Hold-em and Vegas

Greetings, all. I’m a long-time lurker in the boards but have finally found a question that requires removing my cloak of silence.

A friend and I have recently begun playing a lot of friendly, low-limit games of the Texas Hold-Em variant of poker. We’re planning on taking the leap and making a trip to Vegas soon to play and wonder if the Teeming Millions could help us with a few questions:

  1. What is the best place in Las Vegas to play low-limit (1-2$, 2-4$) games of Hold-Em?
  2. What kind of stake should a person bring to play? We’ve heard 30 large bets (e.g., 120 on a 2-4 game) but are unsure if that’s actually realistic.
  3. Are there any unintuitive rules of poker etiquitte that we should know about before sitting at a table?

My friend and I genuflect before the knowledge of the Teeming Millions. We appreciate any insight you could offer.

  1. The best place to play is where you feel most comfortable. The Bellagio has an amazing poker room, including several low-limit tables. Just remember, larger casinos draw larger sharks, and the low limit tables fill up quickly. The action is really fast, and you may not feel right trying to keep up with that crowd. If you’re looking for something a bit more toned down, try Binion’s. Or something on the old strip. Not as glitzy, but an easier atmosphere.

  2. Again, we are looking at comfort level. Take as much as you feel comfortable losing each night, no more. At the level of betting you’re looking at, bluffing really isn’t much of an issue…it’s mostly the luck of the cards. $120 sounds reasonable. Try to stick to suited links if you can, 10-J, etc, or pairs.

  3. Just keep your eyes open for what’s going on around you. If someone is being a jerk, let the dealer and pit boss handle it. Trust me, they’ve had plenty of practice. Don’t let it put you on tilt. Tipping the dealer who treats you well is considered good manners, but do it either when they are about to leave the table or when you do.

And, have a blast. I envy you.

30 Big bets is a really, really small poker bankroll. On the other hand, if you’re just throwing around entertainment money, it’s reasonable enough. But 30 big bets can dry up in no time.

I’d consider 50 BB the absolute minimum, with 100 being more reasonable.

If you aren’t really, really skilled, and just want to play for entertainment, stay away from the locals casinos like Sam’s Town or any of the Station casinos. The people that play there do it for a living, not for fun. They can eat you alive. Binion’s Horseshoe was a good suggestion for downtown, but I like the poker rooms at the Luxor and Excalibur. Lots of tourists playing for fun, which equals loose play and bigger pots.

Your bankroll is up to you, but I don’t feel comfortable with less than $200 to start. Keep in mind that not only should you have a limit on what you can afford to lose, but also a limit on your winnings. Sounds silly to some, but if you get over a predetermined amount that you are tring to win, quit. Go enjoy your money before you lose it.

As for rules of eiquitte, there are many.

  1. Never bet out of turn.
  2. Never comment on a hand you are not playing in.
  3. Tip a buck or two after each hand you win, depending on the size of the pot. Don’t save it for when you leave or the dealer does.
  4. When betting, put the entire bet up at once. If you are raising, say “Raise”.
  5. Do not throw your money into the pot. Place it just ahead of your cards, so eveyone can see that the amount is right.

There are others that will come up, but until you are in the situation, it would be too hard for me to describe them.

Above all, if you find you are at a table with someone that really rubs you the wrong way, or is making you uncomfortable in any way, leave. There are many tables to choose from and you don’t have to play at theirs. Do not try to beat that person at cards to “get even” with them. They probably don’t even realize they are the cause of your upset. Just go elsewhere because you are coming to Las Vegas to have fun, and they are not condusive to that goal.

Thanks, all. We were actually considering going to a local haunt, but after reading your advice, we’ll probably try a more touristy place and avoid the sharks.

Appreciate all the advice and insight.

I’ll second the “not betting out of turn” as I’ve been screwed by that trick a couple of times. The most critical unwritten rule is to either leave your mobile phone behind, or turn it off.

At the 2-4 limit, you won’t see any professionals. If you think the person is a shark, he or she isn’t. I can guarantee it.

Why? Because if you’re playing professionally you simply won’t make enough money at the 2-4 dollar tables over the long haul to make it worth your effort. And if you’re a professional and can’t compete at the higher tables, you’re really not all that much of a professional anyway.

That’s not to say there’s any shame at playing 2-4. I’ve played everything from nickel-dime to 20-40 and if your goal is to just have fun, then that’s what you’ll do. All I’m saying is to not be scared of the sharks. They aren’t there.

What will happen at the 2-4 tables is that you’re going to have to show down the best hand to win. $4 isn’t going to get anyone out of the hand if he’s that curious to see the next card. My best advice: play better hands and you’ll win more often. It sounds so simple as to be almost ridiculous, but it’s the only way to play. Still, with more people in the hand, you can start playing small pairs and Ax suited in early position knowing that you’ll have more players in and that raises the pot odds for you.

