Playing live: what you need to know
This topic comes up fairly regularly and I often respond with links to half a dozen different threads, so thought it might be helpful to put this all into one place, particularly since we've now got an ideal forum section for it.
The following is information for people who may have been playing online for a little while and are ready to make their first foray into live poker - be it at a casino, a club, a bar game or even a home game. Some of it's borrowed from other posts I've made on the subject, but a lot of it is new.
Hope it's of interest and help to some of you: as far as my credentials in covering this stuff goes, I deal live games as a second job, and play live in casinos
on a regular basis.
Feedback is more than welcome, I'm happy to answer any questions (or be corrected, if necessary), and feel free to add if you think anything's been left out. I'll keep adding as well if I think of anything more.
Live poker has a bunch of rules that most online players will be unaware of. Surprisingly, there isn't actually one hard and fast set of rules used all around the world. Pretty much every casino will have their own take on them. Most casinos defer to either Robert's Rules
and/or the Poker Tournament Directors' Association rules (http://www.pokertda.com/rules.htm), so familiarising yourself with them and then asking about how your particular card room applies them is probably a good idea.
Following is a rundown of the ones that will trip you up most often:
Don't string bet:
a string bet is when, in the absence of any verbal announcement, you push forward a pile of chips then go back to your stack and push forward another
pile. Only the first pile you pushed forward will be allowed to stand - I see this one happen most often when people are going all-in: they just start pushing out chips without announcing anything, and their bet gets cut short at the first chunk to be moved onto the table. Dealing live games, I have to pull a player up on this at least once a week.
The lesson? Always announce what you're going to do when it's your turn. If you're going all in, just say "all in", then you can take whatever time you need to move your chips in, and do it in as many trips as is necessary. Similarly, if you're going to raise, just say "raise".
The reason: theoretically, if you were allowed to keep adding chips to the pot in several motions, you could pick up a tell on your opponent in between motions and adjust your bet size to suit.
Don't act out of turn: some places will just shoot you dirty looks for this, some will take action if you keep doing it, so just don't. Always wait for your turn.
The reason: if players know that you're going to fold, it could affect their decision. A player that was considering folding their own hand may stay in or even raise if they know you're folding.
Single oversized chips: unless you announce otherwise, if you thrown in a single oversized chip (say, a $100 chip when the bet is only $40), in the absence of any verbal declaration your bet will be deemed a call. If you mean to call, just say call and avoid any confusion. If you mean to raise, say raise.
The reason: consistency avoids confusion - you'll get used to it quick enough.
Don't muck your winning hand: something online players will never have come across - once your hand touches the muck, it's declared dead. So if there's only two of you left in the hand and you muck your cards while the other player still has theirs, then they win the pot. Even if you had the winning hand. So never muck your winning hand - either let the dealer take it away after they've given you the pot, or wait until they ask you to throw it in.
The reason: this is actually a (likely unintended) side effect of the muck rule - you just need to remember it.
Don't talk about hands while they're happening: same live as online, but the temptation live is greater to say "Damn, I would've had a full house" when the flop comes JJ5 and you mucked J5 yourself. Online, you'd be saying it to an empty room. Live, you're saying it within earshot of other people who are still playing the hand and it could influence the result.
The reason: as with the acting out of turn rule above, you're giving players information they didn't already have and it could affect the outcome. If they know what you folded, they'll know those are cards that their opponent can't have.
Don't tell the truth about your hand: a whack rule, but a rule none the less: you're not allowed to tell people the truth about your hand. You're not allowed to tell the other player in a hand "I have a flush" if you actually do have a flush. You're allowed to tell them you have quads if you have a flush though. Go figure.
The reason: actually... as far as I and many others can tell, there is no good reason for this rule
'Protect' your hand:
this isn't so much a rule as it is a guideline - protecting your hand is optional. It's a good habit to get into though, as it can save some misunderstandings or arguments.
"Protecting" your hand just means putting something on top of your cards, to signifiy that you'll be playing them. You've likely seen the pros use all sorts of things for this: Greg Raymer's fossils are one of the more famous examples, as are Humberto Brenes' sharks.
If you don't have a fossil or a toy shark to hand, don't panic: most people just use a chip anyway.
occasionally, especially if you're sitting to either side of the dealer, a player will fold their hand and the cards will land near (or even on top of) yours. If you protect your hand, there's no confusion over whose cards are whose, and there's no confusion later in the hand over whether you've folded or not. If your cards are protected, it says "These cards are mine, and I'm not finished playing them yet"
High denomination chips go at the front:
not all places will insist on this, but enough will that it's worth mentioning.
