First of all, let me explain what I mean by
"casino poker". It's not the contrived poker games where you play
against the casino like Pai Gow or Caribbean Stud. I'm taking about
the real kind of poker where you play against the other players at a
table in the poker rooms that some casinos have. The two most common
casino poker games are 7-Card Stud and Hold 'Em (aka Texas Hold 'Em)
and they are single-deck games. (Casinos make their money at these
games by taking a small percentage of the winning pot. There is no
house edge because you're playing against the other players at the
table with you.)
If you are new to casino poker there's only one
place to go - the Excalibur. Not only do they offer free poker
lessons every afternoon (7 days a week) at 2 pm, but their room
caters to low-limit players. Betting is done with $1 chips and the
maximum that can be bet (on a raise, etc.) is $5. If you arrive for
the lesson early, feel free to watch a game in progress. Poker seems
to be Vegas' spectator sport. You'll often see people watching the
action in casino poker rooms.
The best part of casino poker is this:
You don't have to bet!
There is no initial ante. If you don't like the
hand you're initially dealt, you don't place a bet. You just fold by
flipping your cards over and pushing them toward the dealer. You're
out of that hand with no money bet. (There is one exception to this
that you will see below.) This, along with the fact that it's a
low-limit game, means you could spend hours at a table with $30 to
$50 stack of chips. When you see someone playing every hand they're
usually someone who doesn't know how to play casino poker.
I'll cover 7-Card Stud on this page because this
is the game played most often in the Excalibur's poker room. The
main difference between it and Hold 'Em is that in Stud, all players
are dealt all cards directly to them. In Hold 'Em there are "flop
cards" which are dealt face-up in the middle of the table and all
players use these cards in their hands. That's why Hold 'Em is often
referred to as a "community game". If you know how to play Stud,
making the transition to Hold 'Em is an easy one.
7 Card Stud
In 7-Card Stud you are dealt seven cards to get the best 5-card
hand you can. You want to use the best of your five cards to make up
the best poker hand you can following the traditional poker ranking
Royal Flush - 10 thru Ace straight, all same suit
Straight Flush - A straight with lower cards than Royal,
all same suit
Four of a Kind
Full House - Three cards of one value and two of another
Flush - Five cards of the same suit, not in numerical
Straight - Five cards in sequence, multiple suits
Three of a Kind
The game starts with the dealer dealing each player two cards
face down and a third card face up. (The dealing and subsequent
betting goes in a counter-clockwise rotation like at a blackjack
table.) Look at your two face down cards using both hands (one to
lift them off the table and the other to cover them so the other
players can't see what you have).
At this point, the player with the lowest value up-card has
to start the betting - usually with a $1 chip. This is the only
time you are forced to bet and it's only done to get the betting
If you don't have anything promising at this point, lay your two
cards back down on the table, flip the up card over so it is also
face down, and push your cards towards the dealer. (Never flip your
face-down cards up. This is only done at the end of the hand when
players compare their hands to see who won.) You are now out of this
hand and you wait for the next hand to be dealt.
Continuing to Play
For the players that don't fold the game continues with the first
round of betting (which was initiated by the player with the lowest
up-card). Players can call ($1) or raise ($1+) when they place their
bets. If a player raises, let's say he raises $2 for a total bet of
$3, then all players that bet after him must bet $3. You usually
won't see a lot of raising in the early betting rounds.
Place your bet (chips) in front of your cards. Don't throw
them into the pot. The dealer will do that. If you want to
raise, put both the call and the raise in one stack in front of
you. Putting your call out and then your raise is considered
"string bets" which are not allowed.
Once the first round of betting is complete, the dealer deals
each remaining player another card face up and another round of
betting takes place. This takes place two more times until the
remaining players have four up-cards (the one dealt initially and
three additional). In other words, each time the remaining players
are dealt a new card a new round of betting takes place back at the
$1 level (raises don't carry over from one betting round to the
Opposite the first round of betting which was started by the
player with the lowest up-card, these betting rounds are started
by the player with the best up-cards. The dealer will determine
If you are chosen as the first one to bet in a round (because
you have the best up cards), you don't actually have to bet. You
can simply say "check". Check is simply declining to place a bet
in a round because the card you were just dealt didn't help your
hand any. Then each of the players after you can check also.
