First Time in a Casino? Ten Questions You Should Ask
Originally published in Woman Poker Player Magazine
by Ashley Adams
It used to be that it was extremely rare for a woman to play poker in a casino.
Sure, they had their home games from time to time. And there were certainly the exceptions – some of whom were of world-class ability. But it took a truly unusual woman to venture into what was, in appearance at least, the male-dominated domain of a poker room. That is changing – has been changing rapidly for the past five years or so. And as the environment becomes less male, so too are more and more women interested in joining the casino games. Even so, for men and women alike, there is some hesitation and trepidation about playing in a casino – even for the experienced home game player.
I’ve listened to many questions from interested poker players. They often are eager but unsure of what to do when they get there. They don’t want to be embarrassed their first time out – and so they have resisted the temptation to just go down and play.
Let me start by saying that the best first step in getting over the anxiety of playing in a casino is to ask questions. Questions, questions and more questions will put you in the right frame of mind to enter a casino poker room for the first time. Why? Because once you arrive you’ll be asking questions right off the bat. So being inquisitive in advance gives you a head start.
Here is an initial list of questions you should be asking as you enter the casino. Some answers are obvious. Some, less so. Make sure you have the answers before you sit down for your first casino poker game.
Where is the poker room?
Silly, I know. But in casinos, poker rooms are usually not located in an obvious and visible place. That’s because they usually don’t make nearly as much money for the casino as the slots, the table games or especially BINGO and KENO. So just because you don’t spot it right away doesn’t mean that the casino you’re in doesn’t have a poker room. Make sure to ask. Now especially, many casinos are starting to spread poker. And with charity, Indian, and riverboat gaming, many freestanding poker rooms are sprouting up all over the place. You might be pleasantly surprised.
What games do you offer?
Nearly every casino that offers poker will spread Hold ‘Em – generally no limit and limit. Find out what else they offer. Some have an Omaha game, an Omaha Hi Lo game, 7-Card Stud, 7-Card Stud Hi Lo, Razz (Stud Low only) even Draw, Lowball, Pineapple and combinations of all of those games are offered in some casinos from time to time. Some poker rooms offer certain games only during certain hours. Make sure you know the exact game that is being spread before you sit down. This is especially importantif the casino spreads mixed games – that rotate among a few games. I remember waiting for two hours to play in what I thought was a great Pot Limit Hold Em game. I finally got a seat only to find out three hands later that it was a Dealer’s Choice game that had just been changed to Omaha – a game I didn’t know how to play. If you want to avoid looking like the moron I appeared to be – ask first.
What stakes do you spread?
Poker rooms frequently have many different stakes of the same game. Where I play most often, Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, they spread for example, $2/4, $4/8, $5/10, $10/20 and $20/40 limit hold ‘em and no limit with $1/2 blinds, $2/5 blinds, $5/10 blinds, and $10/25 blinds. They offer a similarly broad array of 7-Card Stud games. And during tournaments they offer just about any game you can think of at all limits. Many casino poker rooms also have a wide variety of stakes that you can play. Find out what they are and then decide which game best suits your bankroll and playing ability.
Are any of the games played with a Kill?
A “kill” means that the limits double when the pot is a certain size and there is a single winner. Typically, for example, the $5/10 Omaha8 (Omaha Hi Lo with an 8 qualifier for low) game at Foxwoods is played with a kill when the pot reaches $100 and there is a single winner. The next hand is played at $10/20. The limit returns to $5/10 unless the next pot is also a single winner with a value of $100. Make sure that you understand which games are “kill” games and how the “kill” is triggered.
Where do you buy chips?
Another question that may seem silly. But it isn’t. In some poker rooms you can buy chips right at the table. Just sit down with your cash and buy your chips from the dealer. Some casinos have chip runners that will take your money and sell you chips from a mobile cart. In other places you must go to the cashier yourself to get chips – often having to stand in line. Find this out ahead of time. If there’s a wait for a table, it often makes sense to stand in line at the cashier and buy in for a game while you’re waiting to be assigned to a table. It will save you the annoyance of having to wait twice before you can actually play a hand.
Does cash play on the table?
All standard poker room games are played “table stakes”. That means that you may only bet or raise with the chips that you have in front of you when the hand begins. There is no going into your wallet during the play of the hand; nor may you “go light” and make up the amount after the hand is over – as you can in a typical home game. In some casinos you can have bills in addition to your chips on the table before the hand begins. These bills can be used to call and raise if you run out of chips. Other poker rooms don’t allow you to use these bills – they “don’t play” in the parlance of the poker room. Find this out ahead of time, before you are in a position where you’d like to raise or call with your cash. Nothing worse than being caught short when you mistakenly thought you could use the cash you had sitting next to your chips.
Do I have to post a blind to get a hand?
Some places deal you a hand as soon as you sit down even if you haven’t posted a blind. Other places require that you put up an amount equal to the Big Blind if you want a hand. If that’s the case then you might as well wait for the Big Blind to come to you before you play your first hand. Find this out first, before you sit down. If you have to post, you can take a few minutes after you get seated to buy your chips, go to the bathroom, etc. while you wait for the Big Blind to come to you. If not, then plan to play as soon as you sit down.
Do you have tournaments?
Many, if not most poker rooms today have regular poker tournaments. These may range in price from $10 to $1000. They may also have major poker tournament events a few times a year with even larger buy-ins. Find this out. For someone starting out it sometimes makes sense to first enter a small buy-in tournament. The amount you can lose is limited by the size of the buy-in, but the amount you can win can be quite large. This will give you a chance to have the experience of playing poker in a casino for very short money.
What is the maximum number of raises?
In some poker rooms it is three; in others it is four. Know this before you sit down. Similarly, in some rooms there are an unlimited number of raises if only two players inddmj.indd 30 5/14/2007 1:20:40 AM remain in a betting round. In other rooms there is an unlimited number of raises only if the betting round began with two players. Though the situation of continued re-raising comes up infrequently, it does come up from time to time. Know what the rules are before you find yourself in a situation where you need the answer.
What is the rake or time charge and how is it taken?
This may be the most important question of them all – as it affects your ability to make money and it faces you on every hand. You need to know when the rake is taken and what the maximum amount is that can be taken from the pot. Similarly, you need to know what the time charge is. You should know, just as a reference, that most casinos are rake the pot at 5-10% with a maximum rake of $4 or $5. Time charges, generally, are $5 per half for $1/2 no limit games or $10/20 limit games. They go up as the stakes go up. You need to know if the rake or time charge is reduced if the game is shorthanded – and if so under what conditions it is reduced and by how much. Some poker rooms will reduce the rake in half but only if half of a full table or fewer players remain. Other rooms never reduce the rake or time charge. Similarly, some places reduce the rake if the pot goes heads up in a split pot game like Omaha8 or Stud8. Different poker rooms have widely different policies. Find out the answers precisely so you can play where it is most advantageous and so you can tailor your game to suit the rake or time charge.
Whom to ask?
In general, it’s better to ask these questions of someone who isn’t dealing. Dealers are busy running the game. Get the attention of a floor person or a poker room manager. Tell them you’re new and that you have a few questions you’d like to ask them. Ask them if you can have five minutes or so of their time. Since it’s their job to attract new players to their poker room, they should be very willing to spend the time with you. Summary: Get the answers to all of these questions and any others you can think of before you play your first hand. That’s what floor people and poker room personnel are for.