Playing Live $1/$2 NLHE Cash Game - Read Me First
This Beginnerís Guide to Live Cash No Limit Holdem is intended for the players that are venturing out for the 1st time to play a live cash game. These games will be held primarily in a casino but may also be in an established card club or underground club or a private game. For the latter 3 make sure you have a good recommendation from a trusted source before you show up, or go to the game with a friend or 2. This guide is meant to cover a number of areas OTHER than actual poker playing. Having an idea of what you may encounter before you venture out will go a long way toward reducing your nervousness when you get seated. This guide is not meant for the person that plays live poker just for the social aspects or one that just wants to degen it up and see if they can stack someone with 72o.
Poker Buddies Ė While itís great to have a buddy or 2 to go along with you remember what your purpose is, playing good poker to make a profit. Inviting Mr. Life-of-the-Party that, in 45 minutes, will be yammering at you to take a break with him to go play some craps will not be conducive to an enjoyable or profitable session. Try not to get seated at the same table as your buddies but if you do, DO NOT SOFTPLAY them; the Ďregsí will catch on to this and can make things uncomfortable plus in a private game you may not get an invite back. If seated at a table with a buddy, resist the urge to discuss hands with him or show him the cards you are playing. For the latter you may be required to expose those cards as some rooms have a very strict Show One Ė Show All rule. For the former you donít need the player to your left overhearing you explain how you made the big laydown or call you made.
Poker Room Ė Scout out the poker room when you first arrive. Where are the bathrooms, where is the bar, where are the food concessions, where is the nearest exit, where is the registration desk and if you smoke, where to go for a cig. Take a moment to observe a table in action, watch the dealer take the rake, push the button, see how players are paying for drinks, adding on chips, racking up, etc. Get a good look at the tables, is there a commitment line that the dealers are asking players to push their chips across, is there no commitment line, how fast do the cards slide when pitched, etc. Find the cashierís cage if there is one. After youíve done your scouting, register at the poker desk and ask how your rewards card is handled. Most/All casinos have a rewards program (unfortunately rewards for playing poker are usually very poor) so make sure you sign up when you 1st arrive if you havenít. Some places the rewards card is handled at the registration desk and some itís handled at the table. Most poker rooms will have some kind of promotion going on and usually you have to have a rewards card and ID to claim the promotion. Ask at the poker desk what the promotions are and what qualifies. For example a room may have an hourly high hand jackpot but it requires 6+ players being dealt in, 4+ seeing the flop, 2 players going to showdown and both of those players have to use both their hole cards; only then will your Jack-high straight flush be a qualified hand for the promotion.
Clothes - Wear comfortable non-descript clothing and bring a light jack, zip-up sweater or zip-up sweat shirt, anything that's easy on/off. Card room temps will fluctuate during your session and you don't want to be distracted by the temps AND you don't want your clothing to bring you any attention. You are trying to fly under-the-radar here, getting experience without getting noticed. I don't advise wearing sunglasses since they make it much easier to miss things on the table but if they make you more comfortable and you feel that you don't miss much while wearing them, then OK. No MP3, IPods, etc. and turn off the cell phone, you don't need the distractions and you want to hear as much as possible what's being said around you plus some rooms will have restrictions on cell phone usage. Ask at the registration desk about cell phones if you have to have yours on.
Demeanor - You want to be Mr. Quiet Nice Pleasant Plain Joe Schmoe. You are here to learn and observe, not to try your hand at putting a room 'reg' on tilt or to give the table drunk playing tips. Be respectful but don't go out of your way to be helpful or add your two cents to a table discussion. Let the dealer do his/her job, it's not your job to remind the yacking fool to your right that he needs to put his big blind out or that it's his action. Try not to engage in any substantial conversation, you want to pay attention to the game even when you have folded.
BankRoll Ė For most casinos and poker rooms, the lowest limit NLHE game will be a 10 player $1/$2 game. The table buy-ins will vary from $40 min, $100 max to $200 min with no max. You should know before going what the table limits are going to be. Only bring with you the money you have committed to this 1st session; I suggest no more than 400 big blinds ($800 for a $1/$2 game). Leave any travel money in your vehicle or in your room. Leave your credit cards at home, in your vehicle or in your room. You only need your ID, rewards card and buy-ins. You donít want to have all $100 bills, have some $20 for topping off and have some $1 for service tips. Keep these in one roll for buy-ins and one roll for top-ups and tips. Keep the rolls in a front pants pocket, shirt pocket or zippered coat pocket. You want to have easy comfortable access to your rolls without exposing it too much to others. If you have to get your chips at a cashierís cage before going to your table, buy more than the table max and keep the extra in a pocket just like you would your bankroll.
Buy-in - Always buy-in for the table max, you want to be able to make the most money possible in your big hands. Top up your stack anytime you drop 10 big blinds below the table max, it's very easy for the dealer to give you chips anytime you need them. If you have extra chips in your pocket only add them to your stack immediately after your hand has been folded to avoid any unnecessary dust-up. You will frequently get some snide remarks from other players about your topping up but just laugh them off, the 'better' players will take note but they won't comment. If the max buy-in changes, at some games it increases later in the evening, be prepared to top up also. If you get stacked, rebuy for the table max, if you can't rebuy for $80 or more, leave.
