First Timer's Guide To Live Poker

Playing live for the first time can be intimidating, but don’t fret! I've got you covered with this guide to your first time playing poker live. Take my advice to stay in line, and out of the red.


In this day and age, many poker players start to play the game online before playing in a live setting. Playing live for the first time can be intimidating, but don’t fret! We’ve got you covered with this guide to your first time playing poker live.

To start, you need to find a game. For our purposes today we’ll focus on casinos and cardrooms, as opposed to home games which are the topics of an upcoming article. If you have any friends who play poker live you can ask them which casino or card room they would recommend. If you don’t have any poker friends yet, the internet is a great resource. You can browse popular poker forums for information on your local cardrooms and ask questions of the players that frequent them. There are also resources like Pokeratlas.com and the Bravo poker app (Google Play & iTunes) that can point you to the nearest games. Most casinos and cardrooms also have their own websites that you can peruse to see what games they spread and tournaments offered. 

Before you venture out to your first live poker game, make sure to gather any necessary items. These include cash and ID but also things like a sweatshirt or jacket (card rooms are often chilly), a healthy snack (food at casinos is often delicious but unhealthy), sunglasses, and headphones (you can wear them with or without music, as a deterrent from chatty players if you want but make sure your music is low enough that you can hear the dealer and ideally you’ll be listening to your opponents as well).

If you are playing a tournament, find out when registration opens and go early to ensure you get into the tournament. When you enter the cardroom, an employee will more than likely be easy to spot and you can ask where to sign up for the tournament. Usually they will have a desk area to sign up or you sign up at the cage. You may need to show them your identification, so make sure to have valid photo ID on your person. You’ll sign up for the tournament, they’ll take your entry fee and give you a receipt and seat card. If there is a lot of time before the tournament starts you can bring a book, check out the room, or even play cash until the tourney starts. Find your table and seat by looking at your seat card, getting to your table a least a couple minutes before the cards are in the air will help you get settled and avoid needing to squeeze your way into your seat. 

Most casinos have Player Reward Programs, so make sure you sign up for a free Player Card to earn bonuses and comps. Check with a casino employee or on the casino’s website to see if they have any additional bonuses. Some cardrooms will have chip “deals” where they give you bonus chips when you buy in to get a table filled up. You should also be aware of any bad beat jackpots, high hand bonuses, etc. when playing cash just in case you happen to get lucky and hit one. 

Most people are a bit nervous their first time playing live poker, and that’s ok! You’ll settle into the game faster than you’d think and look like a live pro in no time. One of the best aspects of live poker is the social aspect. You will meet people from all over the map and all walks of life at the poker table. Talking with your opponents can be fun and informative.

Here's some tips in case you need them:

The information you have available to you when playing live is almost limitless. The best thing you can do is pay attention. You will get better at profiling your opponents and picking up tells as you play more live poker. Things to look for include everything from the way your opponents dress, down to the way they breathe and a million other things. Picking up the details is a skill you will build the more you play. Always watch and learn. 

If you want to learn more about tells, then this is the definitive book: Caro's Book of Poker Tells.

When playing live, verbal is binding. Announcing your action can be a good idea, saying “raise” will save you if you accidentally don’t put enough chips out for a raise. There is a one chip rule; if for example, the blinds are 100/200 and you put a 1000 chip out, not announcing that it is a raise it will be considered a call and you will get change. 

Protecting your cards from being accidentally mucked is necessary when playing live. You can buy a card protector or small trinket to set on your cards or just use a chip for the job. When using a chip as a card protector remember it when going all in. Many a player have pushed their stack in the middle intending to go all in but left their card protector chip behind. This can be avoided by verbally stating “all in” so it won’t be considered a string bet (a string bet is when you put chips forward into the pot and then go back to your stack for more; this is not allowed) if you forget your last chip and have to toss it in after. 

Tipping the Dealer (also called Toking) is common practice in live poker. If you’re playing a tournament and cash, tipping the dealers a small percentage of the cash is often customary. When playing a ring game it is usually customary to toke the dealer when you win a pot. Often it depends on the size of the pot and stakes to figure out a reasonable tip amount. Watch what other players are doing. Don’t feel obligated to make huge tips but don’t stiff dealers either. On the note of tipping, tip wait staff and other employees also. No need to go crazy and cut into your winnings too much, but these people often live on tips (At least in the US.) so keep that in mind.

When playing a cash game live, just like online, you can get up and take your money whenever you want, although there are some etiquette standards. Hit and running is often frowned upon, so if you felt someone, consider at least staying for a few more orbits to give them a “shot” at winning their money back. (At least in their minds, never dump chips back. They are trying to take your money just as hard or harder than you are theirs.) If you want to take a short break while playing cash you can just let the dealer know and leave your stack on the table. It is ok to miss a couple blind rounds but if for some reason a lot of people take breaks at once and the game gets really short handed you may be asked to return to the game. 

If you have questions, need service or have any concerns, just ask the dealer (or floorman) and they’ll be happy to help you. If there are any disputes, the Floorperson will be called over, the Floorperson’s (Or Manager’s, or Tournament Director’s) say is final. 

When leaving your live poker session, be alert and aware that people have been mugged outside casinos. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable don’t hesitate to ask for a security escort to your car. 

The most important thing to remember when playing live poker for the first time is to have fun! You’re playing an awesome game, relax and have a good time! You’ll Get Stackin’ in no time

If you're looking for more help, check out the Gripsed MTT video guide on live tournaments below:

Photo Credit: slgckgc | Flickr


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