Things I’ve learned while in Vegas. I’m not a “know-it-all.” My friends back home know I’m no pro. Frankly, my buddies back home were tougher than the typical $1-$2 no limit table that I’ve run into in Vegas. Locals consider it their Patriotic duty to “fleece the tourists.” Don’t be that guy who is fit to be fleeced. How? By listening to me. I’m just a bee who has found a good source of nectar and I’m trying to pass along that knowledge to whoever is wise enough to listen. So, in no particular order, some of the knowledge that I have gleaned in my first three months here in Vegas…
1. Buy in amount: Nothing spells RANK AMATEUR like buying in for the minimum. Sure, maybe you are down on your luck, or just dipping your toe into the deeper waters, but why not just put a sign on your forehead: “RANK NEWBY! Beat me!” At least keep us guessing. Let us figure out that you do not know what the hell you are doing by first playing a few hands.
2. Know thy enemy: You just sat down at the table. Your adrenaline is pumping. Your hands are shaking. You look down and see A-T off suit under the gun. Throw it away. Or you see J-T suited. Whatever, dude. Throw. It. Away. Shut up and listen. Sit and watch. The first 30-40 minutes are just for watching and determining the types of players that you are up against. Does the guy to your right play too many hands? Does the guy to your right over-play big pocket pairs? Does the guy next to the dealer ALWAYS make a continuation bet, even when he does not hit the flop? Shut up, sit there and do your homework. Or you can just play the first hand, and every other hand once you sit down, and lose your entire stack in a nanosecond. Did I mention “shut up and listen? Sit there and watch?” If not, I meant to.
3. Recognizing locals: I’ve only been here about three months but already I can recognize most locals within minutes. Telling you how to recognize one is too difficult. What they do not (usually) do is easier. Ball caps from other locations (If you were from Vegas would you wear a “Cleveland Browns” cap?). Sunglasses and ipod and fancy clothes? Can you say TOOORIST?Okay, some locals wear gaudy wristwatches, jewelry and headgear. Watch who they talk to. Do they know the dealer? Do others walk by and talk to them who also do not look like they are from CLEVELAND, OHIO, or do they mention playing together in a cash game three weeks ago? This is not rocket science. Just listen, observe, and use your common sense. Why do you want to “recognize locals”? One, to stay out of their way, in general. But also to exploit them, under the right circumstances—more about that later.
4. Top pair top kicker: one of the biggest mistakes that I see made is how people play MISPLAY top pair, top kicker (or big pocket pair). One of the biggest faults of most players, if not the biggest fault evuh, is over-playing big pocket pairs/top pair, big kicker/top kicker. The typical tell when a player has a big pocket pair. Two or three players limp in and then some bloke who has not played a hand in twenty deals makes it $25 to go. Sure, he might be trying to take down a pot with a bunch of weak limpers with any two cards—that’s why you have to pay attention (see No. 2 above). But if you are pretty sure that he is over-playing a big pocket pair (or even better, ace king, or even better , two face cards), then GO GET HIM. Don’t look at your hand, just call him! No, wait, first look at his stack. Does he have at least $250 left in front of him? The more the merrier! You are hoping to call him with 7-3 off suit and hit a straight draw, two pair or a set. Sure, most of the time you will miss the flop and have to drop to his continuation raise. But when you hit, he will keep betting, like a dummy, and you will get his entire stack. You do want his entire stack, don’t you?!! Oh, yeah. Another way to spot a local is to watch who gets their money in good. Most locals will not put their entire stack at risk post flop with just an over pair, or top pair top kicker (unless they are short-stacked). Don’t be the guy who raised $20 preflop with AA, and who then calls a bet of $400 post-flop when 3-7-K rainbow comes on the flop. Sure, you might be ahead. Sure, it depends on the dude making the crazy bet post-flop. But do you really want to lose all that money on what is at best a crap shoot? Most likely, somebody flopped a set or two pair and you are drawing slim.
