I was born with a betting spirit. It stretches back to when my grandmother taught me how to play five-card draw poker with a faux casino set and tin of pennies when I was in my single digits. Today, however, I make myself scarce on my husband's regular poker nights. Though I usually sneak glances over their shoulders, I take the opportunity for a girls' night out, not sticking around long enough to learn the variations they play—crazy games called "Screw Thy Neighbor," or "Pass the Trash."
In a casino setting, blackjack is actually my preferred game, as poker seems intimidating. On a recent visit to Atlantic City's Revel, however, I decided to confront my fear. Gambling's all about taking chances, right? So I took a lesson on the casino's most popular poker game—Texas Hold 'em. I walked away richer with knowledge...if a little poorer in chips.
What I Learned
1. Nobody plays the five-card draw game my grandmother taught me. And just because you know which hands beat what, doesn't mean you know anything about playing poker. It's like thinking you can surf because you rode a skateboard when you were nine. For a great primer on rules before you hit the tables, the Revel recommends brushing up on these sites: LearnHowtoPlayPoker.com; Pokerabcs.com; PokkerCards.com
2. There is no Berlitz program for Texas Hold 'em vocabulary. So here is my translation of the confusing language called "poker speak":
Big and Small Blind—A forced bet; also known as the anxiety-inducing moment when you must put up your cash before seeing the cards; akin to starting the game with a gun to the head.
Flop—Dealing of the first three face-up community cards; the moment when your heart sinks or soars with the possibilities (or lack thereof) of making a hand with your two hole cards.
The Turn—Fourth face-up community card. False moment of hope, when you think you might actually be able to make lemonadeâ€¦.
River—Sink or swim moment, as it is the fifth and last of the community cards dealt.
Call—Matching a bet or a raise. Being a follower. Exhibiting sheep-like behavior.
Check—Betting nothing; resembling a chicken.
Raise—Attack of overconfidence; temporary moment of insanity or naked aggression.
String betting—The prohibited act of literally dropping your chips on the table one at a time; sign of a rookie jerk.
3. What is the difference between a limit and no limit game to a beginner? Bankruptcy; foreclosure. Perhaps debtor's prison. Think about it—a limit at least gives you a bottom. My dealer/teacher recommends that beginners play in tournaments, as the loss is fixed. You pay in and then play until your chips are gone. For example, a buy-in of $70 gives you $1000 worth of chips to play. If you lose all the chips, you are no poorer than your $70 buy-in.
4. Having "the nut" is a good thing. Basically, "the nut" is having the best hand possible. And if you have "the nut," calm down. You don't want to clue the table in to that fact so that you keep them in the game, and thus, make the pot that you are inevitably going to win as large as possible. This is where having a good poker face is crucial.
5. I had "the nut" and everyone knew it. So they all folded like a house of cards. I need to work on that po-po-poker face.
6. And if you're not a good bluffer, don't start now. My dealer said that beginners shouldn't bluff as it doesn't help to scare too many players out of the game. "A bluff is barely profitable for the good players," he warned.
7. Being chicken is actually an asset. "Don't be afraid to fold," my dealer told me; wise words indeed.
8. Finally, have a post-game plan for where to celebrate and/or where to sulk. At the Revel, my two favorite spots, after a bust or jackpot are:
If you win: Get the bellota ham. A tapas portion at $30 may seem steep, but the luxurious flavor pays off in spades.
To share the wealth: Go whole hog for $450—a whole roast suckling pig feeds 7-12 people, complete with tapas accompaniments. It must be ordered in advance, however, so stash the cash before you invite friends.
If you go bust: Order a plate of olives. $3 gets you the snack, plus a complimentary flatbread with a tuna caper aioli spread. Not to mention that's there's nightly flamenco. Not bad for dinner and a show.
If you win: Indulge in the wagyu strip steak, $110. Melt-in-your-mouth beef.
To share the wealth: Split the seafood tasting, $135. It comes with Forgione's signature chili lobster, bbq baked oysters, raw oysters, shrimp cocktail, yellowfin tuna, hiramasa, and jumbo lump crab. Everyone's happy.
If you go bust: The $13 iceberg wedge is a veritable meal—a giant mound of iceberg lettuce encasing tomato and blue cheese topped with a generous garnish of bacon.
Plan ahead: Poker lessons are available at the Revel free Monday through Friday at 11 am, 1 pm, and 7pm. Or call ahead to schedule classes on the weekend with Frank Foti, Revel's executive director of poker at (855) 348-0500.
Photo credits: All images courtesy of Revel Resort