If you are somebody that wants to be able to start and stop playing poker whenever you want, then cash games are what you want to be playing in. A cash game will run around the clock 24/7/365 as long as there are people who want to play. There is no destination point of some kind like there is in a tournament. The poker game does not stop until you say it stops; unless everybody quits leaving you by yourself.
If the game you want to play in is full, you will be placed on the waiting list, and this is first come first serve. There is a podium at the front of each poker room with at least one person who is in charge of the list. When your seat opens there will be an announcement. You usually only have about a minute or two to take the seat before they move on to the next name.
You can also get on the waiting list by calling the poker room. If your name is entered 3rd on the waiting list, that is the place in line you will keep once you show up and check in. If your name is called before you show up the next active player gets your seat, but you keep your place on the list.
The “stakes”, or the “limit” of the cash game you are playing in will always be posted on a plaque, on the poker table, usually immediately to the dealer’s left. Written below the stakes are what the buy-in minimum and maximum are, followed by the rake. Here is an example of what it might say on a plaque:
No Limit Texas Hold’em
10% up to $4
The top line states the name of the poker game, followed by the stakes which are at $1 and $3 small and big blind. Then the min-max is listed as $100 to sit down, and no more than $300. 10% up to $4 simply means that out of every pot that is played, the house will retain 10% of what is in the pot, but never exceeding $4. The plaque may also say something like $1 on 10, $2 on 20, $3 on 30, $4 on 40, indicating how often a dollar will be raked from the pot. The “$1 on 10” means when the pot reaches $10, $1 will be taken as rake.
The most commonly played cash game today is No Limit Texas Hold’em. Those stakes typically start out at $1-$2 or $1-$3. The limits tend to double as you go higher and higher. $2-$5, $5-$10, $10-$20, etc. The sky is nearly the limit. The hugest No Limit games can get in excess of $500-$1000. The rake is determined by the size of the game. All games $2-$5 and smaller are considered “rake games” and have money taken from each pot that is played. $5-$10 may also be raked this way, but in some poker rooms $5-$10 is considered a “time game” because it is high limit.
Instead of raking dollars out of every pot, each player posts a time collection fee to the house on every hour, and half hour. No money will be taken from any of the pots. This also helps the game go a little faster. A casino that featured $5-$10 as a high limit time game might charge you $7 for every half hour. The $10-$20 game may require $8 every half hour. If one day you’re winning all of the money in a time game, you are saving a lot of money on rake because you only pay every half hour, not on every occasion you win a pot. Meanwhile, it’s costing the losers the same amount of money just to sit there as you. Conversely speaking, if you are losing in a rake game, you at least do not have to be paying the same rake as everyone who is winning……but for most people, the idea is to win.
Games like Limit Texas Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) make up the rest of the most popularly played cash games. In PLO, the stakes increase along the same pattern as No Limit. In Limit Hold’em, they start very small at $2-$4, and like No Limit, get very high. Some of the biggest limit poker games in Las Vegas play in a format of $1,500-$3,000.
Players will always have to post whatever ante, small, or big blind their game’s limit dictates, but in cash games, unlike tournaments, they also have the option of straddling. This is when the first player to act after the big blind voluntarily posts a 3rd blind, that is twice the normal big blind. If playing $10-$20 and someone straddles, there will be blinds of $10-$20-$40 with the 40 getting the option to act last before the flop.
Some poker rooms will allow you to straddle the button, and the action starts immediately to your left in the small blind. This is called the “Mississippi Straddle”. Or the action could start in normal order, but skip over the button straddler, giving him the luxury of acting last, unless there has first been a raise in front of him, in which case the action then continues in its normal order.
Some games are so wild that they’ll let you straddle amount from anywhere on the table. You could be sitting to the right of the button and straddle $100 in a $5-$10 game. This kind of action is mainly found in the home games.
Short buying is when if you join a game and bust out (lose all your money), you are allowed, once, to reenter the game at a discount, usually 50% of the minimum. If say you bought in with $500 to a $2-$5 game with a $200 minimum and get stacked, you have the option of rebuying into the game with as little as $100.
If you are playing high limit, most poker rooms now allow you to make deals when you are all in aka Running it Twice. This is when if 2 players are all in, you deal from which the point they were all in twice. Each run is worth half the pot. If you get all the money in before the flop for a $2,000 pot and you and your opponent agree to run it twice, this means the dealer will deal a flop, turn, and river for $1,000, and then another flop, turn, and river for the other $1,000. Had the money gotten all in on the flop, the dealer puts out 2 turns and rivers. Players do this to lower their “variance”, which is the fluctuation of the endless ups and downs that occur in poker. Players want to raise their chances of breaking even when they get their money in as an underdog, or lower their chances of losing the whole thing to a bad beat when they were a huge favorite.
When a certain stakes game originates at the start of a day, it is the “main game”. When a second game starts, that game becomes the “must move” game. When someone leaves the main game, then, in order of appearance of who is playing in the must move game, fills the seat in the main game. That way the main game is always full. Multiple games could be going and they could all be deemed as main games. Sometimes this will depend on how many active names there are on the waiting list.
