A beginner’s guide to finding the perfect match

You’ve played your favorite slot machine so long you feel like the two of you have a monogamous relationship. You’re feeling adventurous, ready to try something different. All day long, you’ve cast surreptitious glances at the nearest blackjack table. Should you, faithful slot player, make the switch?

It’s certainly worth a shot. But how do you know which table game to play? The list is rather daunting: blackjack, craps, Caribbean Stud, Let it Ride, Three Card Poker, Mini-Baccarat, roulette and pai gow.

Relax. It’s natural to feel a little nervous, especially if you’ve only played slots until now.

Before choosing which game to play, casino executives recommend doing some research. Study a gaming brochure with brief descriptions and rules. Some casinos offer free gaming lessons. The Stratosphere offers 15 minutes of gaming pointers before their afternoon ãViva Las Vegasä shows. Or, just wander around the casino, find an empty game and ask the dealer for advice.

Before you choose a game, Rob Puhalski, Director of Table Games at Resorts, Atlantic City, suggests studying your preferences. Do you like throwing dice? Or would you rather sit at a blackjack table and let the dealer handle all the cards? Or, as a slot player, perhaps you enjoy the excitement of flashing lights and a skyrocketing progressive meterif so, Caribbean Stud’s probably your game.

ãIt depends on what you feel comfortable with and what you’ve been exposed to. says Kim Sumimoto, Casino Shift Manager at Caesars Lake Tahoe. ãIf you’re playing cards at home and you’ve got a background in poker, you might like Caribbean Stud or Let it Ride.ä

For table game novices, is blackjack a good ligaz888 bet? John Sands, director of Table Games at the Stratosphere, thinks so. ãI’d start out with blackjack,ä says Sands, ãbecause it’s set, it’s simple, and once you’re learned basic strategy, you can have a lot of fun at it.ä

But blackjack does have its disadvantages.

ãThe one drawback,ä says Puhalski, ãis that other players on the table can intimidate a new player. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then the other players think you’re messing up the cards they’re gettingalthough that’s not really true.ä

Another disadvantage to blackjack? You have to make decisions.

ãSome people might want to play baccarat, where things are already set in stone,ä says Puhalski. ãThere’s really no decisions for the player to make, other than whether they want to play the bank, player or tie. All the rules are pretty much pre-determined.ä

While baccarat’s high limits can push out some budget-conscious gamblers, mini-baccarat is an excellent choice for novices.

ãJust like baccarat, you make no decisions on mini-baccarat,ä says Kim Sumimoto. ãThe dealer does everything for you. It’s kind of fun because you can’t make a mistake that affects anybody else.ä

Getting your feet wet with Caribbean Stud or Let it Ride is another option, says Sumimoto. Like mini-baccarat, your decisions don’t affect the other players in the game.

ãI’ve spoken to low-end 21 players,ä says Sumimoto, ãand they feel uncomfortable, especially if they’re playing third base, that their decisions could affect the rest of the game.

For slot players, Caribbean Stud is like an old friend: The game offers a progressive jackpot. Just rememberyou have to take the sidebet. It’s your only hope of telling your boss adios. Sumimoto remembers one customer who called the $1 sidebet a ãsucker bet.ä When he hit the Caribbean Stud jackpot he walked away with a mere $1000, shorting himself out of the $100,000-plus jackpot.

If you play poker at home, trying your hand at a casino game could be the way to start. But if you’ve never played poker, jumping into a casino game could land you in troubled waters. In blackjack, you’re playing against the house. In poker, you’re playing against other players.

ãPoker involves more knowledge and strategy, and usually the novice player can be taken advantage of,ä says Sands. ãIn blackjack, you’re playing against the public. But some people make a living out of playing poker.ä

Puhalski agrees. ãIf you don’t know what you’re doing in poker, they’ll love you in there,ä he says. ãThey’re going to jump all over you and win your money and say thanks a lot for coming in. The experienced players love inexperienced players.ä

If you like quick, fast-paced action, poker probably isn’t the game for you, either. ãPoker is a game where you have to have a lot of patience,ä says Puhalski. ãPeople play for eight hours to try to make a couple hundred dollars. On the main floor where we have our regular table games, you don’t get too many people who will sit there and play eight hours at any table game.ä

ãCraps is a very good game to play,ä says Sands. ãIf you’re educated on the game and you know how to play and manage your bankroll, you’re going to win some money.

Still can’t decide which game is right for you? If you’ve got the budget, go wild. Try them all.

ãIf you don’t know the game itself, it’s really going to be hard to judge which one is good for you,ä says Sands. ãIt’s about sitting down and learning the tables.ä

When you’ve chosen which game to play, study the different tables. ãThe first thing I would look for,ä says Sands, ãis a friendly dealer to make you feel comfortable.ä Then, suggests Sumimoto, pick a game with a low limit and observe the game.

ãLook for a lower limit game where people seem to be having a lot of fun, not taking it too seriously,ä says Sumimoto. ãIf you’ve got $20 you can go and have fun if you look for a $3 game. But don’t exceed your limit. If you start with $20 and you have it up to $60 and you felt like you had some fun, that’s a good time to leave the table. You can’t expect to start with $20 and walk away with $500. It does happen, but I think you need to be realistic in your expectations.ä

Learning the game earlier in the morning can also work to your advantage.

ãGo to the casinos early because you will get far more one-on-one attention at 10 o’clock in the morning than you would find at 10 o’clock at night,ä says Sumimoto. ãLook for an empty game where you can interact with the dealer and get as much advice as you need.

It could, after all, be the start of a beautiful friendship.