Session Length Ė Plan on at least a 6 hour session, anything shorter will not allow you to see enough hands to get a good feel for the live game. A 10-12 hour session will give you the best experience for your 1st live game so get some good rest the day before this session. If you plan to play at a casino, do a bit of research on the poker forums to find when the games are the busiest, when they are most likely to be Ďregí infested, what other events may be happening that will increase or decrease action. For some of the Las Vegas casinos it would be better to play a session from 10am to 9pm when the game is more likely to have a majority of Ďtouristsí and avoid the 2am-6am time when you are more likely to have a table full of drunken Ďdegensí. In some cases you wonít have a choice as the poker room will only be open specific hours.
Seat Choice - If you get a choice as to what seat to take when being taken to a table, take seat 10 (or as close as you can) and avoid seats 1,2,3. Most 'better' players want to have seats 4,5,6,7 as these have the best view of the table. By taking seat 10 you keep these players to your right and seat 10 is very easy to see all the action as it works it's way around the table. Plus seats 1,2,3 will not have a good view of you and often they will start to act out of turn before the dealer notifies them that it's their action and this lets you get a bit more information. Since this is a beginners guide you will have enough to keep track of with the players in seats 4+ that not having a good view of seats 1-3 isn't that big a loss. If you get seats 1-3 then redouble your efforts to keep track of the table action but don't act until the dealer notifies you that it's your action, especially in seat 1.
Moving seats - With no extra info to go on, move to seat 10,9,8 as soon as you can. If you have enough orbits to have been able to identify the loose players and the tight players then feel free to ask for a seat change if a seat to the left of the table maniac opens up or to the right of the table rock. If you have multiple seats open up, the seat to the left of a maniac should be preferred over the seat to the right of a rock; itís much more profitable to take advantage of the maniac than the rock.
Moving tables - If your table is full of maniacs and is playing a $1/$2/$17/$51 huge preflop pots style and you feel uncomfortable, ask for a table change. For a 'seasoned' player this table is what you dream of but as a beginner it can be very intimidating. If you have a table of unimaginative rocks that is playing more like a $2/$4 limit game, ask for a table change; you will soon be crying bored at this type of table and barely staying ahead of the rake.
Chip Stack Ė Keep your chips organized so that you can easily count your stack. Whether that is stacks of 20, 15 or 10 itís a personal preference but donít take up a lot of table space with umpteen number of stacks of 5. Also if you are fortunate enough to accumulate a lot of chips donít go building a Leggoish tower or a single 4 foot tall stack. Donít mix your chips, for example donít have stacks where you alternate red & white chips. You must keep your larger denomination chips out in the front stacks or clearly visible on the top of your stack. ĎHidingí of larger chips is very bad form and decent dealers will warn you about this and in some games I have seen a hand invalidated due to Ďhiddení chips. Some players like to have large stacks as they think this can be intimidating, personally I like to keep my stacks manageable thus Iíll ask the dealer to color-up if I get more than 2 stacks of any one denomination. Most rooms use the same color scheme for chips which is $1 is white, $5 is red, $25 is green and $100 is black. Remember that once chips are on the table they may not be removed until you cash out. Taking chips off the table into your pocket is called ĎGoing Southí and can result in a lot of trouble.
Card Handling Ė Donít lift your cards off the table, if you canít cover your cards with your hands and see them when you expose the corners then get your glasses on. Picking up the cards to hold them in front of you is very very poor form and in some rooms may not even be allowed. When your cards are dealt to you, immediately cap them. I highly recommend using a non-descript card protector. Donít use anything unusual since you donít want attention. Use something heavy & big enough that will actually protect the cards but wonít completely cover them. I donít like using a chip since they are not heavy enough and I have seen plenty of times when players forget to move the cover chip to their stack when going all-in thus missing some value. When to looking at what you have been dealt is a personal choice; there are pros & cons to all of them. Always wait for your turn to act though. Even if the player to your right has announced a raise donít fold your hand until that person has actually pushed out the chips for the raise. Technically itís OK to fold after the announcement but itís better etiquette to wait for their complete action. When folding your hand, announce ĎFoldí and just slide the cards out in front of you so the dealer can reach them. Donít be that player that flings their hand across the table and exposes their cards. When exposing your hand at showdown, keep them right in front of you. Iíve seen too many times where someone has tossed their hand into the middle and an argument ensues whether that is a fold or not. When you have won a hand without showdown, keep your cards protected until the dealer pushes you the pot; then put your tip on top of your cards and push them to the dealer. Donít show your cards to anyone as some rooms have a strict ĎShow One, Show Allí policy. When you win a hand that hasnít gone to showdown, donít show your cards. Remember this is one of your 1st times in the casino and itís highly doubtful you will have a grasp on any meta-game reasons to show just yet.