You don’t see this much in the big name poker rooms, but the smaller time ones may offer a high hand bonus. For instance, if you made 4 aces in hold’em with A-A as your start hand, once you show it, the casino will then pay you some free money for the good luck. Maybe $100. Maybe $500. It depends on how often it has been hitting since they rake extra money off the table to put them into these bonuses. They do this as well for what’s known as the Bad Beat Jackpot. This is usually when someone makes four-of-a-kind or better and somehow loses. The poker room determines if whether or not you have to use both of your hole cards since you only see these jackpots offered in Hold’em games.
Since these hands don’t happen that much, the jackpots can get pretty big. Once the hand is verified to have been correctly dealt and everything checks out, the jackpot is distributed to the entire table. The largest share goes to the hand that lost the pot. The next largest goes to the hand that won the pot, and the remains of that equally divided by every other player dealt into the hand.
In cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles, $100 bills used to be allowed on the table. Those days have ended, and players may now only enter and exit the game with chips. Actual motivation for why the casinos did away with this convenience has not been revealed, but one can speculate what concerns they created. It’s not a good look if players can be cited for circulating counterfeit money around on the table.
While a hand is in progress, having to count out cash as a wager takes a long time. For instance, if you count out 20 bills for a $2,000 bet and then drop it on the table, the dealer now has to do the same for the cameras to see. Sometimes you would see another player at the table, not involved in the hand, pick up the cash and count it out for everyone to see, thus save the dealer some work and speed up the hand. The time to do this really adds up in the big picture, and cutting out chips takes only a second, so, a lot of time is saved. Not to mention, the dealer often times having to count the cash with only one available hand (since the other has to hold onto the deck) made for a bit of an awkward maneuver during what figures to be an intense hand. So getting rid of the cash certainly functions as a convenience to the dealers and the players as far as playing as many hands as possible goes.
Perhaps the biggest reason was the casinos decided they wanted to be able to keep track of how much money a player is investing into the game and what they leave with. If you show up to a high stakes game and want to join with $20,000, they will factually know this as they can now record internally how many chips you bought. When you bought $2,000 in chips and played 18k in cash, this severely limited their ability to keep track.
If you show up with four $5,000 chips and ask them to break them up into smaller denominations (known as coloring down), they do so without recording anything. If you color up, meaning you take $20,000 in small chips to the cage and want to exchange them for larger chips, this too is not recorded. It’s only recorded if you are buying or cashing out over a certain amount and the casino mandates what that figure is.
In most casinos, you earn comps based on how many hours you put in. For instance, a poker room may comp you $2 for food for every hour of poker you play. If you play 8 hours, you’ll have $16 that you can use anywhere except fine dining as that is the typical prerogative. If staying at the hotel, ask about getting the “poker rate”, which will discount your room provided you play a certain amount of hours each day.
Some areas do not comp well for poker, and others do not even comp at all. Los Angeles poker rooms tend to comp fairly poorly compared to Las Vegas, while other California poker rooms often times do not offer any comps at all. With that said, having a players card is always beneficial as it can only stand to earn you extra points and/or money.
Waitresses are constantly making the rounds in the poker room, offering to bring you any drink you want. Whatever amount you decide on is perfectly allowed, but $1 is considered customary. The same goes for the dealer when you win a pot. Some players may opt to tip less frequently on the small pots they win, but tip several dollars on the big ones. This is all optional. Some may tip the dealer in accordance with how hard they think they are trying to do the job well. It is an important job when you are dealing so directly with people’s money. If the dealer isn’t doing a good job, then maybe they don’t deserve a tip.
Perhaps the most difficult element to manage in cash game poker, and one that may not even enter the mind of most players when they sit down, is figuring out when they want to quit. It is convenient to be able to come and go as you please (especially if cash game poker is your profession), but at the same time, this has the capability of becoming too much freedom for a person. Players tend to play worse when they are losing. Many play very badly. This often means they will not quit the game until they either win back their money, or they have lost everything they were willing to that day. Sometimes the former works out, but usually the latter prevails.
Knowing when to quit, or when to stay is vital when it comes to playing cash game poker. Sometimes people quit too early when they are winning because they want to lock it up. But if you are winning, then that means some of your opponents are going to be losing. Since people play poorly when losing, then you now have an opportunity in front of you. You do not want to walk away from opportunity when it is there, or insist on grinding it out no matter what the opportunity is worth, strictly because you are losing.
You are allowed to leave your chips at the table if you need a food or bathroom break. The chips won’t be going anywhere as the eye in the sky will see all. That said, it is a good idea to keep your large denomination chips on the felt, and in front of all your smaller chips.
The use of cell phones while at the table is mandated by each poker room. Some rooms will immediately declare your hand dead should you access your phone while in the middle of a hand, but this seems to be the exception. Most poker rooms are very lenient and allow you to have your phone at the table and use it literally whenever you want. It is a nice convenience as it gives you the option of multitasking (which will no doubt inhibit your poker play), but it definitely has added some time to the average length of a hand.