How to Play Casino Poker for Money

Playing real money poker in a casino is a lot of fun. It varies greatly from playing poker for money online and at home. For that reason, I’ve put together some tips to help play poker for money at a casino for the first time.

As I consider the tips I want to give you, I am taken back to when I was a new poker player. I remember the fear and apprehension associated with playing live poker for money for the first time.

There are so many things that first-time poker players don’t know about how live casino poker differs from the usual home game. I hope that as a new poker player you gain some insight and ultimately feel much more comfortable with your live poker experience.

Choose the right casino poker game for your bankroll

Most casino poker rooms play the same games on a regular basis. It would be best to know well in advance what game you want to play.

Some common live poker games you’ll find are,

  • No Limit Texas Hold’em – While the blinds are only $1 /$2 or $2 /$5, you can bet all your chips at any time. The minimum buy-in is generally $40-$100 and many of the poker rooms have nearly eliminated the maximum you can buy-in.
    • ! A Word of Caution! – Unless you have a large bankroll or plenty of extra cash, I recommend that you start by playing Fixed Limit Texas Hold’em. Once you feel confident at the Limit tables, you can move up to the “big game”.
  • Limit Texas Hold’em – These games come in both structured and unstructured formats and are generally the best for new players to gain live poker experience.
    • Structured – Typically, the games are $3/$6 and $4/$8. So in a $3/$6 game, the small blind is $1 and the big blind is $3. You bet in increments of $3 on the flop. The bet goes up to $6 on both the turn and river. If you raise it goes to $12, and a re-raise takes it to $18. In a 4/8 game, the blinds are $2 and $4, with a fixed bet of $4 on the flop, and $8 on the turn and river.
      • Sub-tip – Memorize the betting structures outlined here! This is a common beginner mistake. It’s no big deal to get involved in a huge pot and forget how much you can raise the bet. However, asking every hand “how much can I bet?” gets old to other players and the dealer.
    • Unstructured – A common form of casino poker is unstructured Hold’em, or 1-4-8-8. The blinds are $1 and $2 and the betting is unstructured within those set limits. Before the flop, you can raise to $4, $5, or $6. (You can’t make it $3 because any time you raise it must at least double the previous bet) On the flop you can bet from $1-$4 and the turn and river you can bet $1-$8. It can get confusing sometimes. For example, on the turn, someone bets out $4 and you want to raise the most you can. Some newer players think they can only make it $8, but since it’s unstructured, you can actually raise the bet to $12 (the initial $4 plus a maximum raise of $8).

How to Get in a Live Poker Game

When you arrive at the poker room, you will usually notice a podium or central location where players are going to sign up. Now that you’ve picked out your game of choice, you just walk up and ask if they have an available seat. If they do, you will be able to buy your chips from this person, a chip runner, or a chip station.

If there are no available seats, they will add your name to the list. Most people give their first name and last initial (i.e. Kevin G, Mike B, Kenny T). When it’s your turn, the floor person will call your name.

Some casinos have begun using those things you get at restaurants that blink and vibrate when your seat is available. They may also take your cell phone number and call you when your seat is open.

If you aren’t given one of these options, chances are they will either loudly announce your name in the room or over the PA system. In poker rooms like this, it’s a good idea to hang nearby so you don’t miss your seat.

How Much Money Should You Buy-in For?

Answer: NOT the minimum!

This happens all the time. A new player wants to try out live poker and asks what the buy-in is. When the floor manager says “$40”, they think “Hey, that’s not too bad, I’ll give it a shot”. However, the math and psychology behind purchasing the minimum in chips make it a bad decision. Here’s why.

The math part is that in a 1-4-8-8 game, you have only five big bets. (5 x $8 max bet on turn and river = your $40 minimum buy-in). What you’ll quickly learn about poker is that there are inevitable ‘swings’ where you may win or lose. Sometimes, I may go way up or down in the first hour of live poker play. A couple of weeks ago I had Aces and Kings my first two hands and lost big pots on them both. Had I only bought in for forty dollars, I would have been out in just two hands!

