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Poker players often get their first taste of the game at home or online. Home games with family or friends introduce many people to the game, sometimes even at a very young age. Others find games online, often on a free-play website like Zynga or even the free-play sister sites of PokerStars, PartyPoker, 888poker, or WSOP. But no matter how they become interested, many players want to take it to the next level and try to play in a live cash game at a casino or cardroom.

Walking into a poker room for the first time can be intimidating. Most articles focus on the discomfort of women in poker rooms because they are the minority in those male-dominated settings, but a player of any gender can feel anxious when dipping their feet into the live poker pool. Here are some tips to help ease that anxiety and keep others from noticing those nerves.

Go with a Friend

The easiest way to gain experience in a poker room is to go with a friend. Even if that friend is a new player as well, the ability to chat between hands or ask each other questions can put a person at ease. Find seats at the same table to start, but keep the conversation to a minimum as too much can be viewed by others as collusion. And when the comfort level rises, ask for seats at different tables.

Befriend a Floorperson

There is no shame in asking for assistance. When you enter the poker room, find a floorperson and ask for a moment away from the tables. Tell him or her that it is your first experience in a live poker room and you want to avoid rookie mistakes. That floorperson will then guide you through the next steps, such as buying chips and finding the table. He or she might even point you in the direction of other new players or someone who might be friendly enough to be a mentor of sorts. Once you know people in the poker room, that nervous energy can be diverted into conversation.

Avoid Riffling Chips

Many players who learn poker online or watch a lot of poker on television like to riffle their chips at the tables. It may seem like a good idea that will indicate to other players that you are experienced. However, any nervous energy may backfire when playing with those chips. Opponents will be able to see any shaking of the hands, and errors with the chips can cause them to splash around the table, only increasing your anxiety level. Not every player riffles chips, so it’s best to start playing the cards alone.

Cover Mistakes with Jokes

If you make a mistake when counting chips for a bet, or if you act out of turn or neglect to act when it is your turn, there are ways to play it off without admitting to being a new player. Have jokes prepared for such occasions. For example, if you act out of turn, tell the table that you were just so anxious to play the amazing cards you just received. Or if you bet the wrong amount, make a joke about your math skills or eyesight. There are ways to make light of a mistake without letting it determine your table image.

Mix Up Your Play

No matter how much experience a person has online or at a home game, mistakes in a first live casino game are common. That is why it sometimes helps to begin playing an unconventional strategy. Mix up those betting amounts to confuse other players and tell them it’s your longtime strategy. Show a bluff and a big hand in the early stages of action to show opponents that you’re unpredictable. It can help you feel more comfortable when everyone else is confused by your plays. When you get adjusted, you can settle into a routine that best serves you and your game.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.

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