Turning the Tables on Regular Las Vegas Players
Hometown poker heroes frequently come out to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker — and frequently lose. I addressed this phenomenon in an earlier article, "Six Distractions That Can Negatively Affect 'Poker Tourists.'"
In this column I want to talk a little further about how such "poker tourists" who come to Las Vegas can actively prevent themselves from falling prey to some of the disadvantages they face. I also want to discuss how such players can actually exploit some advantages of not being a "regular."
A big reason why visitors to Vegas don't always play their best game is that they give in to the temptation to stay out late and indulge in the city's considerable night life. Then when they do play, they come to the table tired, hungover, or just inattentive and eager to gamble it up.
But just because most tourists in general are likely to fall into this behavior pattern doesn't mean you need to. You can resolve to keep reasonable hours, avoid excessive eating and drinking, and practice good game selection.
No one says you have to play at the first table you see in a poker room. No one requires you to maximize the time you're in Las Vegas by playing all the time even if you're feeling tired. So don't. Play only your best game, or don't play. Play only in games that look like they're going to be good games. Don't play over your head. Bottom line — don't let the fact that you're in Las Vegas inspire you to make negative-EV decisions at the poker table you wouldn't normally do when playing elsewhere.
All of the above is just common sense. But there are actual advantages to your being from out of town that you might not so readily intuit.
I discussed before some of the drawbacks of not being a regular. Regulars know each other. They know how their regular opponents tend to play. They can stay out of the way of the rock who never bluffs. They can confidently call down or raise the habitual bluffer. They can fold their borderline hands against the strong tight-aggressive player. And they can choose their seats based on whom they want to their left or right.
Accordingly, regulars can use all of that knowledge to their advantage, knowledge that you don't have and can't use. Woe is you.
But the bright side of this equation is that you, as an outsider, are unknown to them. They don't know how you play. They don't know if you are a habitual bluffer, a tight-aggressive player, a rock, a maniac, or a completely clueless newbie. All they know is that you are not a regular.
Accordingly, you have complete mastery over your image in their mind.
I have a good friend who is a successful regular poker player back east. He played so frequently and enjoyed it so much that he opened up his own legal poker room. Back before he was too busy to travel, he used to take regular trips to Las Vegas. He decided his best image was that of a complete rube.
When he arrived at a $20/$40 limit hold'em table at the Bellagio, he would very carefully take five business-size envelopes out of his pocket. Each one contained $500 in $20 bills. He described to me how, when he dramatically opened these envelopes of $20 bills, he could hear his opponents — nearly all Las Vegas regulars — literally licking their chops in eager anticipation of his awful play.
Since he was a very good player, he turned the tables on them, often taking their money as they misread his every move.
The guys with whom you've played for years back at your hometown poker room know how you play. Whether you're aggressive or passive during any hour or so of hands, they know you for the type of player you really are. These Las Vegas regulars don't. These guys are often going to size you up based on both their assumptions about tourists in general and what they see from you in the first hands that you play.
If you start with a spell of awful cards and fold them all, these regulars are going to see you as a rock, not knowing that you really aren't that way. If you play aggressively some speculative hands early on and are caught doing so, they're going to assume that this is how you always play.
You can exploit that short-term image in their mind by being aware of it and then by doing the opposite of what they will be expecting you to do. They see you as a rock, bluff more. They see you as a maniac, tighten up and only play your strongest hands aggressively.
I'm sure you can imagine all sorts of plays you could make using your short-term image to your advantage in a typical local-infested Las Vegas game. I'll describe just one example to consider based on my own experience.
I know my typical short-term image. The combination of my horn-rimmed, circular glasses, my short hair, my speech pattern, the way I stack my chips, my often conservative starting hand selection, and my generally erect posture usually combine to form an image of an ABC player who doesn't get out of line.
I work to cultivate that image. I then use it to my advantage relatively early in my session, against a regular solid player, by making a particularly aggressive move on the turn, when there is a fairly large pot.
Invariably, this being the first sign of aggression from me, a player they don't know but assume based on my early play, demeanor, and image to be a very conservative player, they meekly let me steal the pot. Had they known me better — indeed, had I been a regular among them or had they been part of my circle of regulars in my home poker room — they would be much more suspicious and my play would be much less likely to succeed.
You get the idea. Be more likely to take advantage of your short-term image, since the people you're likely to be playing against will not know you well enough to see the player you really are.
When you're a tourist to Las Vegas, you first must eschew the typical tourist behavior that tends to weaken your game. Armed with your best game, you can then proceed to take advantage of the mistaken assumptions that the regulars will make about you, the unknown player they think they have figured out.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold'em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.