World Series of Poker Primer

The following Q&A is made up of real questions from readers of this blog. The answers are a mix of my experience, advice from tournament directors, and the wisdom of our in-house expert Lee Jones

Sure, you're experienced. Aren't we all? Still, this may be your first time at the WSOP. If not, maybe it's your first time at the Rio. For some, it's their first multi-day tournament. Regardless, there should be something in here for everybody.

Survival skills

Q. Any advice on how to survive physically during a multi-day event?

A. I'll be the first to admit that Vegas is a party town. Save it. Save yourself. There will be time for revelry after you take the bracelet. When you get to town, don't stay up all night. Your body clock will get its revenge eventually. Try to eat as well as you can (see the next question for tips on where to eat). Drink as much water as you can, but be aware of the restroom situation (discussed in detail below). Wear comfortable clothes, especially shoes. Get up and walk around as often as you can. On your day off, get out the building at hit the pool for a while. A little sunlight goes a long way.

Q. Do they serve you food when you are playing in the WSOP?

A. Food and drink are a big issue with players this year. As you might expect, there is no free buffet for the players. The closest food is in the hallway outside the tournament area. There you can get hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, cold sandwiches, pizza, sodas, and salads. I will warn you that the food isn't cheap, nor is it gourmet. A chicken sandwich and can of Diet Coke is $9. What's more, the lines get long when everyone breaks at once (imagine 2200 people running for the same chicken sandwich).

After that, the nearest place for food is a five-minute walk to a Starbucks (light fare) or the Sao Paulo. I've eaten at the Sao Paulo twice. The food and prices are average, but the service can be slow and when your break is only an hour and fifteen minutes, slow service is not what you need.

Walk another five minutes and you'll find a couple of the Rio's sit-down restaurants. There are a seafood and Indian restaurants of the price you'd expect from a Vegas casino. I've not eaten at either place, so I can't comment on the service or food.

Add two more minutes to the walk and you'll find a bar/restaurant (The American Bar and Grill) with fairly snappy service and average food/prices. Your only challenge will be getting a table quickly.

So far, the players' best bet is a full ten-minute walk from the poker area. There is a deli near the sports book that has the cheapest food and quickest service. Again, it's not gourmet, but it is quick when expediancy is an issue.

Beyond that, the Rio also has several other restaurants and buffets that take a longer walk. I've eaten at the seafood buffet and Mexican restaurant. The seafood buffet has good food ($35), but the lines can be very long. The Mexican restaurant has good appetizers at the bar, but the night I was there, the food was slow in coming.

Your registration in the WSOP should provide you a $10 voucher for the food. That won't get you halfway through most meals, though.

My advice: eat a huge breakfast and lunch and hope it holds you through the day. Also, pack a few granola bars or candy bars to stave off the hunger.

Q. What happens when I need to use the restroom?

A. Wear your running shoes. I'm quite serious about this. You should get a break every two hours, but the lines get long during the breaks. If you must go before a break, know that the bathrooms are not close. If you are in the back of the room and have to go to the closest bathrooms, you should expect to miss two or three hands. Seriously. So, when the cocktail server comes around, I'd pass if I were you. And here's a little-utilized secret: If you're on a break and the lines are long at the main bathroom (the closest one to the room), walk an extra thirty seconds down the hall. On your left is a short hallway with under-utilized facilities. There is rarely a line there.

Q. Could you please advise if there is any dress code for WSOP players?

A. PokerStars players who have agreed to wear PokerStars gear will be provide shirts to wear. Otherwise, almost anything goes in the poker room. Dress comfortably. I've found, depending on the number of people in the room, it can be very hot and sometimes quite chilly. I've been comfortable in pants and a short-sleeved shirt on most days. However, there have been times I've worn a jacket.

Q. What kind of options do we have in terms of wearing PokerStars attire?

A. When you pick up your PokerStars gear it will include a red, a white and a black short-sleeved polo shirt, a baseball starter jacket (my favorite piece of gear that I don't have...), t-shirts, and a baseball hat.