So many times new players come in the game with their $40 in chips only to be out in under an hour after taking a couple of beats. This is exactly what happened to me my first couple of times playing live poker. I bought in for forty, played too many hands, called too much, and I was out. I chalked it up to bad luck and went on my way.

A good rule of thumb is to have 25 big bets (in a limit game) in front of you at any given time. This is so that if you have a monster hand you could conceivably cap the betting on every street. Personally, I don’t believe you have to follow that rule as most people in a limit game buy-in for $100 (or a rack-of-white as it’s referred to as). I will usually just buy another $60-$100 if my stack gets below $40.

In a no limit game, I would never buy in for less than $200 and even that much may put you at risk. Since many of these games now allow players to buy-in for $300-infinity.

The psychology behind this is that by buying the minimum in chips you advertise “Hey I’m a new player and have no clue what I’m doing”. You become a target right away. Remember the popular saying from the movie Rounders, “If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.” Don’t buy in as the sucker.

  • Sub-Poker Tip – Consequently, if you see other players re-buying or buying into a game for the minimum, realize they are probably new, not very good or broke.

Understanding and Getting Comps

If you follow the advice above and buy in for at least $100 in a limit game and $200 in a no limit game, chances are you’ll be playing for several hours. Hopefully, you’ll be having a good time and raking some big pots too. Eventually, winning all that money will make you hungry.

Therefore, you need to know how to get the most from your time playing poker by taking advantage of casino comps. Comps are just the casinos way of either thanking you for your play or enticing you to play more.

All poker rooms do their comps differently. However, every poker room that I know of requires you to have a player’s card. I’ve seen many new people who refuse to get one. I’m not why that is.  One certainty is that they’re missing one of the best benefits of playing live poker.

Every casino poker room does their comps a little different. Some poker rooms comp so much per hour of play and some have a fixed amount. Other times the floor person will use his or her discretion. That’s why it’s a good idea to not only get to know the floor people, but also tip them when they’re doing a good job. Trust me; they’ll make sure you’re taken care of.

The Fundamentals of Live Poker – How to Check, Call, Bet, and Raise

Following the face paced action of casino poker, is one of the hardest adjustments you’ll have to make. If you master these tips, you will feel more confident and won’t have to worry about the dealer or other players getting on your case.

  • Act in turn – Although you should be able to follow where the action is, the dealer will let you know when it’s your turn. He will also let you know if the pot has been raised or whether it’s your turn to post the small or big blind. Make sure you do everything in turn. If you act out of turn you may mess up the action after you or change what someone else was about to do.
  • Get your bet past the line but don’t splash– When it’s your turn and you wish to call, bet, or raise you need to make sure to place your bet past the line in front of you. “Splashing the pot”, is when you just toss chips into the center of table where they mix with the rest of pot. In a casino poker game the bets should be placed just pass the line not thrown in the middle.
  • Avoid string-bets/raises – This is a crucial concept that all new plays should comment to memory right now!  In the movies, you’ll see poker players say something like, “I’ll see your $10 and raise you $20”, while going back for more chips. This is probably the most common mistake I see new poker players make. If you want to raise the bet, just announce, “Raise” and then you can go back and forth to come up with the right amount. Or, count out the amount you want to bet and then put it past the line in one motion. 
  • It’s FREE to “check” – Remember, if you’re in the big blind you’ve already paid to see a flop. As long as no one raises, the dealer will give you the option of “checking” or “raising” – if you check he will deal the flop. The same concept applies to once the flop is dealt. Even if you didn’t hit a big hand on the flop, it’s free for you to check. If no one has bet, don’t make the mistake of just folding your cards. You might get a free card to give you a better hand or draw.

