc)
3/6 (Mirage, Bellagio, Mandaly Bay)
4/8 (Golden Nugget)
5/10 (Mirage, Bellagio)
The higher limit games often include a half or full kill. Kill rules can vary, but usually this means that after a person has one two pots in a row, the limits either go up 50% (half kill) or 100% (full kill) and the winner is required to post an amount equal to the big blind, but they get the benefit of acting last before the flop (they act after the button does, regardless of their location). Kill pots tend to either create tons of action or none at all, they’re usually not in-between.
No Limit Games
No limit is a bit different in that the games are described by their blinds and have more stringent buy-in requirements. Often times you will need to ask what they buy-in is because the card room personnel tend to only talk about the blinds when referring to the games. Most NL games have a minimum and a maximum buy-in, but some games have no cap and are considered ‘unlimited’. For those on a ‘limited’ bankroll, I’d suggest staying away from these games because it’s very difficult to have any leverage without buying in for a huge amount. For example, there is a no cap 10/20 NL game at the Bellagio where it is not uncommon for people to buy in for $5K or $10K.
The games that have a specific buy-in (which is similar to how most of the online card rooms operate) are called min/max. For example, the 2/5 NL game at Mandalay Bay is a $200 min/max buy-in, meaning that you have to buy-in for exactly $200. You can usually re-buy for less than the initial buy-in, however (usually 50% of the initial buy-in). Most games do not allow you to re-buy until your stack is below a certain threshold or only allow you to buy-in up to the max to prevent people from steamrolling over a game by just buying chips. However, some games allow you to do a full re-buy the moment you get below the max buy-in, which does allow you to get some leverage over others who are unaware of this rule.
An example of this is the 1/1/2 NL game at Luxor (that’s not a typo, the game has two $1 small blinds and one $2 big blind). That game has a $50 min/max buy-in, but you can re-buy another $50 as soon as your stack gets below $50. So, if you limp in for $2 on your first hand at the table and then fold, as soon as the hand is complete you can re-buy for an additional $50, bringing your total stack to $98.
1/2, $50 buy-in (Luxor)
1/2, $40 – $100 buy-in (Aladdin, Imperial Palace)
2/4, $100 min buy-in, no max (Golden Nugget)
2/5, $200 buy-in (Aladdin, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, MGM Grand)
10/20, $1000 min buy-in, no max (Bellagio)
Getting a seat and buying chips
The lower limit games are often full at all times of the day and night. There is a waiting list for the various limits and the card rooms try to keep the games full (and balanced, more on this later) by not opening new tables until there are enough people on the list to fill that table and still have a list. In most cases, this means 12 or 13 people need to be on the list for a room to consider opening a new 10 seat table. During prime hours (around 4PM to around 1AM) many card rooms simply don’t have any unused tables and the waiting lists can be 20 or 30 people long. If the room has a lot of tables the turnover rate should be fairly high, so you might only have to wait a couple of hours for 20 or 30 people to clear, but obviously waiting cuts into your profits. Most card rooms will allow you to call to enquire about the games they have available, the waiting lists, and even to put yourself on the list without needing to be present. This is obviously a huge time saver because you can put yourself on a list before you go to dinner, for example. If you end up deciding not to go a particular card room after you put your name on their list it’s very polite to call back and let the staff know.
When you arrive at the casino, there is usually a podium or desk in the poker room. Simply walk up to the podium and ask them what games they have available. If you called ahead of time, tell them who you are and that you called in earlier. If they have a seat available they will seat you immediately, if not you may have to wait.
If there are seats available at multiple tables you should be given the choice of which table you’d prefer, although this doesn’t happen often. If there are multiple seats open at one table (this happens usually when friends or couples leave together) you can choose whichever seat you prefer provided nobody else currently at the table has a seat change button. The seat change button is something that you can request if you’d like to switch seats at a table and it means that whenever a seat opens up you have the right of first refusal for that seat.
With all this talk of waiting lists, you might be wondering how you can utilize your table selection skills to find a profitable opportunity. The answer is that you usually can’t. What you can do is sit at whatever table is available and request a table change. If you have been able to scope out the other tables, you can even request a specific table (although sometimes *any* table is better than the one you’re at!). To do this, simply go back up to the podium and let them know where you’re playing (if they don’t remember you) and ask if you can be moved to the other table when they have an opening. The staff will usually honor your request and as soon as a seat opens up at your requested table they’ll let you know and give your seat to the next person on the list.
Each casino has a different way of allowing you to buy chips. In many cases once your name is called you will go up to the podium and purchase your chips right there. In other cases the person who seats you is also responsible for providing you with chips, you will give that person your cash as you’re walking to the table and they will return a few moments later with your chips. You can usually play hands ‘behind’ while you’re waiting for your chips, if you’d like to. In that case the dealer will keep track of how much you owe and you will pay it off when your chips arrive. If you need to buy chips again, let the dealer know and they will either provide you chips from the rack or get the floor people to bring you some more.
Next up, Part 3: The Opposition
The mix of opposition you will face varies greatly on location and stakes, but the players themselves can be grouped into a few categories.