Q. Are we permitted to have a notebook with us at the table?

A. Absolutely. Some players like to take notes on their opponents. Some players like to record their chip count at the end of each level. Unless you use it as a weapon or to hide your chips, notebooks are perfectly legal. If you bring one, I'd recommend a small notebook that fits in your back pocket.

Q. What about headphones?

A. Lots of players are wearing headphones. I don't like them in no-limit games because I can't hear the action and it can frustrate other players if you don't hear the size of raises, etc. Regardless, headphones are legal until you make it into the money. After that, WSOP rules state that the headphones must come off.

Q. What else should I bring to the table?

A. As little as possible, quite frankly. Ten or eleven handed, the tables are tight. Bring something to cap your cards. Other than that, you won't have room for much of anything else.

Q. I'm French and I don't speak English very well. Can that cause me a problem?

A. Generally, non-English speakers can survive at the tables just fine. As long as you know your numbers and how to say raise, you should be fine. Please be aware, however, that all coversations at the table must be in English. You will not be allowed to converse in French with your fellow Frenchmen.

Q. Is there cocktail service during the tournament?

A. First, see the first question about laying off the beer. Second, review the question about restrooms. But, yes, there is. Cocktail servers circulate throughout the day. They primarily carry water and Red Bull. If you are served a drink, be sure to toke the server A dollar is the standard tip.

Tournament details

Q. What is the amount of starting chips in the Main Event?

A. The amount of starting chips in all WSOP events has equalled the buy-in. The main event buy-in and chips is $10,000.

Q. What is the projected number of players paid?

A. The number of players paid depends on the number of entrants. Usually, around the top ten percent of the field gets paid.

Q. If a player is not scheduled to begin playing until July 8th or 9th, need they be there any earlier (i.e. on the 7th?)

A. I wouldn't see any reason to be here earlier. However, if you intend to arrive late, I would suggest you have everything in writing regarding your start date, hotel room confirmations, etc. There are a lot of registration issues you will need to take care of (including getting your players card) that take some time. Arriving at the last minute is not a good idea.

Q. What about satellites?

A. If you're getting here in advance of the main event, there are satellites of just about every amount. They pay out in $500 increments, depending on the buy-in. Be aware, satellites pay in $500 tournament entry chips (lammers) that have no cash value. If you're playing for the cash, you'll have to find someone to buy your lammer off you. Some people will pay the full $500 per chip, while others will only buy if you give them a discount.

Q. Are the chip values easy to determine?

A. Yes. Here at the WSOP, they use standard color/denominations. Moreover, the chip amount is printed on every chip.

Black=100 (in satellites, the blacks are gray)

Tournament Etiqutte/Rules

Q. If someone asks me for a chip count, am I required to do that or can I just sit there and have the dealer do it?

A. You are required to keep your chips in plain view. If someone asks you for a count and you don't feel like speaking, simply reveal your chips (in easily countable and dividable stacks). If the player persists and asks for a count, ask the dealer to count it down for him or do it yourself.

Q. What is the proceedure for calling the clock?

A. Calling the clock (a fair but rarely-used method of hurrying up an opponent's decision) is done simply by asking the dealer to put the clock on the opponent. The dealer will call for the floor person who will give your opponent a pre-designated amount of time to make the decision.

Q. How should I handle my cards?

A. Don't pick your cards up off the table. Use one hand to cover them, and peek at the corners. Cover your cards with a chip or other tchotchke (you'll probably get one in the goody bag that all our qualifiers get). If you don't cap your cards, they may be "fouled" by other players' folded cards or picked up by the dealer. If there's an all-in, do not turn your cards up until the dealer tells you to do so (to be sure that you don't turn them up prematurely). For instance, if you are all-in and more than one other player is still in the hand, you must keep your cards hidden until the side pot is resolved. In short, just wait for the dealer to tell you to turn up your hand.

