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5 Rules For Beginners Playing Live Poker

Home » Darren’s Den » 5 Rules For Beginners Playing Live Poker

5 Rules For Beginners Playing Live Poker

A poker player looks anxiously at their hole cards.

Often when I talk with novice poker players, they tell me, “I love playing poker, but I’ve never played in a casino. It’s too scary.”  We usually have a good laugh and I say I don’t blame them. Any time you are entering a new competitive arena, it can be intimidating. This is especially true with poker which has a lot of rules, etiquette, and protocols that may be unknown to a casual player.  Also, the beginner has no idea what to expect from the other players at the table regarding helping a new player navigate these situations. 

I wanted to share this to clear up some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen aspiring poker players make and prepare players for rules that exist in casinos that may not be enforced in their home games. Poker should be a fun and enjoyable experience, even for new players. If you can come in with decent knowledge of what to expect and the rules, there’s nothing to worry about!

1. How To Get in a Poker Game

So you’re at the ARIA in Las Vegas or the Borgata in Atlantic City and are ready to try your luck at poker. How do you get to playing on a table? This answer is going to go two ways depending on if you want to play a tournament or a cash game.  

If you are looking to play a tournament, you’ll have to find a schedule with the events running that day (most major poker rooms have tournaments running every day). When you find an event you’d like to play, head to the cashier or “cage” in the poker room and pay the entry fee. You will almost always need a Players Card to sign up for a poker tournament in a casino, so don’t forget that. This is as simple as registering with the player loyalty rewards program, such as MGM Rewards. The cashier in the poker room will print you a tournament ticket which will have a Table and Seat Number on it. From there, you go take your seat and start trying to win all the chips.  

If you are looking to play a cash game, the process is even easier! All you really need to know is the stakes and game type you’d like to play ($1/$2 No Limit Texas Hold‘Em, for example). Cash games are almost always denoted by the size of the blinds. There is typically casino staff at a desk near the front of a poker room with a microphone that will be taking names and managing the lists for all the cash games. Once you find the desk, just give the poker room staff your name and the game(s) you would like to sign up for. There may be a wait to get on a table, but most rooms will have TV screens showing all the games and lists so you can track your progress on the waitlist. When your seat is ready, the staff will call your name and you can confirm what table you have been assigned. 

ARIA Casino & Resort Las Vegas Poker Room

Most casinos allow you to purchase chips at the table to play poker once you’re there, however I’ve always preferred buying my chips at the cage before heading to the table. This prevents me from slowing down the game by buying chips when I’m entering the game and also allows me to select at the cage the preferred chip denominations I’d like to play with. 

2. Following the Action

The “action” of a poker game, or whose turn it is to play, will also go clockwise around the table.  Knowing when it’s your turn and acting promptly is considered good etiquette, but for new players it may be confusing to always know when it’s your turn. Here are the two major things to remember. In games with blinds, like Texas Hold‘Em or Pot Limit Omaha, the action before the flop will always start with the player to the left of the Big Blind and proceed clockwise from there.  After the flop, the action will start with the first player left of the button who has a live hand and proceed clockwise as well. Most dealers will either gesture towards a player or look at them when it is that player’s turn as well. If you are ever unsure if it is your turn to act, feel free to ask the dealer, “Is it on me?”

3. When To Show Your Cards

When you reach the end of a poker hand, whether it be the river in Hold‘Em or Omaha or the last draw in other games, you will reach the showdown stage. There can be confusion with new players about when to show their hand, which player to show first, and more experienced players may even take advantage of this to try to gain information for later. Here are some very simple guidelines for when to turn your hand over. 

If you have bet and are called by another player on the last betting street, you have to open your hand. If you are bluffing and would like not to show the hand, you are allowed to give it facedown to the dealer, or “muck” your hand. 

On the other hand, if you have called another player’s bet on the last betting street, it is up to him or her to open their hand first as their bet has been called. Waiting for this player to open their hand is not considered bad etiquette. 

If there is no action on the last betting street (all players check), then it depends on the house rules for who opens first. Typically, it goes by position, and the player to the left of the button opens first before going clockwise around the table. Some casinos use the rule of the last player to have made a bet on any street being the first player to show their hand. You can always ask about showdown rules at the specific casino where you are playing. 

4. String Bets

A common mistake made by new players is making a “string bet”. These sorts of bets are often allowed in casual home games, but never in casinos. They can also be costly to your success as making a string bet may prevent you from playing a hand how you would have liked to play it. 

A string bet is when a player does not put in all in the desired chips for a wager at the same time. You are not allowed to place chips in the pot and then reach back into your stack afterwards to add more chips to the wager. Be careful with this one and get all the chips you need in your hands before pushing chips across a betting line or into a pot. 

Borgata poker chips

5. Minimum Raise Requirements

In poker games, if we are putting in a raise versus a bet, then that raise needs to be greater than or equal to that bet or raise we are facing. For example, if at $1/2 blinds before the flop a player raises to $5, then our minimum raise is to $8, as the other player has raised $3 from $2 to $5 and we now have to match or exceed that raise. 

When just facing a bet, this is very simple to deal with as if we would like to raise it is just double or more of the bet we are facing. For example, if a player bets $10 on a street in Texas Hold‘Em, the minimum we could raise them to would be $20. It gets a little trickier when facing raises as we must do the math on how much that player raised the last bet they faced, and then double that amount. The pitfall here can be if you put in insufficient chips to raise a bet, you may be forced to call and not allowed to raise. If you are unclear on how much you can raise to, feel free to announce “Raise” before putting chips in.

I hope these tips can be helpful to new players and anyone thinking about taking their first shot at playing poker in a casino. Poker is an incredibly fun, challenging, and social game that can be enjoyed by all. Knowing these little intricacies of the rules ahead of time is invaluable and should serve any new player well. Best of luck out there everybody! 

Register with BetMGM Poker to try your hand.

Poker player Darren Elias at poker table.