Beat the Vegas cash games and you’re being paid to holiday in the poker capital of the world. Ross Jarvis shows you how easy it is
As the home of poker, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the cash games in Las Vegas are really tough and filled with excellent players. The good news is that they are actually quite simple.
On my last trip I played $2/$5 cash games at the Venetian every day for a week, winning in eight out of ten sessions and coming away with a tidy $4k in profit. The main reason I won so consistently wasn’t because of any spectacular bluffs or gutsy hero calls, but because I was able to adapt to the huge differences in play from online poker and use them to my advantage.
Here are a few simple tips to help you follow in my footsteps.
The majority of online cash games are six-max and play relatively tight, meaning most pots are contested heads-up or three-way. In Vegas the situation is very different. The tables are full-ring for a start and, also, not many people go there with the intention of playing tight and folding a lot of hands. Most pots have a multitude of passive limpers who simply want to get in cheaply and see a flop, even with terrible hands.
The easiest way to combat this is do the opposite and play tight. Don’t get suckered into playing hands with big reverse implied odds such as K-8 or A-6, but wait for strong hands and good spots to play aggressively. You’ll still get the action you want.
Your preflop bet sizing in Vegas should alter dramatically too. Whereas online a raise of 3BB would be sufficient, you should be making it 4-5BB here if you wish to thin the field. It’s even more important when you are three-betting. Generally, live players in Vegas will call three-bets way too liberally, so it pays to size your bets much larger with strong hands than would be optimal online. For example, say a player raises to $20 and gets three callers before you look at A-A in the big blind. Assuming you all have deep stacks, you should go ahead and reraise to between $120-$140 in the hope of getting it heads-up and building a big pot.
While you will be playing fewer hands than you would online, the size of the pots in live games is always considerably bigger due to the number of players seeing flops and the preflop bet sizing, meaning your win rate should even out.
In online poker the maximum buy-in is usually 100BB. In Vegas most games allow you to buy in for 200BB, and sometimes it is completely uncapped.
Personally, I prefer games that are capped at 200BB any deeper and the game can tighten up, as people are more fearful of getting stacked. The more confident you are that you have an edge the more you should buy in for.
With deeper stacks postflop play becomes much more important than preflop, as you’ll often have enough money behind to play through all the streets without getting all-in. This means that hands like small pairs and suited A-x hands have a lot more value than they do online, as you can win huge pots when you flop a set or put tons of pressure on opponents if you flop a big draw such as a nut flush draw.
Conversely, you want to avoid playing big pots with easily dominated hands like A-T, K-J and so on. Because you are deeper stacked it can be tempting to call three-bets with hands such as these, but unless your opponent plays really poorly postflop it¹s generally going to be difficult to win a big pot.
Vegas fish can usually be characterised by one major leak: playing passively. It’s this trait that makes many of the games quite simple to profit in. Make sure you avoid the good players and focus on playing most pots against the passive fish. Unlike online, where three- betting light is common, many Las Vegas fish will literally only three-bet Q-Q, K-K and A-A, making it very easy to play against them.
Their passivity carries on postflop too. A good rule of thumb against these players is to bet for value constantly but shut down completely when faced with any aggression. A typical hand I played illustrates this perfectly. I raised with A-A and got called by a passive fish on the button. I bet the 8-2-4 flop and was called, bet again and was called on the Jack turn and bet half the pot when a seven came on the river. It’s quite a standard value bet, but when I was reraised the minimum on the river my hand was never going to be good against this player. I folded and was shown 7-8 for two pair.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of playing passively. Remember that controlled aggression is always going to be the best default strategy.
Don’t stop movin’
Game selection in Vegas is just as vital as it is online. It all starts with which casino to play in. For mid-stakes the best games are generally found in the Venetian or Aria, whereas if you’re looking to play $1/$2, casinos like MGM Grand and Planet Hollywood are full of clueless players drinking at the table and looking to gamble.
Once you’re seated you should constantly be analysing how good your table is, as well as your seat. The most profitable games are always when you are directly to the left of bad players. That way you can play tons of pots with them and exploit their bad mistakes.
Be on the lookout for players leaving and speak up quickly whenever a good seat becomes vacant. Another trick is always to shuffle left if the player on your left departs. That way you are guaranteed position on the new arrival at the table. You never know, he could be the biggest whale in all of Vegas.
In live poker, stereotyping players and making assumptions about their play when you sit down is vital, and more often than not your judgements will be spot on. Here are a few characters I encountered:
Middle-aged guy in a Heartland Poker Tour cap
The only hand he three-bets is A-A. Plays ABC and hates young, aggressive players so much that he’ll call them every time out of spite.
Barely pubescent kid in a PokerStars hoodie
A former 18-tabling $1/$2 online pro who now has to play live. Generally plays well and is happy to ship in 200BB preflop with A-K.
A 45-year-old guy in a smart suit
With a stunning 20-year-old girl on his arm. A businessman with more money than sense. He will play every hand until he busts multiple times.
Until proven otherwise, read a lot into the appearance of your opponents. As for yourself, try to blend in. Ditch any poker-branded clothing and wear smart clothes that make it look as though you just came for a good time. And then get it quietly…