You may not expose any cards during the play of the hand. In some home games, players will show their opponents their cards to try to get a read on them. If you do that here, you will likely get a penalty. If there is a showdown, be sure to place your cards flat on the table face-up. Until you do so, they are not "shown". That is, simply showing your cards to your opponent while they are in your hand is not a binding showdown. Lastly, when you reveal your cards, just turn them over. Flipping them, tossing them, slamming them, etc. can result in your cards accidentally sliding into the muck. If that happens, your hand is dead, regardless if you won.

Q. How should I handle my chips?

A. Get this straight. You are not Teddy KGB. Don't splash the pot. When you bet, put out your chips out in neat stacks in front of you. If you intend to raise, say the word "raise" and make it the first word out of your mouth. Specifically, do not say "I'll see that and raise it..."

Remember, if you put a single large denomination chip into the pot and don't say raise, it's a call. This rule will be universally enforced. For instance, if it's 100 to call, and you simply toss out a 500 chip, you have called (not raised). If you say "raise" as you toss out that chip, you've raised to 500. If you say "300" as you toss out that chip, you've raised to 300.

When you go to make a raise, after saying the word "raise", figure out how much you want to put out and either (1) announce that number ("Make it 1000 total"), or (2) move all the chips out in a single motion. If you intend to go all-in, simply say "I'm all-in". Once you bring one stack of chips out, they will not let you go back for more. It's called a string bet and it is not allowed. Don't get caught by it.

Q. How should I arrange my chips when I'm not playing?

A. This is largely a matter of preference. I like to keep my chips in even stacks of twenty chips a piece. This makes it easy to count. For instance, a stack of twenty black chips is $2000. Other players like to build large, artistic towers. While some players believe this can be intimidating to an opponent and make it harder for an opponent to count your chips, I wouldn't recommend it for one simple reason. A quick story: Two days ago, an event was about to go on a 15-minute break. Most players, including a couple players who had built chip towers, got up to leave the table. Two players were left in a hand. One of those players (a WSOP bracelet-holder, incidentally) lost the hand and slammed his fist down on the table. The result was the toppling of a couple towers of chips. This can happen at any time and there is little way for you to prove how many chips you had if some of your chips get mixed in with an opponents.

A couple of other points. You should keep your larger denomination chips in front of the smaller denominations. You should also avoid what is called "barber-poling." That means, don't mix chips of different denominations in the same stack to make them look like a barber's pole. Most people will inform you if you have done this by accident. If someone says, "You have a dirty stack," that means you have a chip of the wrong denomination in your stack (example: a black chip in a stack of $25 green chips).

Q. How should I handle my cards when I don't intend to play them?

A. Rule number one: Don't act out of turn. For instance, suppose a player bets, another guy has to act, and then it's to you. Now the second guy goes into the tank. Even if you have no intention of calling, don't move a muscle. Your presence in the hand changes the calculus dramatically, and it's not fair to act prematurely. That means, don't stand to go to the bathroom and ask your tablemate to fold your cards when it ges around to you. That means don't put your fingers on the cards like you're intending to fold. Don't do anything until it is your turn.

Most of the time when it's your turn to act, your choice will be easy (normally "Fold"). Don't wait forever. This isn't the final table (yet), and the clock is ticking. If you need time to make a decision, fine. Certainly, take good time to make your important decisions, but don't unnecessarily delay the game just for grins.

Q. What can you tell me about the f-bomb penalty?

A. It exists and it is enforced. Just last night in the Razz tournament, a dainty woman let loose the f-word and was hit with a ten-minute penalty. Don't say it. As much as you want to, don't say it. If you do, expect to be sitting out and blinded off. Talk about wanting to say it...

Q. What kind of table talk is allowed?

A. You can talk all you want, but be aware of certain rules of etiquette. Don't comment about any hand that's in play. Things like "Well, the flush just got there" or "He's bluffing" are way out of line, and will get you glared at, if not a time-out penalty. If a hand is in play, it's best to just keep your mouth shut.


...a few rules and rules of etiquette for your friends and family who come to sweat you.

  • No flash photography in the tournament area
  • Stay behind the rail (usually a velvet rope or row of chairs)
  • Be courteous of the "name players." Most are very nice, but don't ask for autographs or pictures while they are playing.