UNDERSTAND THE GAME
Welcome to the beginners guide to learning poker. The aim of this article is to give you a global view of online poker, debunk certain clichés involved in the game and to present the qualities needed to prove yourself as a great player.
I – The origins of poker
II – Poker involves an element of chance
III – The realities of poker
IV – Poker is a money game
V – The 6 qualities needed in a good poker player.
I – ORIGINS
Although the cowboys in Westerns might like you to think that poker is typically an American game, it would seem that poker has its roots in 16th century Persia.
In Europe up until the 18th century, the Germans were known for playing a game called “Pochen”. The French weren’t left out either, as they had a game called “Poque”, which could be the origin of the modern word for poker. The story goes that our compatriots brought the game over on their voyage to New Orleans in 1820. The game was played on the paddle steamers down the Mississippi
Poker was played across America up until and during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the game underwent a few changes year by year. It was in 1840 that the 20 card pack was replaced by the 52 card game we know today, allowing more than 4 players to take part at the same table.
The most popular poker game played today is Texas Hold’em, which came to be at around the turn of the 20th century. It was in this format that the first WSOP took place in 1970, and 38 players took part. The poker bug hasn’t stopped spreading since, and in the WSOP Main Event in 2010, there were 7,319 players taking part.
II – POKER INVOLVES AN ELEMENT OF CHANCE
Many beginners think there are hardly any difference between and roulette, blackjack and all the other games of chance on offer in casinos.
This statement is incorrect. When you’re playing a slot machine for example, you know before you spend any money that your chances of beating the bank are slim, and a win is extraordinary.
In poker, you’re not playing against the casino; you’re playing against the other players at the table. Put simply, your winnings depend on your ability to play better than your opponents.
While it is true that luck plays a part in poker, as it does in all aspects of life, luck is just one of many aspects to consider, and is far from playing a leading role in a game of poker. See the section below entitled The 6 qualities needed in a good poker player.
It is important to familiarise yourself with the idea of the long-term. The long-term is when you have played enough to give you a reliable image of your playing ability. To do this we estimate that you will need to have played around 100,000 hands.
Simply put, in the short-term (an evening, or a week of playing), anything is possible. In any other sport, the losing side has little chance of defeating the forerunners, but in poker this can happen, and it often does. Your ability to read the game and your hard work can do nothing to change that if the cards that fall go against you. Your talent means making the best decisions during and based on the game.
The idea of the long-term
Making a good decision means making a decision that will be profitable in the long-term, irrespective of the immediate result. The element of chance balances itself out in the long-term.
III – THE REALITY OF POKER
Matthew Hilger and Ian Tyler described five “poker facts” that cannot be negotiated in their book The Poker Mindset: Essential Attitudes for Poker Success. If you cannot accept them, then perhaps this game isn’t the one for you.
Understanding and accepting the realities of poker
- Poker is a game that combines skill with luck.
- In the short-term, luck is king.
- In the long-term, skills are more important.
- In poker, there is not a significant edge.
- There is a lot of variance associated with poker.
IV – POKER IS A MONEY GAME
If poker was a game governed only by chance, you wouldn’t find any professional players. Winning money at the tables is not just a pipe dream. Increasing numbers of young players are winning large amounts. Being a professional poker player is no longer a marginal activity.
Even though you can have a dazzling career, it’s important not to run before you can walk. Nothing is impossible if you work for it but you have to be methodical. This means you shouldn’t start dreaming of Las Vegas without some actual results. Work to improve your game on a daily basis.
Finally, managing your money is vital. Even if you can do what you like with your winnings (buy a baby pink limousine or brush your teeth with Dom Pérignon), the money you play with must be managed well.
Read the chapter ‘Managing money – The concept of bankroll management’
V – The 6 qualities needed in a good poker player.
1. Hard work
You never stop learning about the game. There are so many different ways to play a hand, a variety of opponents, moves… Poker is constantly evolving. You have to remain curious. One of the best ways is to talk about poker with other players so you can compare your knowledge, minimise your flaws and so on.
There’s no one sitting beside you in front of the screen, telling you to work on your game, manage your winnings reasonably or leave the table when you’re not playing your best. You are the only one responsible for your results. It’s your job to set the rules and stick to them.
Staying objective is crucial. Don’t lie to yourself about your performance but question your game. Don’t just say you had bad luck because you lost and learn to recognise the element of chance when you win. How well you do is solely up to you.
It’s very easy to kid yourself and start thinking you have nothing left to learn. Don’t fall into this trap. The game never stops evolving and your opponents get better. Remember that only hard work will let you progress.
Poker is a game where reflection is vital. For example, 70% of the hands you get dealt will need to fold. The best way to win money is to know when you need to fold. Don’t waste your chips because you want some action at all costs.
6. Nerves of steel
The mental aspect plays a big part. In poker it’s not always the best players that win in the short-term, but those that have more luck. If the poker gods are out to get you, gracefully accept your loss. Don’t let the variance make you stray from the path of winning poker theory.