6 Poker Gadgets That Aren’t Lame

I usually agree with the writer Orison Marden: “He only is rich who can enjoy without owning.” I own a decent car, sure, but I’ve maintained it and kept it running for over a decade. I don’t have a massive house, I don’t wear any jewelry besides my wedding ring, and I try to live life simply.

Except when it comes to poker.

I’m a total sucker for poker gadgets. Over the years, I’ve bought enough eBooks, trainers, and fancy equipment for my poker room to operate a resale shop. Everyone has a vice, right? I own everything from Vat19’s giant playing cards to the ridiculous Belkin n52te mouse that poker pros seem to swear by. I’ll try anything twice, just in case the first time was a fluke.

My collection of poker gadgets that I used twice and got rid of could fill a small warehouse, but the list of gadgets that I continue to use and find useful? It’s really short. I feel uniquely qualified to offer up a list of six poker gadgets that don’t suck. The six devices below are items that I actually recommend to poker players – not just things that I think are neat.

Bestway’s Inflatable Poker Table
Once upon a time you had to track Betway down online and place an email order if you wanted this item. It cost $50 and I was lucky to get one when I did. Then I started seeing them on Amazon, at a slightly lower price. These days, you can buy Bestway’s inflatable Texas Hold’em poker “table and chair set” at Wal-Mart. For less than $30 you can take your weekly game out to the pool and get some Vitamin D for once. I swear by this thing during the summer, and it’s a great conversation piece.

Rush Creek’s Octagon Poker Table
If you value the ambience of your private poker game, it’s time to man up and invest in a legitimate poker table. The days of folding tables and plastic lawn chairs are over. Poker players have style and they demand a certain level of quality. Impress your friends and own this piece of furniture that you don’t have to hide when the boys aren’t over. Sure, it has a frontier look, but I don’t think it’d be out of place in a game room or man cave.

KEM Plastic Playing Cards
I got on the KEM train early. It’s rare that poker players come to anything like a consensus, but in the case of KEM’s cellulose acetate playing cards, everyone agrees. They’re the best. They’re beautiful, durable, and available in two sizes and a wide range of designs. Point your browser to KEM’s website to order the cards and browse their list of accessories, like chip sets, score pads, and card trays. I’ve tried switching to Copag PVC cards, mainly because they’re 1/3 the price and still a respected manufacturer, but I just hate the way the PVC feels in my hands. Go with the original and still champion playing card manufacturer – KEM.

Logitech’s G19 Programmable Gaming Keyboard
If my wife thought a $70 mouse was obscene, imagine how she’d respond if she knew how much I really spent on Logitech’s G19 keyboard. I told her I won it in a giveaway – but in reality it set me back $200. It’s worth every penny. From the customizable LED backlight (which has cut back on my mis-clicks) to the built-in LCD screen I use to display stats and YouTube videos while I play, I can’t imagine playing online poker without it.

An Aeron Office Chair
Herman Miller makes the famous Aeron chair, and though it was in no way designed specifically for use by poker players, I think it is a must-won for anyone expected to spend serious time in front of their laptop playing poker. The Aeron is beautiful, functional, and eliminates overheating and strain through the use of ergonomic design and modern materials and production. If I sound like a fanboy, it’s because I am. I cured years of muscle strain and sciatica by replacing my cheap office chair with an Aeron. I’ve probably saved thousands of dollars in chiropractor bills just by buying my Aeron, which set me back almost $800 but was totally worth it.

A Year of Poker Training at Ivey League
Not exactly a gadget, but still expensive enough to make this list. A year’s paid subscription to Ivey League will set you back between $70 and $500, but the access this membership gives you to training from real poker pros is (not to sound like a broken record) totally worth it. I recommend this service to poker players at all ability levels. If you can afford it, the Masters access (at $75 a month) gives you access to the most content and the most one-on-one contact with the site’s pros. Don’t take my word for it – check out PokerFuse’s review from last year.

Conclusion
Don’t get me wrong on this point – I don’t think gadgets are crucial to success in poker, online or otherwise. I know amazing players that own a twelve year-old laptop and absolutely no gadgets. I also know guys that buy everything on the market and never win a hand.

But I DO think that most players will enjoy themselves more if they incorporated gadgets into their poker game. My online poker play is a form of entertainment – I don’t make nearly enough money from poker to call it a job. If I think of entertainment as currency, anything that makes me have more fun increases my expected value.

The gadgets above have all been tested extensively by myself and my poker buddies. This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list. But it is a list of amazing poker-related gadgets and merchandise that can enhance the entertainment value of your poker play. And that’s worth a few Amazon purchases, don’t you think?

