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You're a recreational poker player, playing in basements and kitchens. You show up for the occasional tournament at the Elks or Kiwanis. Maybe you're still in school and play there. But casinos and other public poker rooms — they intimidate you. You'd like to go, if only because you have friends who go and you'd like to join them. But you're afraid of embarrassing yourself.
This column is a crash course in fitting in and feeling comfortable in that public poker room environment. It won't teach you the necessary strategy for winning. For that I recommend any of a number of articles, training videos, or poker strategy books including my own Winning Poker in 30 Minutes A Day. But following these 12 tips will allow you to feel comfortable sitting down for the first time.Enter the Freeroll and Play!
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1. Don't worry about looking inexperienced
Everyone has to start some time. There's no shame in being new. The good players know this and will be accepting and forgiving of any mistakes you make. It's only the jerks who will be rude or condescending. Pay them no mind. If they were really any good, they would welcome with warm and open arms any inexperienced player.
2. Look at your cards deftly
Home game players often pick up their cards, pull them back from the table, or even put them on their lap. Public poker rooms are much more concerned about cheaters and so require players to follow certain rules when handling cards. You may not hold your cards below the table. You are discouraged from picking them up above the table. You are encouraged to shield them from other players (though you alone are responsible for protecting your cards from the prying eyes of your opponent).
Accordingly, you should adopt a standard, simple, and effective way of bending up the cards so you can see them, without exposing them to others. You can practice this at home. I find that you can simply use your right hand to bend up the left corner of the cards for you to view while using the left hand to keep the exposed corner out of the line of sight of your opponents. It should only take you a few minutes of sitting at a table with a deck of cards to master this technique.
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3. Make sure to act in turn
Acting in turn is easy if you make sure to follow the action. You don't want to act before it is your turn to do so. Similarly, it is really annoying to others if you don't act when it is your turn to do so. Avoid having to say, 'Is it to me?' or 'My turn?' The action moves clockwise, one person at a time. It's an easy concept to understand. Act in turn!
4. Don't needlessly delay the action
When it is your turn, act quickly. If you have a tough decision to make, by all means take the time you need to decide. But don't turn every hand into a major, time-consuming ponder. Avoid daydreaming, engaging in conversation, and playing a game or talking on your phone unless you are out of a hand. While you are in a hand your attention and focus must be on the game.
5. Don't anticipate the action and broadcast what you will do before it is your turn
Two actions fall into this category. Don't grab or count out the chips you expect to be betting until it is your turn to act. And don't hold your cards in such a way as to indicate you are going to fold. Doing these things gives other attentive players an advantage to know what you are going to do before they act.
6. Make your bet (or raise) in one motion
It's against public poker room rules to make what is known as a 'string bet' or bet in two or more motions. You must make your bet or raise in a single motion. When you see poker players in the movies say 'I bet $200' and put out $200, and then dramatically add 'and I raise you another $300' and put out $300, that's a string bet — and that's not allowed when you play in poker rooms.
Accordingly, before making any betting motion, think about exactly how much you want to wager — the total amount. Then say what you are doing before you act. If you make that verbal announcement first, you then are allowed to go back and forth to your stack to put out the bet you have announced. For example, if there is a $10 bet to you and you want to raise to $30, do not put out $10 and then go back to your stack for another $20. Say, 'I raise to $30' and then make your bet.
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7. Don't take chips off the table
This is called 'ratholing' and is generally forbidden in casino play. When you win money it must stay on the table. The only time you may take chips off the table is at the end of your session.
8. Ask questions of the dealer, but ideally not during the play of a hand
No one is expecting you to be an expert. You will have questions about the policies and procedures of the poker room that will pop into your head while you play. Resist the urge to ask the dealer these questions while you are in the middle of the hand. Wait until the hand is over, then ask.
Alternately, you could go up to the floorperson, the brush, or the poker room manager and ask any of them. Keep in mind that it is distracting even for the best dealers to try to carry on a conversation during the play of the hand, so avoid it if you can.
9. Post your small or big blind punctually and without having to be prompted
This falls under the category of not delaying the action, but it merits a separate mention. Hold'em and Omaha are played with blinds. These are forced bets that are supposed to be placed before the cards are dealt. Avoid holding up the game by not posting your blinds when it is your turn to do so.
10. One person to a hand
No one but you should be looking at your cards or making decisions about your betting action. You may have a friend sitting with you or even a cluster of friends standing by to cheer you on in your poker playing session. Do not share your hand with them or discuss your betting action with them during the play of the hand.
11. Resist the urge to celebrate your win
Don't draw attention to your good fortune by celebrating or even talking about a hand you just won. It's annoying to the player who just lost the hand. Take the pot, stack your chips, and then move on to the next hand.
12. Don't 'slow roll' your winning hand
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Again, the movies are partly to blame for this one. In your home game it might be acceptable for the winner to dramatically turn over his or her cards slowly, drawing out the suspense before the big reveal. But in a public poker room, such 'slow rolling' is boorish behavior that you should absolute avoid.
When you're called, turn over your cards right away — win or lose. If you call your opponent's final bet, turn over your cards right after your opponent does. Show your winning hand without unduly drawing attention to the moment.
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These 12 suggestions will not turn you into a winning player. But they will help you avoid embarrassment or annoying other players while you are learning the basics of how to take their money.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of poker articles as well as Winning 7-Card Stud and the brand new Winning Poker in 30 Minutes A Day. He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.
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