By Steve Beauregard
For a beginner player, stepping into a Las Vegas poker room for the first time can be intimidating: the busy front desk, tables with thousands of dollars on them (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars), and crowds of too-cool-for-school players with their sunglasses, hoodies and Ipods shuffling chips in a manner that leads you to believe they’re talented pros. For those of you used to friendly home games with family or with buddies, it can all seem so intimidating.
But it absolutely should not be.
Low stakes poker in Las Vegas is an absolute blast. It’s almost always laid-back, breezy, and full of fun-loving tourists exactly like you, just looking to play some Texas Hold’em. And it’s the only game in the entire casino where you’re not playing against the house – just other players.
So often times it’s profitable. And those times that it’s not? Well, as long as you don’t get drunk and play really loose, your money is likely to last a lot longer than if you were seated in front of a slot machine, or a blackjack table.
So what low stakes poker game are we talking about? $2/$4 Limit Hold’em, or sometimes just called “2/4 limit.”
I recommend that a beginner wanting to play poker in Las Vegas for the first time start out in a low-limit game, such as 2/4 or $3/$6. To me, the best poker room in Las Vegas for a beginner wanting to start off with small stakes is at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.
I say that for several reasons:
1) Low Buy-In
First off, the buy-in for low limit poker is incredibly low, probably much lower than you think. As poker fans, we’ve all seen the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event on ESPN, where over $8 million can be won, and we’ve watched high-stakes cash games, where pros battle it out for pots exceeding $100,000, but all of that is far outside the norm, and it sometimes skews our thinking, leading us to believe that Las Vegas poker is the domain of those with bulging pockets.
Not so. At the Flamingo Poker Room tonight, you can get a seat at 2/4 limit game for just $20. I don’t recommend starting off with that low of amount, but that $20 represents the least amount you’d need to grab a seat at the table.
In a limit game, you should typically buy in for 20 to 30 times the size of the big bet, which in this case, is $4. Having this amount of chips in front of you will often be enough to ride out the swings common in the game so as to prevent you from pulling out the purse or wallet to reload after a loss.
So plan on playing with at least 20x the big bet, or $80. My wife and I always buy in for $100, because it’s just easier that way, both in the purchase and in tracking of your stack while on the table.
(Go here to read: How to make money playing Texas hold’em poker in Las Vegas).
2) Low Limit Game
You’ll notice I’m recommending a beginner player start off in a LIMIT game, rather than the No-Limit Texas Hold’em games always shown on TV as part of high buy-in tournaments.
Playing limit, in my view, significantly reduces the nervousness factor, which in turn makes the game more fun.
Without getting into the rules in detail, in limit hold’em, there’ll be fewer tough decisions to make. Often you’ll just have to decide whether or not to toss $4 more dollars into to pot to see if your pair of jacks is good.
No-Limit is a whole other kettle of fish. First off, the lowest No-Limit game offered in Las Vegas casinos is $1/$2 No-Limit, a game in which an initial buy-in of $200 is pretty standard.
Then you sit down at the table with your $200. On your very first hand, you could face an all-in bet for your entire stack. Then what?
Say you’re have an Ace/King with an Ace on the board, and someone pushes all in? Do you call and push in your $200 worth of chips? Yes you have a good hand, but what if sunglasses guy on the other side of the table has flopped a set? (Three of a kind is a “set”). Then what? Do you go back to the room and moan your luck? Reload? Hit the ATM machine?
You can see why only having to make decisions worth $4 eases the tension a bit. Don’t get me wrong: playing sloppy in limit can make you lose your $100 buy-in quickly. But knowing you’ll never be put to the test for your entire chip stack on any one hand is one of the more appealing advantages of limit hold’em. And why it makes it seemingly more fun for everyone at the table.
3) No-Pressure Competition
Speaking of which: trust me when I say no one at your table will be a professional. The stakes we’re talking here are so low that a potential hourly rate is just not worthwhile enough for someone trying to make a living on the felt. There are zero $2/$4 limit hold’em pros in Las Vegas. There are, however, some young guns trying to grind out a living playing $1/$2 no-limit. And guess who they’re looking for to help pay their rent? That’s right. You.
Your fellow players at your limit game, meanwhile, will be just like you: tourists looking to have a good time. There may be some older regulars who use the poker room to kill time (especially in the morning hours), but you know how to play against old rocks don’t you? As the saying goes, the older guy always has it. (Meaning if an older player bets, you know he has you beat).
I’ve played lots of $2/4 limit at the Flamingo, and have never sat at a table full of players who all seemed real good.
4) Drinks and Comps.
Just like when you play slots or table games, you’ll be treated with free water, pop, and cocktails while playing in Las Vegas poker rooms – including the Flamingo.
On top of that, you’ll receive a dollar an hour in comps just for playing. When first sitting down, be sure to hand the dealer your Total Rewards card. I’m not sure what else the comps can be used for, as I’ve only used my poker room comps for food purchases in the little deli stand next to the Flamingo Poker Room.
5)High Hand Promotions
The Flamingo poker room no longer has a bad beat jackpot, however there are high hand jackpots.
Showing a hand of quads, for example, will get you $50 (plus the pot) and it goes up from there. A straight flush will get you $100. A Royal Flush made gets you a nice bonus of $300.
Professional poker players, along with more regular, serious players despise bonuses and other types of jackpots. That’s because a small amount of every won pot (usually a dollar), is taken out to fund the promotions. So having serious, knowledgeable poker players avoiding places like the Flamingo makes the competition less fierce, and is just another reason you may want to play there.
If you’ve never played poker in Las Vegas and want to give it a shot – go for it, as there’s no reason to be intimidated, and if you’re wanting to start off slow, you’ll want to try the Flamingo.
The list of casinos offering $2/$4 limit is a short one. We’re talking Strip casinos. The Luxor has offered it frequently, and you can find several tables of $2/4 limit at off-strip casinos like The Orleans.
Another alternative, if you can’t make it to the Flamingo, is a $2/6 spread limit game. The Excalibur has a $2/$6 spread limit game, but keep in mind, this can be quite a bit more expensive to play. That’s because in “spread” versus “limit” you can bet up to $6 on the first two rounds of betting, versus just the $2 max bet during the first two rounds in a $2/4 limit game). The Park MGM (formerly the Monte Carlo) also has a $2/6 spread limit game. The Mirage runs a $3/6 limit game.
However if you find yourself anywhere near the middle of the Strip, I recommend the low pressure, friendly low stakes game at the Flamingo Poker Room for poker beginners.
Photos courtesy of me, and Alfonso Jimenez via Flickr.)