Taking Action Ė When it is your turn to act, clearly communicate what you are going to do with just one of these 3 words, Fold - Call Ė Raise. Do not make any chip movements until you have announced what you intend to do. For example, $1/$2 blinds, UTG raises to $6 and BTN toss out two red $5 chips; some rooms will consider that a call for $6 and some a $4 raise to $10 total. Another example, $1/$2 blinds with an UTG $5 live straddle, the CO throws out a green $25 chip even though CO has some red $5 chips; most rooms will consider that a call but some have declared it a raise. You want there to be no chance of a misinterpretation of your intentions. When you announce raise I highly advise that you do not announce the raise size, let the chips that you cut out and commit to the pot do your talking. Take this situation, $1/$2 blinds, CO raises to $7, BTN announces ĎRaise - $21í, an argument could be made that the BTN has to push in $28, $26, or $21, was it a raise to $21 total or a raise of an additional $21 above the $5 raise the CO made or $21 above the $7 the CO pushed. I have seen multiple arguments about this. Make your actions promptly, leave your ĎJesusí impersonations for your home game. It shouldnít take you more than 15-20 seconds to announce ĎRaiseí and push out $7 when youíre on the BTN with AJo and itís been folded around to you. Sure take a minute when you have to decide if your King-high flush is good when you have to call a $225 shove but donít make every decision take this long. If you are in seat 1, if you have any doubt that itís your turn, do not act until the dealer indicates. If youíre in the 10 seat and the 1 seat acts out of turn, let the dealer know and donít take your action until the dealer corrects the situation. If there is any doubt about what has happened ask the dealer what the actions are and how much it will cost you to call.
Chip Movement Ė Make sure you have a clear understanding as to what physical actions constitute chip movement. If you have clearly communicated ĎCallí you can make multiple actions to get the chips out to make the call. But when announcing ĎRaiseí without a definitive amount, you can only make one action to commit chips. A lot of rooms will have tables with a clear line as to where the chips have to be pushed across to constitute an action but some donít have this. For these it is generally considered that chips are in play once they have moved out in front of your capped cards. Also be aware that when you take a fistful of chips across the line but only drop some of them, you may be told to drop the rest. This is one area that can be very different between poker rooms. I highly advise cutting out, behind your capped cards, the chips for the total amount that you want to raise into one stack and push just this one stack forward. The alternative is to cut out the chips to complete the call and then cut out the chips for the raise amount into another stack and then push both of these stacks forward. Also if you are a chip shuffler be very aware of what you are doing with those chips, Iíve seen players get told to commit their shuffling chips when they mistakenly move them too far into the table. Never toss your chips even if there is no commitment line and you are just making a small action to get your chips out. SLIDE your chips, this way there will never be any chance of confusion as to what you have put into play.
Table Talk Ė One simple rule here, DONíT TALK!! Resist the urge to ask the donk in seat 3 how he could call your $150 4-bet with KQs and then call your all-in after the flop came Queen high only to hit the King on the river to crack your Aces. Resist the urge to explain why you folded your J2o in the SB in a 5-way limped pot. Resist the urge to comment to your buddy how you wish you could see some paint cards. Resist the urge to explain how you just made a call for $105 against a Ďregí who had an obvious busted flush draw. Donít try to out-level the spewtard in seat 6 that is yammering away at you after youíve made a $75 raise. The less you talk, the less chance there is for you to give away any information. Be polite when spoken to about non-game related stuff but keep it brief. When you are talking you miss what is being said around the table. If you happen to win a big hand with a 4-outter, just give a sheepish shrug or give a short & sweet ĎNice Handí when someone sucks out on you. If there is a question about what is happening in a hand, let the dealer sort it out and donít get involved unless you need to protect your hand or your money. Donít take anything anyone says to you personally, let it go in one ear and out the other. Tilting can be very bad for your bankroll.
Strategy Ė Playing ABC tight nitty poker is the best way to start out. Play position, play premium hands, be very aware of stack sizes and make pot sized or oversized bets. You need to immediately start getting reads on players, who wonít fold their blinds, who limp/folds, whoís doesnít know how to size a bet, etc. Figuring out who is willing to call $43 in the BB with KQs when there is a 4-bet to $45, figuring out who will raise from the BTN anytime there are more than 2 calls in a pot, figuring out that when you have the BTN the BB will always 3-bet your raise of an unopened pot, these are just a few examples of the info that can be had. In a live game you will see each player play less hands during a period of time than in an online game but the reads that you get are usually reliable in just a few their hands. Again your goal here is to experience the live game, itís not to see if you can make a thin value bet against the BTN that has only played 10 hands in the last 2 hours.
Tipping Ė There are lots of threads on poker forums about tipping, how much, how often etc. etc. Generally I will tip $1 for any +$20 pot that I win. I will tip more if I win a big pot (+$250 profit). Always tip your waiter or waitress and, for these tips I prefer to use cash instead of chips. I like to keep as many chips as possible on the table. If the poker room serves free beverages to the players, I tip $2 to the wait staff. Iíve found that this little bit extra does get better service. If I have to purchase drinks I tip $1 per drink.