Mastering the Las Vegas Poker Scene
This article is part of my series 'Poker Culture, Strategy & Commentary'.
The Las Vegas poker scene is a tricky one to master. Most cities that have poker action tend to spread a game that is typically loaded with regulars. This may or may not be a good thing for the serious poker player, as it all depends on how well the regulars play. But at least you know what to expect when you settle into a regular game. Unlike other poker cities, Vegas is full of unique variables that will challenge the serious player. Below are some secrets that will help you get the edge, while avoiding the common trappings of the Sin City poker scene.
For starters, you want to go to the right cardroom. The casinos with the most action these days are The Bellagio and The Venetian, but there is sometimes good action at The Mirage, Caesar's and The Wynn, among other spots. While a tournament is going on, it could be worth going to any casino to check out the action. In Las Vegas, you have to seek out your edges. Yet for the most part, if you play in the middle to high stakes, The Bellagio will be your best bet, followed by the Venetian. Also, casinos frequented by locals are sometimes worth a look as well. For example, The Orleans has a decent $8-16 Omaha Hi/Lo game that has been very solid since 2008.
If you were in Los Angeles, you could just go play at The Commerce Casino knowing full well that all the best action will be waiting for you there. If you were in the Bay area, you'd go to Bay 101. But in Las Vegas you have to be more aggressive with your game selection, and you have to do a little research. Calling around to see what games are going in different casinos and heading down to one particular room to simply take a look at a game are things you should be willing to do if you want to get the best of it. Luckily, almost all the good spots to play are on the Las Vegas strip, so it's not too big of a hassle to leapfrog from one poker room to the next, in search of the best place to settle into a game.
When the action is as unstable as it is in Vegas, and is often catalyzed by the presence of out-of-towners or tourists (i.e. poor players with extra money), you may have to compromise on the games you play. The regular pros will want to both cater to the tourists, as well as construct a game that best suits them. You want to be involved in this process and you'll need to be comfortable playing a few different games to have any worthwhile input. Many poker players play only one form of the game, and that's a shame. No-Limit Holdem has grown in popularity so much since the Chris Moneymaker fueled poker boom of 2003-2004, that most players probably don't feel the need to vary the games they play since they are getting lots of action in their regular Holdem game. But in Las Vegas you have to take what you can get and play the best game available to you for your skill and bankroll levels. If you want to be truly successful, it would be a major flaw in your game-plan if you often looked over at good games (people frequently play a mix games including Stud, Stud Hi/Lo, Omaha Hi/Lo, Pot-Limit Omaha, Badugi, Triple Draw, among other games), but never played in them because you were too much of a Holdem specialist. Being one-dimensional may be the quickest way to becoming successful in No-Limit Holdem, especially with regard to tournaments, but it's definitely not the path to success in middle and high stakes poker in Las Vegas.