5. Be tight but be aggressive in position: You can’t win in Vegas, or anywhere else, by just playing your cards. Unless you are incredibly lucky. So once you have sat and listened and watched and not played a hand for twenty minutes, THEN let’s talk. You are on the button and three cheeseheads have limped in before you. You look down and see…IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT! Just raise! Make it $15 to go. Sure, somebody in the blinds may call, or one of the losers who limped in may call. Doesn’t matter. Okay, the flop comes down…DOESN’T MATTER! Just make a continuation raise. $25 ought to do it. What?! It did not take down the pot? Okay, make a read on the caller(s). Did he call you just to see if you were really serious on your continuation bet? Then follow up with a bigger bet on the turn. Or did he call with a flush draw? Check the turn and bet the river when he misses his flush/straight draw. But you have position, and you have sat and watched him for many hands. Take advantage of your position and what you have learned!
6. Limp limp LIMP! Many—too many—idiots think that you must raise or fold. Bull. Crap. Limp. Limp whenever you can. Limp with any two cards. Sure, you might have to fold to a raise if you limp in with 3-5 off suit. Sure, you might limp in with K-4 suited and have to fold when the flop misses you entirely. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen people fold cards when they shouldn’t. Five limpers in front of them, and the _____ [fill in the blank] cut off seat/button/small blind/big blind folds. You. IDIOT! You only had 7-2 offsuit!? Well, have you ever seen a flop of 7-7-2? Call. See the flop. Then we’ll talk.
7. ALL IN! Nothing—nothing—says moron like getting all in with a deep stack with anything—ANYTHING—less than pocket aces against a single (within reason) other player. You’ve got $700-ish in chips in front of you. The aggressive newby to your right raises to $50. You put him on any two cards. An “internet kid” who has been talking about what a great on-line player he is re-raises to $75. A drunk tourist makes it $200 straight. You look down and see pocket cowboys. What do you do? You lay those faggots down, NOW! You have ZERO invested in the pot so far. Sure, you might be the favorite. MIGHT BE. But if all those whackos call you, or if more than one calls you, you might not even be the favorite, and if you are, it might not be by that much. Deep stack cash poker is won by those who get their money in when they are the over-whelming favorite, NOT when they are a slight favorite. Or a big dog. True story: During a long session, a guy who was loose and aggressive made it $15 under the gun. I looked down at KK in middle position. I (rightly, I think) just called him. He could have had anything. A guy near the button made a HUGE over bet of about $75 all in. I thought he could have been trying to buy it with a small/medium pair. Whooops! Suddenly Mr. Loose, the original raiser–re-raised all in to $500. My stupid thinking was that Mr. Loose saw what the re-raiser was doing—trying to take down a pot with a huge over-bet—and so he was trying to isolate him with his cheese like pocket jacks. I thought just a few seconds and called. I lost to two gentlemen each holding pocket rockets. Don’t be that guy. Fold those pocket cowboys. Or bitches. Or fishhooks. Now, if you flop a set, then let’s talk…
8. Less than your best: I’ve found that my biggest advantage over tourists is that I can wait and play only when I am at my best. While the poor sap from North Dakota has to play 18 hours per day after flying out here in a two seater while hung-over, I’ve had a great nights’ sleep, a good meal, a hot shower, clean clothes, and a smile on my face. Tired? Too drunk? Distracted? Get up and leave the table. That local next to you is smiling because he knows he will soon have your money. ALL of it.
9. Playing under the influence: I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. The guy who drinks too much, starts playing every hand, and raising every chance he gets. Sure, at first he bluffs some guys out of the pot. Sure, sometimes he gets lucky. But we all know how it ends. Ugly. With him having no chips in front of him. Don’t be that guy. Want to drink heavily? Go play the slots. Do not play Texas Hold ‘em, unless you are independently wealthy and it truly does not matter whether you win or lose.
