By Steve Beauregard
One of the best things about playing Texas Hold’em poker in Las Vegas is the fact it’s the only game in the casino with no house edge.
The tourists spinning the slots, or playing blackjack, craps or roulette are all in a battle against a giant: the casino. And he’s a giant who struts into battle with a decidedly mathematical advantage.
Not so with poker, which not only lacks a house edge, it allows the knowledgeable and sober player to have an edge over the competition.
At the felt, the advantage a skilled player possess makes him or her, in essence, “the house.”
With poker, you’re not competing head-to-head against a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate. Instead, you’re playing against fellow tourists like yourself, many, (if not all), are likely to be either poor players, and/or drunk.
Unless you’re playing higher stakes, (defined by me as $15/$30 limit hold’em or higher, or $2/$5 No-Limit Texas Hold’em or higher), you’re not going to be playing against professionals. Therefore, the combination of zero house edge, a basic foundation of poker knowledge, and competition that will be, at least in part, not card savvy, makes it perfectly logical and reasonable to assume that you can make money playing Texas Hold’em poker in Las Vegas.
This won’t happen every time. Even a Doyle Brunson or Phil Ivey would lose to a table full of drunk fish once in a while. Pocket aces lose to 7/2 off suit sometimes, and there’s nothing a player can do to counteract short term variance, other than to play solidly for the long run.
So here are the five steps to follow if you want to know how to win money playing Texas Hold’em Poker during your next stay in Las Vegas.
1) Play Only Low Limits
While you could probably make more money playing higher limits in blackjack (say $25 blackjack versus just $5 tables), the same cannot always be said for poker.
Typically in poker, the competition gets significantly better the higher the stakes you play. Which is why the visitor wanting to know how to win money in Vegas poker rooms should stick with the relative security of a low limit table.
(Go here for an article on the best low limit poker room in Las Vegas).
For no-limit hold’em, this would be your standard $1/$2 NL or $1/$3 NL found at every single poker room on the Las Vegas Strip.
For limit hold’em, this would be the $2/4 limit hold’em game found at places like the Flamingo and Excalibur, or even the fun $4/$8 limit game found at the Bellagio.
2) Play at night
I’m unaware of any scientific studies to prove this, but my experience (and common sense), says that the later you play poker, the worse the competition.
In fact, I’m absolutely convinced that a study would show that winning players earn at a significantly higher rate at night, than when those same winning players sit down in the a.m.
Having young kids, I’m used to getting up early and going to bed early. Unfortunately, this means that in Las Vegas, I’m often sitting at a poker table at say, 10 a.m., when I’d much rather be raking in pots off of drunks at 1 a.m.
The early morning tables (particularly the limit tables), are almost always slow moving, tight, and devoid of action. These morning tables are often full of regulars, seniors, and sober people – none of whom are known for taking risks and spewing chips.
In the later hours, on the other hand, is where you’ll see the sloppy drunks, the very tired people who refuse to leave, or simply poor players who chase or play every hand. I’ve played against fellow tourists who didn’t know the difference between a flush and a straight, and I’ve played against drunks who have gone “all in” pre-flop without even looking at their hand!
This leads us to…
3) Have a decent understanding of poker strategy
I’m assuming this is already the case. Still it bears mentioning: having a solid foundation of poker knowledge goes a long way to winning money at the low limit tables you’ll be frequenting.
I’m not talking about being a poker expert, or having read all of the massive volumes of material in poker great Dan Harrington’s “Harrington on Hold’em.” However if you read just one poker book, you’re likely to be heads and shoulders above the skill level of your table mates – most, or all of whom have never read a poker book.
For you limit hold’em players, make it a point to read “Winning Low Limit Hold’em,” by Lee Jones, which I consider to be the best poker book for limit hold’em players.
No-Limit players should read the No-limit hold’em section in the poker bible, “Super System.” (Either the original or updated version is fine).
4) Play sober, or relatively so
Easier said than down. At least it is for me – a guy who has a hard time saying “no” whenever a gorgeous twenty-something in a short skirt is offering me free Crown Royal.
To have a chance at making money in the poker room however, you’ll want to stay relatively clear headed. Otherwise, you’ll make poor decisions, play too many hands, stay with a hand too long, or do what I do, attempt stupid, risky bluffs time and time again.
Most of the late night tables in a card room with have at least one or two guys who will get blitzed and throw their money around too recklessly. Stay a little sober, and be the recipient of these drunks’ unintentional largess.
5) Have Fun
I’ve played very seriously, with intense focus on making money, and I’ve played with a relaxed, carefree attitude, wanting to play my best, but ready for whatever happens.
I’ve found I make a lot more money at the poker tables in Las Vegas when I start out just wanting to have fun.
Sitting down at the table with a smile, excitedly ready to play some cards somehow always seems to act as a positive catalyst for good things to come. (Yes, I’ve been reading “The Secret.”).
A good attitude doesn’t guarantee a win, but I’ve found it to be more successful than going in with low, (or no) expectations.
So there are some basic tips on how to make money playing Texas Hold’em in Las Vegas. Anyone who says they can guarantee you a way to make money in the cardroom is either a liar, or a guy selling you an ebook.
I make no such guarantees. In fact, I’ll go the opposite way: no matter how good you are, you are guaranteed to lose sometimes playing poker in Las Vegas. After all, even with a house edge, the casino loses on some nights. In poker, there will be sessions when the cards just won’t go your way, and your nut flush on the flop will get river’ed by a full house. That’s poker.
However having a good understanding of basic poker strategy, combined with playing low limit games at night, while sober, will give you an edge over your fellow players. And when we are talking about gambling in Las Vegas, an edge is all we can ask for. (Photos courtesy of Equipo Unibet and Alfonso Jiminez via Flickr).