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How to Play Live Poker at a Casino – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

by Bojan • June 15, 2021
How to Play Live Poker at a Casino - The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

The idea of playing poker in a crowded casino may seem overwhelming for some players, especially if you have never played in a brick-and-mortar casino before. However, no matter if you have never played it or you simply played online or home games with people you know, it will take minutes before you’re ready to join a live casino game.

In our guide, we will teach you how to play live poker at a casino. We will cover everything you need to know, such as proper table etiquette, and will also include tips to show you what you should and shouldn’t do in a live poker game. Moreover, we will also include a few strategies as a bonus to help you get started.

10 Quick Facts About How to Play Live Poker

  • If you have never played poker before, make sure to learn the rules before you join a live poker table.
  • Virtually every casino offers Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha.
  • Don’t play at the stakes you cannot afford.
  • Never string bet.
  • Slow-rolling is just bad sportsmanship.
  • You can always ask a dealer or even other player questions about rules, just don’t do it while the hand is being played.
  • Keep your chips neatly stacked, and never take them off the table.
  • Don’t slow the game by being idle; act whenever it’s your turn.
  • Tip the dealer after winning the pot.
  • Use separate strategies for MMT and live cash games.

How to Play Live Poker for the First Time

This section will briefly cover several things you should do before you head out to a casino. However, it is only for players who have never played poker before. If you have already played poker and you’re familiar with the rules, table limits, and similar, you can skip to the next section.

The first thing you should do if you wish to learn how to play live poker at a casino is to understand the rules. Land-based casinos often offer several poker variants, and the most popular ones are Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha. We have already covered Texas Hold ‘em in another guide, so make sure to check it out and learn the basics before you start playing.

The minimum you should know is the basic rules, such as how the action is passed, hand strengths, and betting stages. Additionally, you should learn poker chip values and how casinos use different colours to mark different denominations.

These live poker lessons are important because you wouldn’t want to be the person who continuously ruins the game flow by asking questions mid-round or in between each hand. Granted, while most players will be kind enough to help you out and answer any poker-related questions you have, you may ruin the game dynamics by not learning the basics.

Interestingly, the most efficient way to learn how to play live poker at a casino is to prepare yourself by playing online. In today’s time, some of the best poker sites in the UK allow you to play for free. Of course, you won’t be able to win anything by playing free tables, but it is an excellent way to learn more about poker and gain some experience before you head out to a live casino.

Transitioning from Online to Live Poker

Once you’re ready to play live poker, the first thing you should do is see what games are available and make a reservation. Namely, unlike online casinos, brick-and-mortar ones have a limited number of tables. If the place is crowded, it may take a while before you can sit down and play.

Granted, while many modern-day online casinos employ live dealers and allow you to play live poker online for real money, nothing beats the experience of playing in an actual casino. Furthermore, you can always avoid the crowds and simply visit the casino’s website and make a reservation in advance.

Once you arrive at the casino, talk to the manager or a poker host and see if there are seats available. If there are not, you may be given a pager that will notify you when there’s an available seat, so you don’t have to sit in place and wait. Additionally, if you’re getting ready to play live poker for the first time, don’t be surprised if a casino employee asks for your phone number. 

Namely, some casinos will also offer to call your cell phone or text you when there’s a seat available. The exact specifics vary from one casino to another, but you get the idea.

Now that you know how to get a seat, the next live poker lesson we have in store for you is about choosing the table. As we mentioned earlier, live casinos will usually offer several different poker variants. In addition to that, you will also have to decide whether you wish to play at a Limit or No-Limit table.

If you wish to learn how to play live Limit Hold ‘em poker, you may often encounter a Limit game labelled as “2-4 Limit Hold ‘em”. In this case, that means you would be signing up for a Limit Texas Hold ‘em game. As far as the numbers are concerned, they represent the amount you can bet pre-flop and on flop (£2) and the amount you can bet on turn and river (£4).

Small and big blinds are usually half the value of the bets, and in this case, the small blind would be £1, whereas the big blind would be £2.

However, if you wish to learn how to play live No-Limit Hold’em poker, you should know that the blinds would be included in the table’s description; for example, £2/£4 No-Limit Hold ‘em. Additionally, you may encounter a table like “£20 NL” that is usually a game of Texas Hold ‘em with blinds £1 and £2 and buy-in of £20.

While this is how casinos generally inform players about bet amounts and blinds, an important thing to know is that the exact specifics may vary from one casino to another. If you are not entirely sure about the bet limits, ask either a poker host or a dealer.

How to Play Live Poker at a Casino — Table Etiquette

Assuming that you know basic poker rules and how to find a table, you’re all set to play your very first game of live poker. All that’s left to do now is learn proper table etiquette and which things you should and shouldn’t do at the table.

Get Your Chips Beforehand

If you’re on a waiting list, it would be a good idea to get your chips before the game starts so that you can hop right into action when a seat is available. To do that, simply visit the page and exchange money for casino chips.

One live poker strategy that many players use is bankroll management. If you don’t know how bankroll management works, it is essentially a strategy that helps you manage the money you use for gambling. By having a dedicated bankroll, you will be able to decide how much of your money you will exchange for chips.