10. How to exploit the locals: Okay. You have with certainty identified your first local. And you get him heads up. What do you do? Why, exploit his weaknesses, what did you think you would do? Most are too tight. And think that they are better than you. If they raised with AK, and the flop was 3-7-T rainbow, they will usually check. In their minds, they are keeping the pot small. Good conservative poker. Or they will make a smallish continuation raise. You, however, no matter what two cards you have, will raise/re-raise. Sure, sometimes Mr. Local will actually have a real hand, and will re-raise you. Okay, think about it for a while to disguise that you do not really have a hand. And then fold it. Or maybe he doesn’t have it. But if so, he made a good play. Let it go. Most locals are tight aggressive. USUALLY, if they bet, it means they have the goods. If they check raise, FOLD. If they raise, and you re-raise, and they call, WATCH OUT! Their “weakness”—if you want to call it a weakness—is that they get their money in when they are the favorites. They raise when they are ahead. They re-raise when they are ahead. They get all in when they are the overwhelming favorite and you are trying to hit your three-outer. So how can you win against such gods of the green felt? Re-raise them if you suspect that they really have the goods or whether they are merely trying to push you around. If they check, raise them. Usually they check when they are weak. Unless they are trapping your sorry tourist ass. If they check, and then re-raise you, especially all-in, then get the hell out of the way. Their weakness is that they usually play strong hands, and lay down hands that are not strong. Most hands are not strong. Raise them out of those “not strong” hands, and get out of the way when they bet their strong hands.
11. Pick your targets wisely: Okay, you’ve identified the locals. And the good/great non-locals. And the fish. What do you do? You avoid the locals/great non-locals. Go. After. The. Fish. Go after those chumps who over-play top pair, top kickers, or over pairs. Go after the guy who is drinking double Jack Daniels on the rocks. Literally, I was playing against a guy who overbet when he had a hand—any hand. I got up and moved position in the table so that I could be on his left. Then I (literally) called every hand that he was involved in. If he folded, I folded. If he called or raised, I called, with any two cards. Lo and behold, I called with 8-5 offsuit (The “Lake Avenue” to all my mates back in Richmond). Flop was 4-6-7 rainbow, and shortly thereafter I got it all in against the guy who bet too much when he did not have the nuts. He called my all in with some open-ended straight draw or some such cheese. You guessed it, I got all his money. ‘cuz I chose my target and went after him.
12. Chips off the table: When you are ahead, take your chips and go home. Got lucky and won a big bunch of chips? Take them off the table. Been playing great, got crappy cards, and still won a double-up? Take the chips and cash them in. Think you are “playing with the House’s money” when you sucked out on the river? WRONG! Once you’ve won, once the dealer puts those little darlings into your stack, those chips are not “the house’s money” or that dumbass across from you, they ARE YOUR MONEY. The saying “playing with the House’s money” is a lie from the pit of hell They are trying to get you to loosen up and give some of it back. Or all of it. Don’t be that guy. Walk away. Hell, you can always come back later. Or go to a different room and buy in for the same amount that you bought in here. See those guys walking away with a couple of racks of chips? Those are often the locals. Taking your money.
13. Be Patient! Cash games are all about who is most patient. Newsflash. You will not get pocket rockets dealt much more often than about once every 220 hands. Or, if you successfully limp in with A suited, the chances of you you flopping your nut flush are only about 118 to one. While you are waiting for you aces, your girlfriend is behind you expecting you to take her to dinner. Or your buddies are waiting for you to head on down to the booby show. And the local is waiting for you to push all in with your pocket nines while he holds the weapons of mass destruction. Your impatience just cost you your entire stacke. You’ve been “fleeced.”
14. You can’t win every time… Newsflash. Even locals, even card sharks, even the pros, don’t win every time. My secret to this dilemma? Limit your losses. Try a system, whatever is within your bankroll. Mine? I take $200 to the $1-$2 table. If I lose that, I’m out of there. If I win say $300 to $700 (depends on the table and how I am feeling), I take my little chips, put them in a rack or hopefully two, and carry them up to the cashier and exchange them for money. IF you limit your losses, and play carefully so that you win more often than you lose, you can avoid being FLEECED BY THE LOCALS!