So, you’ve arrived in Las Vegas, and now you’re becoming alarmed at how woefully unprepared you are to actually play any poker in the posh casinos that line The Strip.
No problem, even veteran poker players can feel intimidated walking into a casino’s massive poker room and buying into a game. This poker guide for the ride from the airport to the casino will transform you into a 12-minute poker pro.
Understanding the Flow of a Game
I’m assuming that if you’re en route to a Las Vegas casino intending to make yourself at home in the poker room, you’ve at least played in some sort of regular game.
However, there may be some of the nuances of how a casino poker table flows that have gone unnoticed. Even players that spend hours a week playing in online games can have a slight learning curve when they first sit down at a casino’s poker table.
For starters is the dealer button. This small marker indicates the imaginary dealer. Of course, you’ll have a bonafide dealer to take care of the actual dispersion of cards.
Still, the dealer button serves an essential function at the poker table. In addition to determining which players are responsible for posting blinds, the dealer button also indicates what player will act first in each round of bets.
Which brings me to the blinds. Blinds are compulsory bets that are placed before any cards are dealt on each hand.
The player sitting to the immediate left of the player with the dealer button posts the small blind for that hand. The player sitting directly to the left of the small blind posts the big blind for that hand.
The blinds are in place to guarantee that there’s money in the pot on every hand, and they ensure that the action continues to move.
If you’re a novice player making your first or second foray into the casino’s poker room, I recommend starting at the smaller $1/$2 table.
Many of the players at these tables will have less experience than higher stakes tables, and the dealers will make sure to keep the games moving along. If you have any questions about gameplay or another player’s bet, you should ask the dealer; they’re happy to oblige.
Making Your Play Pre-Flop
As soon as you’re dealt your hole cards, it would help if you started thinking about what hands you can make. Regardless of whether you’re dealt a great hand, keep an even keel; your opponents will surely be looking for some sort of indicator of the strength of your hand.
When playing poker, your main objective at this stage is to be in a position to flop a top pair or have a reasonable expectation of a straight or flush draw. I see too many players only call a big blind with suited A/K or K/K.
Yes, those are great ways to start a hand. Unfortunately, if you’re only playing monster hands, you’re not gonna get much action.
You won’t lose many hands this way, but you’ll rarely win larger incremental pots to counter the losses.
Instead of leaving money on the sidelines, let’s look at some strategies for playing what can make very profitable hands before the flop.
Pocket Aces are the grandaddy of monster hands but don’t dismiss K/K, Q/Q, or even J/J. You should always raise with any of these hands.
I would consider making the reraise in almost all instances with A/A or K/K. Keep in mind that your goal is to have a top pair and even if another player is holding A/K when the flop comes A-K-7, your set of kings is still a favorite.
Pocket pairs are also a hand that puts you in a position to be aggressive. However, you should save that aggressiveness for after the flop.
The key here is to get to the flop for as cheap as possible. Holding 8/8 won’t scare anybody, but if the flop comes 6-8-2, you’re golden.
Three of a kind is a spectacular hand most of the time, and if it cost you to get there, it’s a great time to go all in and make your opponent pay up.
I tend to play a suited up ace the same way, get to the flop for as little money as possible. Don’t get married to any hand, let alone a mediocre hand.
If the flop doesn’t give you anything, don’t be afraid to let them go.
The Flop Brings Another Round of Decisions
Assuming you’ve made it to the flop, you’ll be forced to reevaluate your hand. Keep in mind that your primary objective is to hold the top pair or better.
At the very least, you want to have a decent shot at drawing a big hand. The flop will tell you a lot about whether or not you should play for the draw.
It’s important to observe how the other players in the hand are betting now as opposed to before the flop.
For example, if a player was mildly aggressive before the flop and the flop came A-K-6, are they now pushing all-in?
If the answer is “yes,” they may very well have paired their ace. If they are towards the end of the action, it could be the King.
Did a player limp into the flop, and then after 3 clubs hit the flop, they push all-in?
That’s a good indication they hit their flush draw. Of course, it won’t always be this clear as to what the other players are representing.
Still, if you’re paying close attention, you can turn this into a big pot for yourself. You may have flopped a set or, better yet, hit the nut flush, use the opportunities to increase your chip stack significantly.
Don’t play too scared after the flop, but if you’re on a draw. If the turn doesn’t bring you any help, it may be time to abandon the hand altogether.
Obviously, only fold to a bet, and if you can sneak into the turn for free, great.
Making the Turn
It’s rare for the full table to make it to the turn. By this phase of the hand, smart players with garbage hands have almost always folded.
Savvy poker players aren’t going to spend good money chasing bad. For example, a player with low suited connectors isn’t chasing a hand if the flop doesn’t provide 2 of the cards needed to make their hand.
Luckily for you, bad players will do this regularly. That makes a ton of opportunities to win hands with a decent pair.
Which, after all, is the goal.
When you get to the turn, maintain your betting position while gambling in a casino. If you raised the flop, a raise here would reinforce the image of a strong hand.
Proceed with caution if the turn completes a straight draw or flush draw. Players will chase these draws relentlessly.
If you’re raised in this situation or re-raised at all on the turn, you need to consider folding your hand carefully.
Be careful not to fold every time you’re raised on the turn. Your opponents may pick up on this tendency and raise solely to push you off the pot.
Settling up on the River
Most times that you make it to the river, you’ll be playing heads up against a single opponent.
You can use any, and all information you’re opponent has given you throughout the hand to strategize on the best possible poker play.
In fact, you’ll want to use your opponent’s play over the entire session. Has the player been extremely aggressive the entire game?
If so, you may be in a position to lock them into a massive pot. I love check-raising an overly aggressive opponent.
By the time they realize I’m sitting on a solid hand, they’ve already made a sizable bet in an effort to scare me away.
Now, they are forced with a crucial decision. To fold or call after being check-raised on the river is as nerve-wracking of a choice as you can be faced with at the poker table.
Sometimes they’ll go on tilt and raise back, hold your ground if you believe in your cards. You’ll be amazed by how some players will just throw money away.
Conversely, tight players that make it to the river should be handled with care.
Your set of aces might be good enough, but not if your opponent hit the nut straight. This is a great place to lay a feeler bet.
A feeler bet should be large enough to force your opponent into making a decision but not too big to walk away from if your opponent raises.
Poker is a long-term game; you will take incremental wins and losses. However, with enough skill, you’ll make a profit in the long run.
You can’t control the cards, and that costs even the best players occasionally. The poker guide for the ride from the airport to the casino may not make you a poker pro in 12 minutes, but it could make you better than the other guy.
In poker and foot races, that’s enough.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …