What should I expect first time I play poker in a card room?

I’ve been getting interested in poker recently, specifically Texas Hold 'em. I’ve read a bit of Sklansky and Caro, as well as Poker for Dummies. I’ve played online for fake money, and figured out early on that the psychology of the game is completely different when you a) can’t see your opponents and b) aren’t playing for real money. I don’t (right now) have a group of friends/co-workers to play with, so I haven’t got a lot of real-world practice (although I have played poker in the past).

At some point, after reading a bit more and memorizing some tables, I want to visit a card club/casino. (I live in the Puget Sound area, and there are several legal establishments within easy driving distance.) I plan on starting at the lowest-limit tables.

What should I expect? The books are good at presenting strategy, but I’m sure my first visit’s going to be intimidating. How much of a bankroll should I bring for a few hours of play at a low-limit table? Anything I can do to avoid looking like a rube? Any further preparations I can take to make my time more fun and less costly?

Any advice, commentary, first-person stories, etc. would be appreciated.

Bring an extra shirt.

More seriously - obviously, don’t take anymore than you can afford to lose, and don’t fall prey to the impulse to pull out a little more because you’re “hot” or because you think you can make it right with just one more hand.
Your technical knowledge may be first rate, but you will be an open book to any experienced player.
Keeping yourself to a limited bankroll, and expecting to lose it all, may give you a more carefree, enjoyable experience.


I’m definitely going in with a limited bankroll, and while I’m certainly not hoping to lose it all, I’d be willing to do so and stop there. Really, I’m worried that I’ll be so nervous that I won’t enjoy the experience, which would make for a suboptimal evening.

Well, if you don’t enjoy it you can walk away. Again, the big problem is that casino poker players wait for people like you to sit down at the table. They’re like wolves smelling out the weakest member of the herd and then bringing it down and chewing the flesh off its bones.

But if you don’t mind losing, it’s good practive. I stick to blackjack and craps myself. Much more fun since everyone is (or damn well should be) cheering each other on.

Plus, you might call them & ask them what to bring & how things work. That’s what I would do.

If you do decide to play, use the “check and raise” ploy on one of your better hands. I like to throw this out at least once a night when I play, it makes for an interesting round of betting and looks from the other players. If it works, and you win, you can bluff with it the next time you use it.

Do many of them really hang out at the low-limit $3-6 tables, though? No matter how bad the other players are, that doesn’t seem very lucrative when there are higher limit tables nearby. Guess I’ll find out…

Yeah, that’s the catch-22, isn’t it? You have to practice to get any good, and you have to figure you’ll lose money while you practice.

You’re absolutely right, Interrobang, it is a catch-22. That is why you have to accept the fact that you are going to lose money while you’re game gets better. Which backs up the idea that you should not play for more money than you can lose. Once you walk in knowing you are going to be leaving with $100 less, it helps with the nerves also. And if the people you are playing with see you are nervous, they’ll be able to read you like a book.

I’ve never played in the Pugent Sound area, but I imagine the games are pretty much the same everywhere, so I’ll try and give you a little idea what it is like.

When you go in, head first to the guy with the microphone. You can’t miss him. He’s the guy who is in charge of seating people. Tell him what kind of game you want to play and the stakes. He’ll give you an idea about how long it will be until you play. He can also help you get your chips. Generally, I try to get 50 times the blind when I sit down. Thats generally $150 in a 3-6 game, or $200 for a 4-8 game, $250 for a 5-10. It should give you enough of a cushion that you will be comfortable enough so that you aren’t playing too tight (i/e too stingy) or too loose (chasing iffy hands). But that’s just my prefrence.

If there are other higher limit games going on, most low-limit hold 'em players are of two types: People like you who are learning or maybe there just for fun, and people who don’t have a larger bankroll (mostly retired, older people). However, if there is only a couple tables open, you’re more likely to have better players playing under their roll to pass some time until the 10-20; 20-40 games start. Watch out for those guys. I generally spend a couple rounds playing really tight while I try and see how the other players are playing. Then, I may loosen up a bit.

The first casino hold em game was quite a nerve-racking experience, even though it was just a 3-6 game. I played way too tight, so I was very easy to read. But that was fine by me, I was there to learn and experience, not make money, so it didn’t matter to me if they knew I was only playing the nuts.

The thing that amazed me the most about poker rooms is that there are quite a few people who are jerks. I had always pictured a table of 10 guys, all behaving themselves, maybe quietly talking, but all being considerate. I was surprised when a couple players got into a vicious argument when one insulted the other.

Anyway, have fun, and good luck! Let us know how it goes.

Amazing as it sounds…listen and pay attention! My first time I folded when I could have checked, and I have seen that happen to others. Only afterwards did the dealer suggest the proper course of action…

Education costs. I have yet to pay all of my fees.

Hamlet’s observation that people are jerks is true. Losing money does funny things to people. Your only edge in poker, as compared to other games, is that you are not playing against the house. You are playing against other living, breathing, thinking, feeling humans beings. You are there to win, or at the very least keep from losing your shirt. You have to ask yourself if you can stand the heat. This is low-limit; are you prepared to grill a pensioner for their social security check? Can you bet hard to keep Granny from drawing out on you? You are trying to take hard-earned cash (or this month’s rent) from someone who doesn’t want you to…be prepared for a fight. While poker is romantic, it is not necessarily nice.

Good luck-

Yeah, they do hang out at the low-limit tables. Almost every time I play, it’s at a table with 3 or 4 locals and a couple of tourists (like me). My take is that a fair number of them aren’t necessarily doing it for the money, so the lucrative part doesn’t matter. They’re hoping to pass the time, so low-limits is better.

This can work to your advantage, though. I once sat a $1-4 stud table that was all locals, except for me. Quickly picking up on the fact that they all knew each other, I played a few hands like a total tool (betting big on weak hands; folding in the face of only modest threats; checking and raising). I’d always open big and most of them would fold right away; I bought a lot of pots (small, but hey). They pretty quickly figured out that I didn’t know what the Hell I was doing, which made it all the easier to lure them in later on down the line when I got good hands. They couldn’t figure out that my $1 opener meant a good hand (I wanted them to stay in) and that my $4 opener meant crap (I was hoping to bluff them out). That was a unique experience for me, though, and I’ve never tried that strategy again.

The bankroll advice given above is the best: assume that you will lose whatever you’re starting with. And never get more money. ATMs are NOT your friends!

I have now accepted this fact. (I’m also planning on a time limit, if I’m lucky enough to last for a while.) And I wasn’t really complaining about the circumstances – but poker seems like one of those experiences where, no matter how much you prepare, nothing prepares you like playing it does.

This is useful information. I had the same preconception you did: lots of quiet people playing a cerebral game of poker.

I’ll revive the thread once I’ve gone – it could be as long as a month from now. I’m not really done with preparation, and I’d like to have some chance of staying for a few hours.