Casino poker: tips and warnings when gambling

Ever wonder how the poker pros do it? While you might not be ready to jump into a high-stakes game just yet, there are a few tips that you can use to start learning and earning a few coins back at the table.

Casino poker: tips and warnings when gambling

Don’t go by what you see on TV poker tournaments

Seasoned veterans of casino poker rooms love the televised poker tournament fad more than they'll ever let on to you. That's because they know that television-educated players are usually easy marks.

  • Here's what the table vets know that television-educated players don't: casino poker isn't like television poker.
  • Unless you're well off enough to qualify for a Forbes magazine listing, you'll probably be playing with a limit that's too low to bluff anybody out the way they do on TV. Casino games are more like arduous grinds that reward stamina, patience and, most of all, knowledge.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't play. Poker is a fun challenge, and unlike most casino games, a certain percentage of customers have to be winners, since they're playing against other customers instead of the house.

  • The winners aren't the ones who pull off spectacular stunts, but the ones who have mastered the odds. You need a book to learn the percentages from, and lots of practice.

Check the odds on video poker machines

Casinos don't make it obvious which video poker machines pay off better. Take a look at the payoff chart that's right there on the machine. Almost all will range from a high payoff of 250-1 for a royal flush down to even money (1-1) for jacks or better.

  • What you want to notice are the two payoffs right in the middle. If a full house pays 9-1 and a flush 6-1, you're in the right place. It's what the pros call a "full pay" machine.
  • But a lot of them (and all of them in some states or provinces) will pay just 8-1 for a full house and 5-1 for a flush. That means that when you insert a silver dollar and then get lucky enough to punch up a boat — say, three queens and two 8s — the full-pay machine will drop nine silver dollars into your tray and the short-pay machine just eight.
  • No big deal? Well, over the long run it's a very big deal, upping the house's advantage by a significant 2.2 percent. Why give away your money?

Cough up the coins now instead of later

By putting in the full number of coins with each hand, which is usually five, you increase your chances of being ahead in the long run by a full 12 percent.

  • Here's why: when you play five coins instead of one, you of course get the same proportional payoff each time you win. For example, if you put in one coin and hit a flush, you get five coins back. If you had put in five coins, you would have received 25 coins back. It's like having made five flushes at a time.

Obviously, that comes out as a wash because you also lose five times as much when you pull bust hands. Where the advantage comes in is with an extra-high payoff for that fifth coin with the best hand you can get — a royal flush.

  • The payoff for a royal flush is 250-1. (If it's less, don't play that machine.) It stays that way with the first four coins you play. That is, you'll get 500 back if you bet two, 750 back if you bet three and 1,000 back if you bet four. But if you bet five, the payback jumps to 4,000, the equivalent of 800-1, if you're using a full-pay machine, as you should be.
  • And if you play video poker long enough, you will get a royal flush with any luck. By betting five, you can milk that magic moment to the max.
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