How Comps Are Distributed to Blackjack Players

So, you’ve sidled up to a standard blackjack table, slid your M Life or Total Rewards card to the dealer, and watched them scan it through to the system. Now what?

Well, that’s a mystery many blackjack enthusiasts are still trying to crack.

The Total Rewards website spells things out quite clearly for slots and video poker:
“You will earn 1 Reward Credit for each $5 you play on reel slot machines and $10 for video poker.”
But when you scroll down in search of table games like blackjack, the numbers aren’t nearly as clear – and in fact, Total Rewards doesn’t provide any concrete numbers at all:
“For table play, be sure to hand your Total Rewards card to the dealer or pit supervisor as soon as you sit down to play and ask to be rated.
Reward Credits are earned based on length of play, average bet and type of game.”
As you can see, Caesars Entertainment properties use a proprietary formula – based on how long you play, your average wager amount, and the type of table game played – to determine how many comp points you’ll earn. Obviously, this leaves quite a bit of wiggle room for the casino, while players never really know for sure how their blackjack session is being parlayed into points.

It’s even murkier over on the M Life website, which only provides the following information for table game players:
“Members must present their M Life Rewards Card to a table games pit supervisor prior to table games play.
M Life Rewards members must satisfy minimum betting requirements to be rated for table games.
Please see a table games pit supervisor at participating M Life Rewards destinations for such assistance.”
In this case, playing at an MGM Resorts property leaves you at the whim of a table games pit boss, along with an unknown minimum betting requirement.

Thankfully, the internet levels the playing field tremendously, and you’ll find plenty of blackjack forums and travel sites where players can discuss their own comp experiences. By perusing a few of these platforms, I’ve been able to come up with the following figures.

Whether you’re using the M Life or Total Rewards card, you’ll need to bet an average of $25 per hand just to get your play “rated” by the casino. For most recreational gamblers who bet the minimum of $5, or $10 when they’re feeling lucky, that threshold alone prices them out of the comp program.

But let’s say you pony up the dough and bet a green $25 chip on each hand (on average). Now, the next factor to consider is your hands per hour rate. Most industry estimates peg the average blackjack table at 80 hands per hour, so I’ll go with that.

If you’re betting $25 per hand and playing 80 hands per hour, you’ll have $2,000 in total bets on the table over that span.

The next calculation the casinos use involves their theoretical hold rate, or the number of dollars they can expect to win based on the game’s house edge. Depending on your skill level, blackjack offers a house edge between 0.50% (for basic strategy experts) and 1.5% (for folks playing by “gut instinct” alone). Knowing this, I’ll use a flat 1% house edge to make the math easier.

Having bet $2,000 in total over the hour, while facing a house edge of 1%, the casino’s theoretical hold stands at $20.

From there, you can expect to receive comp points equal to 10% of the hold, which comes to just $2 in this example.

REMEMBER
That was for one hour of play only, while most of us tend to stick around the tables for a few hours at a time. But for a general rule of thumb, assume you’re earning about $1 in comp points for every $1,000 you put at risk in a 60-minute period.

The big problem most blackjack players encounter is improper ratings by the pit boss. It’s their job to closely observe the action, entering your typical betting unit and your time at the table into the system. But if the pit boss sees you starting out at $10 bets to warm up, before you start firing the green chips, you might not ever get rated at all.

On the other hand, you might get your rating set at $25 bets from the outset, only to up the ante when you’re on a heater. At this point, you could be betting $50 or $100 per hand, all while the system continues to track you as a $25 bettor.

For this reason, blackjack players who value comp points should always take measures to clarify their play to the pit boss. That’s their job, after all, so you’re not bothering anybody by asking for a quick chat. Just let them know your name, that you’ve had your card scanned, and your plan for the game.

Something like “Hi there, I’m so-and-so, and I’ll be betting $25 and up for the next hour or two” should be sufficient. And if you decide to increase the stakes midway through the session, just give the dealer a glance and let them know to alert the pit boss about the new wager.

This can all seem like a chore at first, especially for casual gamblers, but it’s the only ironclad way to ensure that your blackjack play is properly rated.

5 Steps to Picking the Perfect Poker Tournament

I wrote this post for a simple reason – I got sick of teaching my friends how to pick a good online poker tournament, so I wrote something I could copy and paste as an email response.

The goal of this page is to help you find the right kind of online poker tournament for you to enter, based on a few different factors. When we say “perfect” tournament, we mean the tourney that’s the most fun and potentially the most profitable that you can afford or have a shot at winning with your skill level.

