Casino Poker for Beginners: This Time the Dealers Have Tips For You

Poker Dealer

For this series of articles specifically aimed at players who have experience with poker in a home game or online, but are new to poker in brick-and-mortar casinos, I decided to ask a couple of my poker dealer friends to address this question: “What do you wish those new to poker in casinos knew that they usually don’t know?”

Kristi Smith (@AlaskaGal1 on Twitter) is a dealer in Las Vegas. She submitted an excellent list of items in response to my question. I have followed some of her points with comments of my own.

1. Don’t worry too much about it being your first time. Everyone starts somewhere.

Absolutely. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to disguise from experienced players the fact that you’re new, so don’t even try.

When you’re not sure what to do, or even what your options are, it’s better and less stressful to say to the dealer, “This is my first time playing, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do here.” As long as that question is about rules and procedures, and not about a decision regarding how to play your hand, he or she will be happy to explain.

2. The cards shouldn’t be picked up off the table to look at them. The dealer needs to be able to see your cards at all times.

Only bad things happen when you lift cards off of the table. They get seen by other players. They get dropped on the floor. They get overlooked by the dealer and other players who are visually scanning the table for cards in order to know where the action is.

3. Cover your cards while you peek at them so you don’t accidentally show your neighbor.

4. Don’t comment on the current hand. Don’t say what you folded or comment that a flush or straight is possible.

Definitely. And you should keep following this rule even though you’ll frequently hear others violate it. It is, unfortunately, a very common transgression.

5. If you want to raise, say “raise” before you put an oversized chip in. Or if you’re using multiple chips, put them all out at once.

6. It is important to wait your turn. The dealer will look at you or signal you when it’s your turn.

If you’re ever unsure, it’s fine to ask the dealer, “Is it my turn?” Or, “Is it on me?” Or, “Where is the action?”

7. Your large denomination chips must be in the front of your stack.

This is so that other players, eyeing your stack, don’t make a big mistake about how many chips you have because some high-value chips are out of sight. Some shady players deliberately hide them specifically to induce such mistakes by others. It’s against the rules and highly unethical.

Casino Poker for Beginners: This Time the Dealers Have Tips For You 101

8. Most rooms will give you a quick free lesson to give you a rundown on the mechanics of the game. However, the best way to learn is to just sit down in a low-limit cash game or cheap tournament and play.

9. Dealers work for tips. If you’re playing cash it’s customary to tip the dealer $1 if you win a pot. In a tournament, the winners will often leave a small percentage of their winnings for all the dealers to share.

When your tournament payout comes in a bunch of small denomination chips, that’s the casino giving you subtle encouragement and help to leave something in the tip jar for the dealers.

10. If a dealer has to correct you for a rule violation, don’t take it personally. We want you to have fun. It’s just part of the dealer’s job to keep the game going and to make sure the players abide by the rules.

If you think it kills the fun of a game when a dealer enforces the rules, you should try playing when a dealer does NOT enforce them. It becomes chaotic, unfair, and no fun at all!

Dominick Muzio (@dmuzio on Twitter) is also a Vegas dealer. Unlike Kristi, he had just one thing on his mind when I emailed him with my question:

I wish more new players knew that there is no need for them to justify their actions or play. When they say things like “I had pot odds” (they usually don’t), or “I can’t call with this junk hand” (they probably should because of odds), they immediately alter how the game will be played. More savvy players will pick up on this weakness and exploit it. It’s just as dangerous in affecting play as talking about the hand in play.

I agree. People do this to save face. But poker is one social circumstance where saving face is counterproductive. To more experienced players, your comments reveal how little you know. To less experienced players, such talk causes them either to feel like they don’t know enough to be playing, and thus not come back, or to get better educated about the game. Neither outcome is good for your bankroll.

If another player thinks you did something stupid — whether you actually did or not — let him! Then find a way to use that false image in your favor, rather than try to correct the false impression. Making money matters more than impressing people with your skill. So never complain, and never explain!

Much thanks to Kristi and Dominick for contributing their hard-won observations.

Robert Woolley lives in Asheville, NC. He spent several years in Las Vegas and chronicled his life in poker on the “Poker Grump” blog.

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