Learn and Follow Proper Poker Etiquette

  • Keep your cards in plain sight. To control the integrity of the game, and avoid any problems if the bad beat jackpot hits, all players should keep their cards on the table at all times. You should refrain from picking the cards up and holding them close to your face or body. Instead, you should simply cover your cards with one hand and lift the corner of each card to get a peak. It’s also a good idea to place a chip on top of the two cards to let the dealer know your hand is still live.
  • Avoid discussing hands in play. Poker is a social game by nature. It’s often tempting to discuss what you folded when it would have made a big hand. For example, say the flop comes 4-4-4 and you folded K4 avoid yelling “OMG! I folded the 4!!!” You need to avoid saying anything that might influence the way others play their hands. Saying things like “I know that guy has the flush” or “He’s bluffing!” when you’re not in the hand, is a big no-no. Now, if it becomes heads up with you and one other player, you can say whatever you want about the hand.
  • One person to a hand. This builds off the previous reminder, but is still a big deal. You should not discuss your hand with anyone else during play. I’ll give you two good examples of when I broke this rule as a new poker player.
    • The first time my wife and I had the opportunity to play live poker I was too nervous. So, I let my wife sit down while I watched. She would show me her cards and throughout the hand, I would mumble things about how to play it. The dealer quickly noticed and said “one person per hand sir”.
    • Another time I sat next to a woman that got involved in a big pot. On the river, she was faced with calling another bet. She held up her hand where those next to her could plainly see. I noticed she had the best hand possible, but she was hesitating to call (because I don’t think she realized what she had). I casually said, “Well you’ve got the straight”. OOPS, big mistake! She made the call and won the pot. The dealer and others made it clear how un-cool it was for me to say something. From then on, I’ve made sure to avoid commenting on others’ hands.

Don’t Forget to Tip the Dealer

Most dealers work hard to provide a smooth, stress-free, game for all players. Just like waiters, poker dealers depend on tips to pay the bills. A good rule of thumb for most local poker games is $1 for a medium-sized pot and $2 for a large pot. If I really like the dealer, I’ll be more liberal with my tips. Conversely, if a dealer is disrespectful to my wife or me, they go on what we call “tip restriction”. Instead of getting mad and having words, we simply stop tipping that dealer. We let our money do the talking!

Always Protect Your Hand

In live casino poker, you are always responsible for your own hand. This includes the following.

  • If you toss your cards into the muck (the pile of discarded/folded cards) your hand is automatically dead and cannot win the pot
  • If you win the pot by causing everyone to fold with a bet or by showing the best hand, you should hold on to your cards until you are being pushed the pot.
  • Always make sure the dealer gives you two cards.
  • If you or the dealer accidentally flips one of your cards over during the deal, just leave it face up. The dealer will announce the card to everyone and make it the burn card. You will be given a new card to replace it. Please avoid getting angry when the dealer flips a big card over. You wouldn’t get upset if the dealer flipped over a deuce and then replaced it with an ace to give you pocket aces. As long as the dealer isn’t making the same mistake every deal, there’s no reason to get frustrated.

Know and Understand Your Opponents

New players shouldn’t be concerned over poker tells their first several times at the casino. Getting used to the flow of the game will be enough to focus on. It’s still a good idea to know and understand the different opponents you’ll face at the casino.

  • Recreational players – Some people simply love to play poker. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about having a good time. You’d love to see a table full of this group! You should always do your best to make this group feel comfortable. Never get angry or berate such players. It will make them play better against you, or worse, cause them to leave.
  • The Gamblers – Another breed of recreational player is the gambler. These players are used to betting $50 a hand on the Blackjack table, $5 slot machines, or betting big on sporting events. They often come to the poker table with more than enough money and will happily bet, call, raise, and bluff all night long. While it’s usually good to have one or two gamblers at the table to build monster pots, it can get costly when they get lucky or pick up a big hand.
  • Poker room regulars – This includes a variety of individuals including retirees, students, and dealers who are about to start a shift.
  • Poker pros – Because of the growing popularity of live and online poker, more people are taking their shot at becoming a poker pro. At lower stakes, you shouldn’t worry about running into many pros. At the larger stakes, you should seek to identify, and play cautiously against, pro players.

Look and Feel More Confident by Learning Poker Chip Tricks

This is my favorite tip, since I spent hours learning how to shuffle poker chips and other tricks before I was even a decent poker player. Even if you think, it will be time wasted learning chip tricks, players will give you more respect and you’ll feel more confident if you can do some of the most basic tricks.

There are plenty of video of poker chip tricks online to help you learn them quickly.