How to Pick a Poker Tournament
Determining which tournament to play means first figuring out a few things about you and the kind of tournaments you want to play. I think there are basically three kinds of online poker players. Regardless of the specifics of your poker game, you’re probably one of these three broad categories:

The Amateur
This is anyone who plays primarily for fun. Being an amateur doesn’t mean you lose a lot or are a bad player – it means your purpose is more casual. The Amateur probably doesn’t have a tournament bankroll or worry about bankroll management. Amateurs look for tournaments that offer a low fixed buy-in, are exciting to play, and give them a shot at a decent cash prize.

The Cash Game Expert
Players who make a significant amount of money playing ring games of online poker fall under this category. This person might play an occasional tournament, but mostly as a break in the routine. A Cash Game Expert will play a tourney if it gives him a decent shot at a huge cash prize, or if he finds value in the low skill set of a particular tournament’s player field.

The Tournament Junkie
Some of these players are professionals, others are amateurs, but they all have one thing in common. They complete regularly in online poker tournaments. Tournaments make up the majority of their poker play. They keep a tournament bankroll separate from their regular cash game bankroll. In short, tourneys are their wheelhouse.

Five Steps to Picking the Perfect Poker Tournament
Follow these five steps and you’ll have at least one perfect option for your particular style of poker play.

Step One: Figure out what field size you’re interested in.
Do you want to play against dozens of other players, or thousands of them? The name of the game in a tournament is for good players to take money from less-skilled players. That means good players have a higher expectation when they’re playing against fish. That means (generally speaking) a skilled player enjoys a much higher ROI in large tournament fields.

Why would anyone play anything but a massive tournament, if smaller tournaments mean more skilled opponents? Smaller fields mean less variance. Playing against large fields means that you’re more likely to lose every tournament you enter than when you enter tourneys with smaller fields. You earn more consistent winnings if you can compete consistently against smaller (and more skilled) fields of competitors. It’s tournament poker’s most annoying Catch-22.

Step Two: Determine your ideal buy-in.
Amateur players that don’t worry too much about their bankroll should pick a tourney based on the amount they’re comfortable losing in proportion to their skill level. In other words, if you enter a small pool tourney featuring players who are mostly better than you, you should be prepared to lose the entire buy-in. At that point, the tournament’s 100% fun, exactly what amateurs are in it for. All players can follow this rule, since the key to it is that you’re choosing tourneys based on both your skill level and your financial comfort level. It means you won’t be distracted worrying about money, even when it’s down to you vs. the final table.

Step Three: Decide how difficult of a field you want to compete against.
We established in Step Two that it is generally tougher to win tournaments with larger buy-ins, because those tournaments include mostly highly-skilled players. However, this rule has a huge exception.

Tourneys that get a lot of publicity but also happen to have a large buy-in tend to feature people who are playing for the prestige. The best example is the World Series of Poker, where plenty of total amateurs that have no business competing in poker’s biggest event cough up ten grand so they can play in the same tournament as the big boys. Of course, not all examples are this extreme. You’ll often find people playing way out of their league at hefty buy-in online tournaments. It’s all about doing your research.

Step Four: Find your ideal blind structure.
A tourney’s “blind structure” is the number of chips you start with relative to the tourney’s blinds. This structure also lets you know how quickly those blinds increase over time. Amateur players in it mostly for fun and excitement should look for events where they start with a large number of chips and the blinds move up very slowly. This will get them the most bang for their buck. This shallow structure reduces the impact of player skill, at least for a few rounds.

Skilled players need to consider what the strongest part of their poker game is, then pick a structure that matches their abilities. I’d suggest that ring game players choose deep stack tourneys so that the tournament looks and acts like the games they know and love. If you’re used to playing in tournaments, you might like the thrill of the shallow stack setup, and you might be the type of player who makes their best moves in tight game situations.

Step Five: Shop for the best prize structure.
This one is really all about personal preference.

I suggest that you concern yourself mainly with the cut taken by the house. Small stakes online tournaments tend to pay the house 10%. If you’re playing in a tournament with a buy-in above $100, you’ll pay slightly less of a cut to the house. Be careful about entering the super-tiny pool low stakes tournaments online with a rake of 20% or more. When you’re playing with a shallow structure and a huge rake, you’re basically playing the toughest possible online tournament format.

Conclusion
In case you haven’t gotten the point by now – you need to tailor your online poker tourney choice to the specifics of your poker game. It starts with an honest assessment of your abilities and your likes and dislikes when it comes to online poker. If you combine that accurate look at your poker skill with a logical choice of poker tournament, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of being a tournament winner.