Las Vegas is the epicenter of the poker world and has been ever since the World Series of Poker first played out all the way back in 1970. The WSOP ballooned in 2003 when Chris Moneymaker qualified online and went on the become the Main Event Champion – the first true amateur to do so. Since then, thousands of players flock to Las Vegas for the event, which featured over 50 bracelet events in 2019.
Now, 50 years later, there are poker rooms up and down the Strip, many of which offer major poker festivals throughout the year, and daily cash games and tournaments to keep players of all stakes levels happy and entertained. However, how do you know where to play and what game to sit at? Well, our team of experts has put together a few tips on how you can find the right poker game on your trip to Las Vegas.
Learn before you go
The first thing our experts tell anyone who asks about how to play poker in Vegas is to learn poker before you come. There are going to be sharks at some of these tables, which is normal and shouldn’t be intimidating. However, you will want to have built up some basic knowledge on the game and perhaps been playing online for free at many of the sites and apps that are on the market today.
If you are brand new to the game, there are loads of YouTube videos on the basics of gameplay and betting, which you should take in. The next step is to get some basic strategy under your belt – start learning hand rankings and how they factor into how many hands you play at the tables.
Find a poker room
This may seem obvious enough to people, but once you are settled into your room and have gotten the nervous energy of landing in Las Vegas out of the way, you need to pick a place to play. Not every casino has a poker room, and all of them vary in size. The two rooms that most people have heard of – Bellagio and Aria – have beautiful facilities but also feature some of the biggest games and strongest players.
If you are more of a novice or entertainment-driven player, we suggest you stay away from those rooms and look for ones that match the vibe of the property itself. Places like The Palms and Planet Hollywood have nice rooms that are more player-friendly. You will want to check out sites that offer tournament schedules for local casinos as well -most typically offer a mid-day tournament and one in the evening to go along with the cash games running all day.
Decide what you want to play
Now that you have narrowed down your selection, you can make your way to the poker room. When you get there, you will likely find a staff member only too willing to help you navigate through the room, giving you a list of the games that are available. If you are looking to play in a tournament, you might want to show up 30 mins in advance, register for the tourney, and then go for a wander or observe the play at the gash game tables.
Sign up for a game within your budget
Everyone has seen the pictures of the winners of large tournaments with piles of cash around them, but the story most don’t see is how often players go bankrupt in pursuit of those big scores. The best advice to give anyone playing poker, especially those playing in Vegas for the first time, is to play within your means. Too often, players join games with stakes too high to stay in during the downswings, which are inevitable. Move your way up the stakes levels as you build your bankroll.
Hand over your player’s card
This goes without saying, but you want to get as much value as you can out of everything you do in Las Vegas, and this includes sitting at the poker tables. The level of comps you receive at a poker room is not nearly as high as that in slots or table games (the casino makes far less money dealing poker), but you can still earn enough for a meal during one of your longer sessions. Also, since the casino will know how many hours you are sitting there, you are bound to receive excellent offers to stay at the hotel the next time you plan a trip to Vegas. Hand that card in as soon as you sit down, so you don’t miss any points!
There may be no better advice to poker players coming to play in Vegas for the first time (or anytime for that matter) than to take a deep breath and relax. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. The more relaxed you are, the less likely you are going to make bad plays or play hands you shouldn’t. It can sometimes feel like you haven’t had a good hand in hours – stay patient rather than spewing off chips with marginal starting hands.
Now, one thing many people do to relax is having a cocktail. While we aren’t saying you shouldn’t drink at the table, you should have a look around at your opponents to see what they are doing first. If you see a bunch of people drinking sodas and coffee, expect the game to be a little more serious. Go ahead and have a drink or two, but remember what it will do to your cognitive decision making the longer your session goes.
Play poker away from the poker room!
Finally, if you are still not quite ready to hit a live poker room, you have the option in Las Vegas to play online for real money! Nevada is one of the only states in the country that offers legal real money online poker, and thousands of players play at sites like WSOP.com from the comfort of their hotel rooms or out by the pool! You can get a Caesars players card and earn comp points playing online, and, depending on the time of year, you can also take a shot at winning an official World Series of Poker event and the bracelet that goes along with becoming a champion!
Poker is a great game and a fun way to meet new people in Las Vegas. As long as you stay relaxed and focused, and aren’t too nervous about playing with strangers, then you will have an amazing time at the felt. Good luck!