It’s hard to argue with the notion that Las Vegas is the world capital of poker. The game has been played there for decades, from the days of the Rat Pack to the moment you’re reading this article. Films ranging from Casino to The Cooler have showcased the game in Vegas settings. It’s even home to the World Series of Poker –– which is incidentally moving even closer to The Strip (Vegas’s main hub) this year, according to a report at the Las Vegas Review Journal.
It’s for these reasons that poker in Vegas just feels a little more special than anywhere else. And it’s likely this reputation, in addition to the sheer abundance of quality poker rooms, that has kept the game high among the priorities of people visiting Sin City. Pre-pandemic travel data at Statista.com indicated that gambling was still the third-most-popular reason people listed for traveling to Las Vegas (behind only the general category of “vacation/pleasure” and that of visiting friends and relatives). And given the much-publicized drop-off in interest in slot machines among younger generations, it’s safe to say that many of those traveling to gamble (or for vacation/pleasure for that matter) are doing so for poker and other table games.
For all of these reasons, we want to provide a brief guide for how to enjoy a poker getaway in Las Vegas. There’s plenty else to enjoy in town as well, of course, but we trust you’ll find your share of recommendations for restaurants, live shows, and hotel pools. Here are a few words on how to get the most out of the poker scene.
Learn the game
It may sound like a given, but it’s crucial to truly learn poker before you play at a Vegas casino –– lest you be intimidated or feel in over your head. There are distinct varieties to learn, and you may encounter some less common ones like Omaha or three-card poker. For the most part though, you’ll need to understand Texas Hold’em.
This game is easy to study and even watch online if you want to get the hang of it. But the basics are that each player gets two personal cards, and five cards are gradually dealt for communal use. Making decisions as to whether to bet (and stay in the hand) or fold as cards are dealt over several rounds, the ultimate goal is to form the best hand you can out of your two cards and any three from the communal selection.
You don’t need to know every trick and strategy to enjoy Hold’em in Vegas. But a clear understanding of the rules, sequences, and hand rankings is a must.
Try an unheralded poker room
You’ll see and hear a lot about certain poker rooms in Las Vegas that are commonly recommended to travelers. The Bellagio and The Aria are perhaps the most recommended, and are certainly worth checking out. But if you’re more of a beginner (either to poker or Vegas casinos), there are some unheralded gems where you might feel more comfortable.
A trip to the Golden Nugget will land you on Fremont Street –– a fun and festive off-Strip district where you can basically enjoy all of the charms of Vegas a little bit more affordably. And a Poker.org piece on underrated Las Vegas poker rooms also identifies The Orleans, Red Rock Resort, and even a small poker room tucked away in Planet Hollywood as fun options for travelers. The latter would be our pick; as the piece just mentioned puts it, you’ll find “almost exclusively low-stakes games,” and most of the players are tourists –– meaning you won’t feel overwhelmed or outmatched, and can simply enjoy the game in an authentic Vegas casino.
Forget the movies
It’s also essential not to go into a Vegas poker room expecting it to play out the way it might in a film. First of all, people are very unlikely to be wearing tuxedos and ordering fancy cocktails from the table. You’re also not likely to identify an absurdly obvious “tell” in an opponent –– like that of John Malkovich’s Teddy KGB character in Rounders (which involved eating an Oreo). And lest you turn to beloved Bond flick Casino Royale for guidance, numerous poker aficionados have taken to the internet to decry the half-hour poker scene as unrealistic, and the film’s director has been quoted at Yahoo.com as basically saying the scene isn’t about the cards so much as the drama.
Bottom line: Learn the game and focus on your own experience. The movies are fun, but they seldom show poker as it’s really played.
Stick to a budget
Our final, simple tip is to stick to a budget, not for your trip as a whole (though that’s also advisable), but for poker. And we recommend thinking of it this way: Consider poker to be a recreational vacation experience, and determine how much you want to pay for it. That way, if you lose your budget, you’ve effectively paid for the experience (rather than lost money you didn’t plan on spending). And if you win, as always, it’s a bonus on top of a fun time!
Again, there’s plenty to enjoy in Las Vegas, and we trust anyone traveling will find countless recommendations for most of it. But we hope this guide will help you to also get the most out of the poker scene, which remains one of the city’s great attractions.
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