Type A: Very good (including pros and semi-pros)
Yes, there are pro and semi-pro players lurking around even the lower limit games in Vegas, especially the $200 buy-in NL games. They are the prototypes for the TAG style promoted here on FTR and other places. These guys are the little bags of money in Poker Tracker and you’d like to stay away from them if you can. You can usually tell who they are because they make a strong effort to laugh and have a good time while concealing the fact that they are playing almost no hands. And in NL games, expect these guys to come in with a 3X BB raise on almost every hand they play to limit the field (and this works because a large number of players at the NL games are playing with scared money). Tight-aggressive-aggressive.
Type B: Seasoned casino poker players
These players have been coming to Vegas for years and pre-date the internet/TV poker craze. They are generally smart, thinking players (they will actually pay some attention to how you play), but tend to be conservative (they wouldn’t consider playing suited connectors that aren’t face cards, for example). Tight-passive-passive or tight-weak.
Type C: Seasoned home game players
These folks also understand the game well, but have received most of their poker experience playing at home with family. They tend to be older and are conservative, but they have relatively wide starting hand requirements and will take low pocket pairs too far. They will play any ace and will call with low pocket pairs that don’t improve to a set. These are the people that feel their pocket 4’s improved when the board paired aces because they now have two pair. Beware when these people raise after the flop, because they don’t it very often and when they do they generally have the nuts or close to it. Slightly loose-passive-passive.
Type D: Newer home game players
These players are the typical Saturday night poker game guys. They generally play pretty well, but they may be thrown off by the game structures available in the casino (many home game players play odd varieties and the strict structure of casino poker might bore or confuse them). They are used to playing shorthanded, so while they are generally pretty aware players, their starting hand requirements are extremely wide and not well suited for a full table. They also watch too much TV (more on that later!). Loose-aggressive-passive
Type E: TV Junkies
This majority of this player’s experience is from watching TV and perhaps beating up on their dorm-mates in 4-handed home games. Hyper aggressive and willing to make ‘big laydowns’, they outthink themselves often. These guys play any two cards and play them aggressively. They will beat you just as often with 53s by hitting a wheel as they do with aces up. They bluff frequently even in very low limit games. Loose-aggressive-aggressive
Type F: Never played before
There is a faction of players at casinos who have literally never played before. Ever. These people play 90% of the hands dealt to them and call literally everything, probably not even raising with nuts. They might just be starting their poker career and you have a good chance of winning all of their chips, so be nice to them! Loose-passive-passive.
The various limits and games attract a different mixture of the above types. The lower limit games on the strip seem to feature a disproportionate amount of Type E and F players, but don’t be surprised to sit down at a table where everybody is a Type E. The places that attract younger clientele (Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Aladdin, in particular) seem to be a magnet for Type E’s. And if you have even one Type C player at your table, be very concerned with hands like pocket queens and kings if an ace is on the board. There is a high likelihood that something like A6o may be in the lead.
Small Stakes Hold ‘Em talks about not intimidating your opponents in ring games, and I completely agree with that. Many of the TV-fans wear sunglasses, hooded sweatshirts, and stare intently at their opponents trying to get a ‘read’ and it really just doesn’t work in these games. I recommend dressing normal, smiling, having fun, and winning their chips before they’ve had a chance to realize that you’re always showing down a better hand than them.
It’s interesting to note that many players (mainly types D, E, and F) will acutally remember that you have hammered them in the past and may give you a bit of respect on future hands. However, they are generally unable to stop thinking about their cards for very long, so expect to get calls from these people on the earlier streets, but you may actually be successful bluffing them out of pots on the river. But only once you’ve dealt them a serious blow. Generally bluffing is a near impossibility in these games, but this is a rare circumstance where it works occasionally.
When you hit a low limit game on the strip, you need to be prepared for a wild ride. Imagine a Party Poker .5/1 table with 7 or 8 fish and you get the idea. While it’s good that these people are overplaying their mediocre hands and paying too much for their draws, the shear quantity of people in every hand reduces your winning chances by quite a bit. You will win fewer pots than you’re used to, but they should also be larger than you’re used to. I’ll let the experts go into detail on strategy in obscenely loose games (these games are often even looser than the ones SSH models), but suffice it to say that it’s difficult to rely on top pair top kicker as a winning hand. The games can be frustrating because the same player will win a hand with a monster and then come back and win the next hand with second pair and a 2 kicker. It’s very difficult to get a read at any given moment, so strong draws have a lot of value because you can simply play your cards and not try to figure out your opponents. If you don’t hit your draw you can just fold, but if you do hit it make everyone pay you off.
With that in mind, each session in these games seems to either go very well or very poorly, not usually somewhere in-between. I can personally attest to this pattern, and it really does seem consistent. I believe that a good player can generally beat these games consistently given enough time, but the fact that you will lose a larger number of moderately strong hands (things like TPTK) than you would in a tighter game and you are relying on draws that may or may not come in means that you may spend a long time bleeding chips until you hit your one big hand. If the game conditions don’t tighten up, it’s usually a good idea to keep plugging away even if it feels like you’re banging your head against the wall every time your pocket kings get cracked by 85o.