The first World Series of Poker held in the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino was also the first one I attended. It was 2005. I’d satellited in to the Main Event, and I arrived in Las Vegas full of enthusiasm and hope.
I proceeded to make all sorts of mistakes, from poker mistakes to logistical mistakes and beyond. I folded when I shouldn’t have folded, called when I shouldn’t have called, and paid for things I could have had for free.
Local card rooms have their own cultures, and so does the Rio. The WSOP is such a large production that it has evolved its own customs and practices. Here are a few points to keep in mind if you’re planning to make your first trip to the WSOP this summer.
1. Even if your opponents don’t play better, they might play different
Besides all of the WSOP-related action, there are many dozens of cash game tables at the Rio and a whole city full of poker beyond it you may well wish to explore. If and when you do, keep in mind the old saying that Las Vegas is “the graveyard of hometown champs” isn’t fully appropriate. There are plenty of local winners who also beat Las Vegas games. But even if you game-select well, your opponents might surprise you with their playing styles.
Many of us have adapted our games to our usual opponents — indeed, it’s hard not to do so. But just as overall aggression and looseness can vary with the room, so can more specific tendencies. Stay aware and decide whether it makes sense in these games to raise “for information” with weak top-pair hands on the flop, whether you should play flush draws fast, and so on.
Insofar as you can, it can be useful to be slightly more skeptical of your inferences about what a given action means when your opponents might come from five different states and three different countries. Don’t abandon hand-reading, but do be careful not to assume that a given Texan or Italian plays the same way as your most familiar opponent.
2. Be extra careful about rules
With the enormity of the WSOP comes the need to standardize rules and occasionally to interpret them more literally and strictly than would be usual in a smaller room with more regulars and fewer temporary staff members. Especially in tournaments, rules are often enforced literally. Players routinely receive penalties for folding out of turn or exposing their hands prematurely, when it would be usual elsewhere only to receive a warning.
Even if it’s clear that you made an innocent mistake, that might not be enough to get you off the hook. Once, on Day 5 of the Main Event, a player at the table next to mine got a one-round penalty for just calling a bet when he was last to act on the river with the nuts. (He was an inexperienced player who had flopped top pair and failed to notice that he had also flopped a backdoor flush draw.)
When in doubt, use a little extra caution at the tables. Make sure everyone else has folded before you expose your hand. Make sure the opponent to your right has folded before you do. It’s courteous, and at the WSOP it’s especially prudent.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask
There will be more poker happening at the Rio during the WSOP than you’ll have ever seen in one place. Even the Commerce or Foxwoods doesn’t have as many poker tables as the Rio does during tournament time. With all this poker comes opportunities you might not know about.
I love to play mixed games, but it took me a while to realize that mid-stakes mixed games often run at the Rio, and as a result I missed out on games I would have loved to play. I still don’t quite understand the rules about who exactly gets food comps, but a polite request to the brush gets the job done for me more often than not when I’m finishing up a session.
The economics of Las Vegas and of the WSOP is strange. What is abundant elsewhere can be scarce at the Rio, but what’s scarce elsewhere sometimes abounds at the Rio. The empty seat you see might be available. The thing you want from a booth in the hallway might be a free sample. When in doubt, don’t be shy — just ask.
Be sure to enjoy yourself and have fun if making that first WSOP trip this summer. But prepare, too, and make the most out of your trip when playing and when away from the tables.