Additionally, if you are nervous about playing live poker for the first time and forget to exchange your chips, you can always buy them directly from the dealer or chip runner at the table. An important thing to know is that you should place your money on the table and let the dealer know you wish to buy chips. Don’t just hand the money to the dealer since they cannot take money directly from your hand.

Don’t Worry About Being Inexperienced

As we mentioned earlier, many players won’t be bothered or give you a hard time because you are playing live poker for the first time. As long as you know the rules and are not continuously interrupting the game, most of them will be willing to help you and answer any questions you may have.

Of course, while some will try to exploit your inexperience or act condescending towards you because of it, one of the best live poker lessons is not to pay too much attention to them.

At the same time, try not to overthink things or focus entirely on hiding every little tell. Contrary to popular belief or what you may often see in the movies, most recreational players generally have no idea what your hand is. Namely, when comparing online poker vs live poker, many inexperienced players think that online poker is better because you can easily bluff or hide the fact you have a good hand.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, players will sooner pick up on your betting patterns and how you play out your winning hand than the tiniest facial expressions. For that reason, make sure to relax and focus on the game.

Learn How to Check Your Cards

Believe it or not, transitioning from online to live poker is extremely easy. In fact, one of the hardest things you will have to learn when switching to live poker is how to check your cards properly. If it sounds easy, that’s because it is.

Of course, you will need to look at the cards without revealing your hand to everyone at the table.

There are several things you shouldn’t do when looking at your cards. Those are some basic rules casinos implement to discourage cheating. First off, you shouldn’t pick the cards above the table. At the same time, you are not allowed to pick the cards and hold them underneath the table.

If you wish to learn how to play live Hold ‘em poker like a pro, the best method to look at your cards is to shield them with one hand, press down the middle, and lift them just enough to see the rank and the suit. Ultimately, you can always practice at home and find a technique that suits you the most.

Don’t Take Chips Off the Table

Just like you are not allowed to take the cards off the table, the same goes for poker chips. This live poker strategy cheaters use is known as ratholing and is forbidden in live casinos.

All the amount you win at the table must stay at the table, and the only time you are allowed to get chips off the table is when you wish to end your session. If that is the case, you should announce to the croupier to “deal you out”, and they will collect your chips for you.

Make Sure Your Chips Are Neatly Stacked

The best way to learn how to play live poker at a casino is to simply practice, which can also be said for handling your chips. Ideally, you would want to stack your chips so that it is easy for you to bet.

At the same time, make sure all your chips are visible so that other players at the table can figure out your chip stack without having to always ask you about it. Information like that is extremely useful in No-Limit games when players need to decide whether they wish to call, fold, or raise, for example.

Be Ready to Act in Turn

One of the most important live poker lessons, or poker lessons in general we have for you, is that action in poker variants like Texas Hold ‘em is always passed clockwise. For that reason, make sure to keep an eye on the gameplay and act promptly whenever it is your turn to act. That means no idle chit chat or, even worse, looking at your phone.

If you want to learn how to play live poker for the first time, make sure to remember that you can always chat with other players, even during the hand, as long as it does not affect the gameplay or stop the action from moving.

Additionally, use your best judgment to assess whether other players want to talk in the first place. Some players prefer focusing on the game while others enjoy socialising, and it will be up to you to determine the mood at the table.

Finally, if you are still transitioning from online to live poker and getting accustomed to the game flow, don’t forget to put small or big blinds in place whenever you are on the blinds. Since there is no software to do it automatically, other players might feel slightly annoyed if they or the dealer have to remind you about it continuously.

Don’t Insinuate Your Play Before It’s Your Turn

Apart from avoiding making other players wait on you, you shouldn’t announce your play or your entire live poker strategy in advance. Do not imply that you will call or fold or anything of a sort until it is your turn to act. Wait until the action is on you, and only then make your move.

Don’t String Bet

Betting in two or more motions is known as a string bet. If you wish to bet a specific amount, make sure you bet in a single motion. Pick up the amount you want to bet, push your chips towards the pot, and announce how much you are betting or raising.

Let’s say you are playing live poker for the first time and you wish to bet £125. If you pick up a £25 chip, push it forward without announcing anything, and then grab a £100 chip, the dealer will not allow the bet and will instead count only your first bet, which would be £25 in this scenario.

However, if you first announce that you are betting or raising £500, for example, you can move £300 in chips towards the middle, then reach for another pile of chips and add another £200 to the bet.

Funnily enough, many players who wish to learn how to play live poker at a casino don’t even realise that string betting is a bad thing, and the main culprit for that is Hollywood. Namely, string betting is often seen in movies where actors theatrically announce that they are betting £1 million and then, after a dramatic pause, announce they are raising for another £5 million.

However, make no mistake. While it may look cool in the movies, actual live casinos do not allow it.

Don’t Slow Roll

If you want to find out how to play live poker and think movies are a great way to learn the basics, we need to stop you right there. Namely, Hollywood wouldn’t be Hollywood without skewering reality for dramatic effect, and slow-rolling is yet another reason to blame Hollywood for the way they portray poker hands.