However, if a player does bet rather than check, then all
players that bet after him must bet also (i.e. call).
DON'T FOLD IF YOU CAN CHECK !
If you can check in a round don't fold. Wait for the next
round to get the additional card. It may change your hand and it
doesn't cost you anything. If it doesn't help, you can simply
fold in that round (or whatever round where you weren't able to
You can fold at any time during these additional betting rounds.
You'll lose whatever you've bet to this point, and it's tempting to
keep playing to try and get it back, but you're much better off not
to throw good money after bad. If your cards don't improve, fold and
save your money for future hands.
At this point the players still in the game have six cards, two down
and four up. The dealer then deals them the final 7th card face
down. Put this face-down card with your other two face-down cards
and have another look to see what best 5-card hand you can make.
If you think you've got a chance (which you should if you stayed in
this long) see if this card improves your hand. A final round of
betting takes place. You'll often see some raising going on in this
After the betting is done the players turn their cards face up and
the dealer determines who has the winning hand. The dealer will take
the houses cut out of the pot and push the rest of it over to the
winning player. If there has been a lot of betting/raising going on
at a table with a lot of players these pots can be quite sizable.
Note: It's customary to tip the dealer 50 cents when
you win a pot (but I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you tip more
on a big pot).
The dealer will then shuffle the deck and a new game starts.
That's all there is to it.
Unlike blackjack, you should pay attention to the
other players cards. That's because they are the ones you are
playing against. Check to see if they're close to having a straight
or a flush. Do you have a pair? If the other players have the other
two cards of the same value showing you're sure not going to get
three or four of a kind. If you're hoping for a straight flush make
sure none of the other players are showing one of the cards you'd
need to get it (although you could still go for a non-flush
Like roulette, the $1 chips used in poker games
are specific to that game. You can obtain chips from the dealer or
at the front desk in the poker room. You change your chips into cash
at the front desk also.
A lot of players say "never draw to an inside
straight". That's a straight where you need one of the cards in the
middle such as when you're holding 4 5, 7, and 8 and you need a 6.
What they're saying is if you need an inside card to complete a
straight, fold rather than pursue it. That's because only one card
(actually four if none is already dealt) will complete your
straight. If you're working on an "outside" or open-ended straight
there are two cards (actually eight if none is already dealt) that
can complete your straight - either the card to complete it at the
beginning or the end. In other words, you have double the chance of
completing an outside straight than an inside straight.
Don't pursue a questionable hand is important
rule to live by because, even though it's a low-limit game, you can
end up betting a lot of money on a hand. There are five rounds of
betting in each game so if you stay in to the end you'll have a
minimum of $5 in the pot. If there's raising going on in several
rounds on top of it, you could easily end up with $20 in the pot on
a single hand. You can be as tight as you want to be when playing
poker. No one is going to force you to bet. It's also good to
remember that if you see a normally tight player raising you may
want to fold. Tight players aren't going to raise unless they've got
a strong hand. By the same token, if you have a good hand don't
raise by a large amount. You'll just scare all the other players
into folding (if they know what they're doing) and end up with a
Don't be shy about getting in a game. Pros and
hustlers don't bother with low-limit games. The players at the table
will be other Las Vegas visitors just like you (with maybe an
occcasional retired local resident). If you're uneasy about getting
in a game take one of the free lessons. It's held at the same table
where the live games are played and it's one of the regular dealers
giving the lesson. The poker room is near the back of the casino.
Just go to the front desk in the poker room and tell them you are
there for the lesson. (It's a nice gesture to tip the dealer who
gave the lesson when it's over.)
You cannot get more chips while a game is in
progress. If you're low on chips and the raising gets to the point
where you don't have enough chips to call a raise, you must fold.
In the back of the
poker room you'll see a wheel on the wall. If you get four of a kind
(winning hand or not) you get to spin the wheel for a cash prize
ranging from $20 to $200. This is unique to the Excalibur's room and
it's just a little extra something they throw in for fun.
Once you get comfortable playing low-limit casino
poker and you want to test your skills against more seasoned
Bellagio and Mirage have popular poker rooms with the
having one of the biggest.
Circus also has a poker room to the left as soon as you walk in
the front entrance.
Give casino poker a try!