“These two have no idea what they’re about to walk into. Down here to have a good time, they figure ‘why not give poker a try?’ After all, how different can it be from the home game they’ve played their whole lives?”
–Matt Damon as Mike McDermott in “Rounders”
For most of us, our first poker experience was nowhere near a casino. Either we learned from friends or family members in home games, or we plugged into the online poker craze. Still, the idea of playing poker in an actual brick and mortar (B&M) casino, with all the attendant sights and sounds, is very tempting for most.
So what do you need to know when transferring your home or online skills to casino play? There are many distinctions between online and B&M play, but two factors you may immediately want to consider are tells and casino type.
The main concern most people have when moving from online to B&M play regards tells. A tell is a physical action a player performs that may give opponents a clue to his hand, such as putting a hand to the face when bluffing. Online, since your opponents cannot see you, physical tells are not really concern (there are online tells, but that is beyond the scope of this article).
In fact, one popular poker site has an advertising campaign where they invite those players who have a “bad poker face” to join, since no one can see your face online. In the movie “Rounders,” quoted at the beginning of this article, the villain is undone by the way in which he handles an Oreo cookie depending on whether or not he has a big hand.
In reality, tells are rarely this extreme. Most of the time when you play in a casino, especially a “tourist” casino (see following), your opponents are much more concerned with what they are holding than what you are. Even when an opponent scrutinizes you, staring you down while contemplating a call, they’re generally just considering how much they like their own hand.
Real tell-spotting requires long, careful observation of a player’s tendencies; you’re not likely to give much away on an individual hand. Professionals like to give the impression that they can just look right into your soul and know what you’re holding, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
If you’re really worried you can buy a pair of reflective sunglasses to wear so no one can see your eyes. You can also always wait a predetermined amount of time (five or ten seconds) before acting whether your hand is strong or not so strong and pick a predetermined spot on the table to stare at while waiting for someone to respond to your action.
2. Type of Casino
All casinos are not created equal. Ten years ago, before the explosion in poker popularity, most casinos did not have a poker room at all, or at best, a small section of the blackjack floor partitioned away where two or three $1 to $2 limit games might take place.
Obviously, things are different now, but there are still distinctly different types of casinos where one might play poker. The first is a Card Club. These are most commonly found in places like California, where poker as a game of skill is legal, but some other gambling games are not.
Although they have expanded to other games, these clubs are primarily designed to play poker. As such, you are likely to find the most experienced poker players here, although not necessarily the strongest and they have their share of tourists as well. The more common type of casino is a Las Vegas Style Casino.
These casinos have made fortunes on blackjack, slot machines and roulette and did not really focus on poker in the past as it is not a big money maker for the casino. Unlike the other games, which are against the House (the casino) and are structured so that the House always wins in the long run, poker is a game where the casino only makes money by taking a percentage of each pot (called “the rake,” usually no more than $4 a pot) for themselves.
Although now rare, some casinos take “time” instead of a rake, meaning every half hour a representative of the casino comes around and collects a predetermined amount of money from each player in the game.
Of these Las Vegas Style Casinos, you will find what I think of as Poker Casinos vs. Tourist Casinos. A Poker Casino is one that has always had poker as part of its draw. These include The Bellagio and The Mirage in Las Vegas and the Taj Mahal and Borgata in Atlantic City.
A Tourist Casino is one of the aforementioned casinos that did not have poker at all until the recent boom made it worthwhile as a draw to get players into their casino. Of course both of these types of casinos cater to tourists, but the Poker Casinos are where you are more likely to find professionals. Which of these types is more to your taste is for the individual to decide.