Slow-rolling happens when a player intentionally takes a long time to either call an all-in bet or reveal their hand, even if they already know they have the best hand.

If you are playing with your friends or practising how to play live poker, you can slow-roll them as much as you want. However, once you get in a live casino, make sure to avoid slow-rolling at all costs.

One Person Per Hand

While you can have a friend or even a few of them spectating your poker session and even cheering you on, no one but you should decide how to play your hand.

This includes not sharing your hand with your friends or discussing the round, especially if you already folded and are not taking part in it.

Remember to Tip

If we compare online poker vs live poker, we can see that the biggest difference between them is dealers. Just like waiters, dealers often make minimum wage, so many of them rely on tips to go by. Since it is considered a common thing among casino players, make sure to tip the dealer after winning the pot.

The amount you are going to tip depends on you mostly, but generally speaking, tipping £1 on a £25–£100 pot is sufficient.

The last thing you should learn when mastering how to play live poker at a casino is to treat dealers with respect. In other words, don’t blame them for the cards you’ve been dealt. If you are unlucky or you’re just playing poorly, that’s hardly the dealer’s fault.

Basic Poker Strategies for Beginners

If you’ve made it this far, you know virtually everything there is to know about playing poker in a live casino. As a bonus, we’ve also prepared a few basic strategies for you to help you increase your chances of winning. Of course, it goes without saying that you should approach multi-table tournament games and live cash games differently.

Live Cash Game Poker Strategy

Your live cash game experience may change drastically from one poker session to another. Granted, while your manner of playing matters a lot, the outcome of your session will depend on who’s at the table and what’s the atmosphere like. However, there are still things you can do to increase your chances of making a profit.

One of the most basic live poker strategies is to look for weak tables. If you see a lot of alcohol around or a group of a few friends being lively and playing together, the chances are that’s a pretty good table to sit at. It means the atmosphere is lax and people are there mostly to play poker rather than make money.

To make the most out of any live cash game poker strategy, make sure to punish limpers whenever possible. As we just mentioned, a lot of poker players in live casinos are recreational, meaning they don’t plan to spend the entire night folding and waiting for a playable hand. In fact, they will limp in with bad hands in most cases just to see the flop.

Therefore, one of the best ways to learn how to build a bankroll in live poker quickly is to take advantage of limpers by playing a bit looser. In other words, bet more aggressively and play a wider range of cards.

At the same time, use strategies you would regularly use when playing poker. For example, be aggressive on the button and defend your big blinds.

Another great tip for anyone looking for a live cash game poker strategy is not to let your mouth cost you a lot of money. Namely, if a player is playing badly, let them. If you point out their mistakes and call them out for being a fish, they will just play a lot more conservatively, and you may potentially lose a lot of easy money.

Live Poker Tournament Strategy

Playing tournaments is different from regular live cash games, especially if you play MTTs (multi-table tournaments) and plan on a deep run. In most cases, there is no ante in the early stages of the tournaments, meaning there is no pressure, and you can play conservatively.

An important thing to know regarding any live poker tournament strategy is that increasing your stack by 20% or even 30% won’t make much of a difference in the early stages, and the only advantage you will really have is that you will be able to survive one or two bad all-ins. In other words, you won’t be able to win the tournament in the early stages, but you are more likely to lose it. To avoid losing your entire stack, be conservative and play smart.

As the blinds increase, you can adjust your live poker tournament strategy accordingly. In other words, you can become more aggressive and try to steal as many pots as you can. However, it does not mean you have to be entirely passive.

For example, you shouldn’t always limp in and give players on SB and BB the chance to see the flop with poor hands. At the same time, you also need to make sure to defend your big blind whenever possible by expanding the range of hands you will play when on BB.

Low Stakes Live Poker Strategy

If you are new to live casino games or poker in general, then low stakes are the best way to start and gain some experience. However, you can make a profit and crush low stake games as you are learning.

Generally speaking, you can take all the tips we included in our live cash game poker strategy for beginners and implement them when playing low stakes.

Low stakes are all about the grind, so conservative is the way to go. Of course, if you have a good hand, you should always value bet whenever possible and make the most out of the opportunity. We already covered how value betting works, so make sure to use it to your advantage and squeeze out as much as possible from a good hand. 

A good principle to follow when using a low stakes live poker strategy is to play top 20% hands with six people at the table and 15% of hands with nine people. As always, make sure to use your position to your advantage, especially if you’re on the button.

Finally, try to mix things up a little now and then. While other players at the table might not pick up on small facial expressions and use them as tells, they may notice patterns in your betting. For that reason, one of the best live poker strategies you can use is to stay unpredictable and leave other players guessing.

Ultimately, you should remember that strategies are there only to help you out. There are a ton of variables in poker, and no strategy will be able to tell you how to play out every single hand.

Summary

If you wish to learn how to play live poker at a casino, you should start with the basics, especially if you are new to poker. Brush up on the poker rules, poker chip values, and hand strengths. After that, focus on learning about table etiquette, and you are good to go.

Even though it seems like there is a lot to learn, much of it is straightforward, and it won’t take long before you’re ready to crush live poker games.