A Quick Primer on How To Play Poker
The World Series of Poker starts action on May 27th, and between that, summer bachelor parties in Vegas and local casinos that have poker rooms, the poker season will soon be in full swing. The ‘poker boom’ started by Chris Moneymaker in 2003 is still going on as you can watch poker on all the ESPN sites as well as the Game Show Network, the Travel Channel, Fox Sports and NBC. If you haven’t caught some televised poker, you’re a much more discriminating viewer than I am. Which isn’t difficult to achieve. I’ve watched fishing shows.
Then again, I like watching poker. I like the tension. I like thinking about a hand being played and what I would do in the same position. I like to see different ways to call your fellow player a bleeping idiot. But, nothing can compare with playing a game yourself. Maybe this summer you’ll take that opportunity to sidle up to a table, put down your stake and play a few hands. I’m here to give you a few pointers to keep in mind. Since the game most common in poker rooms is No Limit Texas Hold ‘em (rhetorical question: is it possible to have a poker game with proper spelling?) these pointers will concern that game.
What kind of person are you? Do you buy individual stocks or mutual funds? Have you played #13 on roulette tables or played penny slots? Do you eat three-pound cheeseburgers or three-pound salads? If you play penny slots, I bet that you won’t like putting down over $100 to play poker. Good. Don’t. If you like risk, this is the perfect place for you.
Cash Game or Tournament. This is the first decision. A tournament means that you have to make it to the final table or better in order to win. However, you could still get a few good hours of table time and good poker. You can win at the cash game on the first hand. Then again, you could sit there all day and look at rags and keep putting in blinds and still leave empty handed.
Chip Stack. First key is don’t play a game that you can’t afford. If you’re playing a cash game, you probably want to buy in at 100X the big blind. So, a $1/$2 game means you should have $200 at the table. All of the sudden, a $120 tournament entry fee doesn’t seem so bad. The difference, you can still walk with some of your cash game money even if you don’t play well. Which, if it’s your first time, you probably won’t play well. If you say to yourself, “Hey, this is money I am just using to have fun tonight,” you certainly won’t leave with it.
Starting Hands. There’s a lot of opinion on this but it is based on a lot of math. The key is to know how many outs you have and what are your odds of winning. A pair of aces in the hole is an easy one to know to play. Same with kings. Most any high pair along with A-K will be easy to play. 2-7 is not playable. (Bleeping idiot!) Smaller pairs, a couple of high cards or suited connectors will depend on how much risk you like as well as the next couple of points.
Raise/Call/Fold and Position. Ok, you’ve figured out which cards you’re going to play, but just as important is where you are on the table. If you’re under the gun (to the left of the big blind) you have to make your play (raise/call/fold) without any information from anyone else at the table. You better have a good hand if you are going to commit chips to the pot. This is probably not the place to play suited 7-6. On the other hand, if you’re on the button (one to the right of the small blind – called the button because you have the “dealer” chip in front of you) you already know what every player besides the blinds did. Did they go all in? Did everyone fold? That information will help you to figure out what you should do. Maybe this is the time to bluff. Of course, other smart players will realize that you are more likely to bluff at this prime position. Which leads to the next point.
Other Players. Once you’ve been at the table, you’ll start to get an idea of how others play. Do they fold unless they have aces? Do they play every hand? Do they have their finger up their nose? (Bleeping idiot!) Playing for a while will help you to determine which starting hands you should play (should you loosen up because everyone is playing tight or play only big hands because everyone is playing loose) and how you should act in your position on the table.
Size of the Bet. Going all in every time you play is not much for the imagination. Yes, you’ll pick up all the small stuff, but after you do it a few times, if you get called you’re probably facing a monster. It’s better to vary your play. Betting big when you have a big hand might mean that you lose some future money. Betting small when you have a big hand and you could let someone catch cards and beat you. If you bet the same amount each time, you will disguise your opening hand, but bad players may not even realize you’re doing that. (Bleeping idiot!) For more on betting, opening hands and strategy, you need more information.
Further Reading/Study. What I’ve written is just a bunch of basics. Playing poker will help you figure those things out for your self. But, reading more in depth analysis before you play in such books as Doyle Brunson’s “Super System,” Phil Hellmuth’s “Play Poker Like the Pros,” David Sklansky’s “The Theory of Poker”, “Caro’s Book of Poker Tells” and online in places like the Full Tilt Poker Academy will help even more.
About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."