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Top-10 tips for newcomers to the WSOP

28 May 2012

The 43rd World Series of Poker began on Sunday with the $500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold'em Event. This year's series is sure to bring plenty of new players to Las Vegas for the first time.

While I've never played in a WSOP bracelet event, this year will mark the fifth that I will have spent time in Sin City to write about the Series. If you've never been to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino during the world's largest poker festival, the WSOP can be pretty intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. Do your research before you get there and you'll find that the only thing you need to focus on is playing well in the tournament.

Here are the top-10 tips for newcomers to the WSOP.

10. Where to stay
The obvious and easy choice is the Rio itself. In addition to being the same venue as the tournament itself, staying at the Rio allows you to duck up to a quiet place during breaks in play just to take a moment for yourself to collect your thoughts, and allows you the quickest route to a bed at the end of a day's play. But the Rio isn't the most economical, especially if you're planning on staying over a weekend. While weekday rates are in the $70-$80/night range, they can balloon to over $200/night on the weekends.

If you're looking for a more economical place to stay, the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino is a short walk across Flamingo Road from the Rio. Rates start at just $30/night during the week and go up to $70-$80 on most weekends.

If you're looking for something "off campus" that's a little more upscale, The Palms Casino Resort has a wide variety of accommodations from $80/night for a deluxe room on a weeknight to $500/night for a grand suite on the weekend, and it's just a short across South Valley View.

The best deal, however, may be the Extended Stay America on South Valley View, across the road from the Rio. The weekday rate is $55 and the weekend rate is $65. You get two double beds, a bathroom, a small kitchenette including refrigerator, microwave and stovetop. And the biggest selling point? Wireless Internet for $5 for your entire stay.

If you don't mind a cab ride, there are dozens of other casinos and hotels in Las Vegas to choose from.

9. How to register
There are two ways to register for a WSOP event. You can pre-register for any event up to weeks in advance at the WSOP website, or you can register in person at the cage. If you choose to pre-register, you'll need to provide a bunch of information, and upon doing so, you'll be provided with payment information, whereby you can wire money directly from your bank or you can send a cashier's check.

If you choose to register at the cage in person at the Rio, you can pay in cash, cashier's check or Rio gaming chips, but be advised, if you're playing in one of the huge no-limit Hold'em events, you might end up in a very long line.

Regardless of how you decide to register, you will need a Caesars Total Rewards card to do so. If you don't have one already and want to pre-register, have no fear, you can sign up for one online.

8. WSOP rules
Yeah, I know, you've played poker before and you think you know all the rules, right? Well each venue is different, and you need to be aware of all those differences. There have also been a few changes to the rules this year, including a relaxation on the rules regarding celebrations and talking at the table. You need to know exactly what will (and what won't) get you a penalty.

Ever watch a game when someone made a bone-headed decision because they didn't know they were doing anything wrong? You don't want to be that person. So read the rules.

7. Rio layout
The Rio is big. And the convention center is big too. You'll want to get there to walk around and see where all the different rooms are so you know where you're going once you find out where you'll be seated.

There are poker tables in the Amazon Room, the Pavilion and the Brasilia Room, and the rooms are divided up into different colored sections to make navigating the space a little easier.

6. Tournament structure
Just like any other tournament, you'll need to know what to expect in terms of tournament structure. One of the great things about the WSOP is that the structures are slow. Levels in most events are an hour, and after the first couple levels, blinds generally go up somewhere around 20-33 percent each level. These tournaments are a grind, so make sure you're prepared for it.

5. Where to eat
Once you've registered, you know where you're staying and you've got your game plan, you need to figure out where you're going to eat. Trying to get a seat at one of the Rio's restaurants during a break can be difficult, especially if you're playing in one of the huge $1,000 or $1,500 no-limit Hold'em events. The Poker Kitchen, which is in the Miranda Room, offers plenty of options, from sandwiches, salads, pizza and pub-like fare (hamburgers, quesadillas, etc.) at a not-too-ridiculous price. Expect a meal to come in around the $10-$15 range. The All-American Bar & Grille offers similar, yet slightly more expense pub fare, and if you're looking for a speedy burger, you can head to the BK Whopper Bar, but be forewarned, it's probably close to a one-mile roundtrip walk. Fine dining options at the Rio include Buzios Seafood Restaurant and Martorano's, an Italian restauarant. No matter where you decide to eat, please don't make the same mistake I've made in each of my four previous trips to the Rio for this event: don't eat at the Sports Deli. I can't emphasize this point enough.

In terms of pre-tournament food, my best advice is to try to get a good breakfast outside of a restaurant setting. This is another reason why I highly recommend the Extended Stay. Don't underestimate the value of a kitchen! Nothing hits the spot when you wake up in the morning like a simple bowl of Cheerios with fresh berries. If you don't have a refrigerator in your room, try to get some granola bars and fruit that doesn't need to be refrigerated, like bananas and apples. If that's not possible, there is a Starbucks at the Rio just outside the Penn & Teller Theater.

4. Traffic
No, I'm not talking about traffic getting to the Rio. I'm talking about traffic around the tables. The vast majority of people inside the ropes at the World Series of Poker are players and tournament staff (dealers, floor personnel, etc.). But there's also the media (yes, I'm part of the problem), photographers, chip counters, massage therapists and cocktail waiters and waitresses. Trust me, we do our best to stay out of the way, and those of us who know what we're doing never interfere with actual play. But be prepared for a lot of traffic in between the tables and people walking in front of, behind and next to you while you're playing.

3. Plan your bathroom breaks
When there are more than 3,000 people taking a simultaneous 20-minute break from a poker tournament, the line for the bathroom can get pretty long. If there's less than two minutes before the break, you've just folded pre-flop from second position and you've got a healthy chip stack, take the opportunity to bolt from the table and get to the restroom. (That is, unless, you've got the bankroll to park a trailer outside the Rio.) Yes, you may miss a hand, but you would have been under-the-gun and most likely would have only been playing premium hands anyway. But if you wait for that hand and end up at the back of the line, you could end up missing more than five hands, including your blinds. In addition, while the custodial staff at the Rio does an amazing job keeping the bathrooms clean, you can imagine how gross they are after they get crushed during a break in play. If you decide to wait and make a quick run for the bathroom during play, wait until 15-20 minutes after play resumes so they've had a chance to clean up after the stampede.

2. Know your other poker options
If you're going to be in Las Vegas but a WSOP bracelet event is a bit out of reach for your bankroll, or if you bust on Day 1 of your event but still have a few days left in your trip, there are still plenty of other poker tournaments to be played. The WSOP offers Daily Deepstack events for $235 (2 p.m.), $185 (6 p.m.) and $135 (10 p.m.). There are also satellite events at 9 a.m. ($75), 4 p.m. ($330) and 8 p.m. ($550).

If you want to venture outside of the Rio, there are literally dozens of options daily. One of the best resources is Kenny Hallaert's Google Doc, which lists the events at seven casinos. You can follow Hallaert on Twitter @SpaceyFCB.

If you're like me and you're looking for a mixed cash game, you can follow @mixgameaddict on Twitter to find the best places to play.

1. Make an exit plan
Win or lose, you need to have a plan on what to do after your event. Whether it's Go Kart racing, a nice dinner out, a movie or an evening at one of Las Vegas' more famous (or infamous) nightclubs, you should have a plan in place so you and any cronies who are in town with you will know what the plan is. Do your research, know your group and make a plan.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.