Particularly in tournament play, you can be expected to keep your highest denomination chips clearly visible, either at the front of your stack or on top of it. So put your lowest denominations at the back and work from there.
this one's mostly just to prevent you deceiving other players. If you've got three stacks of $25 chips at the front of your stack, but you're hiding another couple of stacks of $500 chips behind them, an opponent could think you have less than you really do when they're betting against you. Some places will also insist that you don't have any 'dirty' stacks (stacks with mixed denominations of chips) in them for the same reason.
WHAT TO EXPECT
In addition to having different rules, live games can also play a little differently to online ones, depending on what you're used to. A few things to look out for:
Don't expect to be able to pick your own seat:
in a casino, at any rate, you'll usually just go up to a registration desk or window and put your name down for the stakes and game that you want to play ($2-$5 no limit, for example). When a seat at that game becomes open, you'll be called for it. This means table selection as you might know it online doesn't really exist when you first sit down. Unless you're especially friendly with the floor manager, but anywho...
Also, don't be surprised if you have to wait for a seat in a ring game, particularly at busy times (weekends and evenings, mostly)
Nobody comes to the casino to fold:
or at least, most people don't. The effect this has is that you'll find a lot more players willing to play any two cards. Pots with five or six limpers aren't uncommon.
There's a couple of reasons for this: one is that a lot of players aren't necessarily in the casino to play poker - they're there to gamble
. They could just be playing poker as a change from craps or roulette
, where they're used to taking -EV against the house. Playing J8o at the poker table seems like a fantastic proposition in comparison.
The other reason is that people often make a special trip to the casino, and dammit, they came to play! If they've only got four hours to play in, they don't want to be folding every hand.
This doesn't apply to everyone, of course - there will be some solid players there who will either wait for a good hand or will be much more effective at playing the loose style. What you need to do is work out relatively quickly (and it'll usually be obvious within a few rounds) who is playing what style, and how you're going to play against them.
Live players often seem "worse" than online players:
this isn't actually true, I don't think, but the stakes people play at will make it seem that way. The lowest ring games most casinos offer is $1-$2, so this is where most of the fish and casual players end up. In a lot of cases, you can expect this to play similar to a 5c-10c (or lower) online game.
Pay attention to the pot size:
unfortunately, live poker doesn't have a HUD. Online, at the very least you're used to the pot size and stack sizes of your opponents being on the screen in front of you. Live poker doesn't have anything like this, so you've got to train yourself to keep rough track of the pot size.
Don't heckle your dealer: there's one at every table: someone who keeps telling the dealer "This is the third time you've given me this hand" or "What's with these crap cards you keep giving me" or something along those lines. We've heard it before, we've got no control over what cards you're getting and while we might even sympathise sometimes, there's not much we can do about it. So please don't heckle, and frown at anyone who is heckling for us
Get used to handling cards and chips:
something that can only come with experience, unfortunately. But good live players will be able to pick someone who's new to live poker pretty much straight away by the way they handle their chips and cards.
It sounds superficial, but if you can try to learn a few simple chip tricks at home before you go to the casino, it can save you getting so much undue attention from the experienced players. Put "poker chip tricks" into YouTube and you should find a few short but helpful videos.
Just don't become one of those douchebags who's come up with some incredibly sexy looking way of folding their cards which makes the them fall face up every other hand.
if you're playing in the US, you'll usually be expected to tip your dealer (when you win a pot, I believe). If you're in any doubt as to what the norm is, just sit out the first couple of hands and see what other people do.
If you're playing in Europe (or Australia
), tipping the dealer is usually discouraged and/or prohibited.
So know which applies, and act accordingly. If you're playing in a tournament and not a ring game, a different procedure may apply if you're lucky enough to make the money. Some tournaments take out tips as a percentage of the buyin, others assume you'll do it yourself out of your prize money should you feel so inclined. Check with a floor person or the payout cashier if you're in any doubt.
It's OK to ask for clarification:
even if it seems like a stupid question, the dealer is there to help and should be happy to help you out.
Though if you by some bizarre conincidence find yourself at my table, please refrain from asking me what the minimum bet is more than once in the same hand. It's kina dealer-tilt-inducing
Hope this was helpful to someone, and like I said at the top, I'm happy to answer any questions or for people to post additions and corrections