This doesn’t mean you can’t bluff either. Just know when to pick your spots. Here’s a really great one that works at all levels but especially at the hard to bluff low limits.
You’re in the blinds, see the flop and it’s been checked around. Turn card comes and it pairs up the board, especially the top pair.
Bet. Even if you have nothing, bet. I can’t tell you how often you’ll get the table to fold for that bet. Why? If they have something and they’re in mid to late position, they would have bet, right? They didn’t. They have nothing. Even if they think you’re bluffing, they can’t call you knowing that they have nothing themselves and it takes a really tricky player to raise-bluff, something rare in the 2-4 games. So they’ll fold.
Or they’re on a draw and will call you. Bet the river. If the draw didn’t come in, they’ll fold.

I’d recommend actually some of the festive places for 2-4. The excalibur used to have a wheel you spun for prizes if you lost with AA or KK. They might still have it. That’s a good way to make money right there. But, overall, the Bellagio is the way to go. Great poker room and you can watch the 200-400 games from afar.

Just last weekend I played Hold Em in Vegas for the first time. On the advice of a co-worker, I played 2-6 (not a fixed bet structure – all betting rounds allow bets between $2 and $6) at Excalibur. Excalibur’s poker room is small and simple, with a few perks that make things fun:

  1. If you lose with pocket aces and at least $30 in the pot, you get to spin a wheel which pays anywhere between $20 and $300. This is really great because it takes away the frustration associated with getting your aces cracked.

  2. If you have four of a kind or better, you get to spin the wheel, win or lose.

  3. There’s also a jackpot (around $6000 when I was there) which is divided up between the loser, winner and rest of the table if you lose with aces full or better. So if you get aces full or better, bet the shit out of it – losing would be the best possible outcome.

I played two 4-5 hour sessions from late morning to early to mid afternoon, and the table was pretty tight both times. Things may be looser in the evenings where you’ll get more people drinking and just playing to have fun, and bigger card rooms may be looser as they’re more visible and will attract more casual players.

When I played, most people played with $100. Most people tipped the dealer between $0.50 and $1.00 for a normal-size pot (around $20), more for a big pot. I would avoid tipping too generously – big tips on top of the rake can really eat into your profits.

I ended up losing money overall, but I had a really good time and would highly recommend playing poker. Play pretty tight, choose strong starting hands especially when you don’t have good position, and don’t slow-play or bluff very often. Wait for good hands and bet and raise with them. Don’t give people cheap or free cards to draw to a straight or flush if you have a high pair. Good luck!


Another idea is to play tournament poker- the Nevada Palace (near Sam’s Town) has a $20 buy in Hold 'em tournament at 10 a.m on most mornings. Its a bit grungy (the poker room is practically a closet) but the games good, you know exactly how much you are going to lose ahead of of time. And if you are good enough (I have gotten close at another tourney but my full house got beat by four nines…damnit) you might have more to go play with that night. As a warm up, its a good place to play- people are friendly but not lax and there are some good players there. I always prefer tournament play, I like the strategy of it but its not as rewarding monetarily (or as risky- depends on how you look at it) as regular play.

Thanks again all for the great advice. My friend and I are really going for the experience of playing in Vegas, not necessarily to win. We’re at the stage where we’re good enough that the people in our friendly weekend games are basically financing our supply of beer and Doritos. We suspect, however, that playing in Vegas will be – how to put this? – a more humbling experience. We’re planning on losing the money we bring and considering it a tithe to the Gawds of Poker. Such are the sacrifices we make in the pursuit of Knowledge.

It appears there are some differing views, but I will take the following to heart:

  1. Betting out of order very bad mojo. (Sage advice from many)
  2. Don’t fear the sharks at the cheap tables (thanks Ender!)
  3. Watch the other players to figure out how much to tip the dealer. (This actually didn’t occur to me. In our games, the dealer’s “tip” is that someone else will get his beer while he shuffles.)
  4. Have fun

By the by, I’ve been reading Phil Hellmuth’s “Playing Poker Like the Pros.” It’s a good good read and much of his strategy makes sense to me. Are there any other books that Dopers would recommend as a good poker reference?

Also, is it possible to be a spectator at a poker table? Not actually sit there, obviously, but watch a game from the bar or something? My gut hunch is that it’s frowned upon for a variety of reason, but it would be nice to watch for a bit to learn the game conventions.

Greasy Stain

Playing Hellmuth’s strategy might help you not lose a whole lot of money, but you’ll never win playing like that.

“Winning low limit hold 'em” by Lee Jones is exactly what you want to read for the games you’ll be playing. Very solid foundation to build on.

I believe that it is acceptible to sit out for a bit once you get your seat, at the very least until the blinds get to you. That should give you a few hands to be a spectator on.


SenorBeef: Gracias, SenorBeef. I was thinking that Hellmuth’s strategies seemed unreasonably tight at times. “I can only play 10 different pockets?” Unfortunately, I must curse you, because I just spent another $100 at Amazon while getting the book you suggested. Stupid book deals…

LordVor: Interesting. I was hoping to be able to watch from afar, but I suppose that just invites cheating. We’ll check out the environment and see how it goes. I’m leaning towards the Bellagio at this point, if only for the really cool fountains.

Again, thanks to all. We’ll try and stop by the DS:9 Quark’s replica and toast you all with some bizarre Klingon beverage.

That is the casino I am currently working in. Wed - Sun graveyard.