If you have never been to a casino or public poker room before, your first trip can be filled with excitement, anticipation, and exhilaration. It may also cause you a little fear and apprehension. This article gives you a few pointers and some information about how things work in most casinos and public poker rooms. Let's get started with a major part of any casino experience -- the staff.

One of the most important things to remember is that the staff of a casino or poker room is there to make your visit as comfortable as possible because they want you to come back. If you can't find the card room or if you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to ask a staff member.

The dealer is also part of the staff. If you are sitting down at a poker game in a casino or card room for the first time, tell the dealer that it is your first time and ask them to please keep an eye on you to make sure you aren't doing anything incorrectly. You may be amazed at how helpful and useful someone can be when you show them a little respect and ask for their help. Many times, especially at the lower-limit tables, other players are also helpful.

Also, most poker rooms have a place to sign a waiting list for a particular game. Some have a white board with the games and limits available along with the waiting players' initials. Others will just have someone who writes initials or names on a sheet of paper. The card room calls the next person on the list when a seat becomes available. Simply ask whoever is in charge of the board -- or a staff member -- to place you on the list for all of the games you are willing to play. If you are in a small poker room with no visible sign-up area, ask a dealer how to enter a game.

Well, now that you've found your table and you're ready to play, here are some general tips for casino poker:

  • Wait for the big blind (The big blind is the largest forced bet at the beginning of a game designed to stimulate betting. The player who has to contribute the big blind rotates one position to the left after each game.) to get to you before playing. Use this time to watch your opponents, and get a feel for the way they are playing. It's amazing how much some players reveal if you just pay attention.
  • Most players tip the dealer when they win a pot. This is not required, but if the dealer is doing a competent job, you should tip. Dealers are like waitstaff in that they make most of their money from tips. A sample plan would be to tip the dealer .50 on average size pots and possibly $1.00 on larger pots if the dealer is doing a good job. Also, you can watch what the other players are tipping to get an idea. Remember though that every dollar that goes to the dealer is reducing your winnings. You should be able to come to a happy medium with experience.
  • Act when it's your turn. Never act before your turn. This is very poor etiquette and can change the outcome of a hand. The other players will understandably get upset with you.
  • Make sure your cards are in plain sight.
  • It is a good idea to place a chip on them to show that they are still live and protect them because the dealer won't take them when the chip is on them. If you leave your cards unprotected, the dealer might muck them (mix with discards) by mistake, and there is no way you can retrieve them. Most players keep their hand on their cards.
  • When you win a pot (the total amount of money bet in a single game), don't reach for it. Let the dealer push the pot to you. Do not surrender your cards until the pot has been awarded to you on a winning hand.
  • If you aren't sure whether you have the best hand at the end of a round, turn your cards face up, and let the dealer read the hands. If the dealer makes a mistake, it can often be corrected. If you throw your hand into the discard pile (often called the "muck"), you are not eligible for any of the pot even if you made a mistake and had the best hand.
  • Don't throw your chips into the pot (called "splashing" the pot). Place all bets in front of you, and let the dealer pull them into the pot.
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