February 14, 2006


so someone mentioned to me that it would be useful to find out how to get started in poker. several of the pros often note that they get asked this question a lot. it used to be that learning how to play poker took not much more than a lot of time, a significant chunk of money, a hungry intellect, and a pair. you know what i'm talking about. one thing we should note is that i am not a pro, nor do i think that i am a great poker player. just like anything, the more you learn about poker, the more you realize how little you know. that being said, there are two things that you can do. i list them here in, probably, order of importance: PLAY. PLAY A LOT. there's really no other way to go about becoming a good poker player. you need to play to be a poker player. this doesn't mean that you should jump into every game that you can get into and just start slinging your money around. the internet has made it easy to find games of all types all the time at all budgets. i think there are a few basic things that you must do while starting out playing: 1. watch and listen to everyone at the table. this is CARDINAL rule number one. the one thing about the game of poker is that there's a time and a place for just about anything (even playing 27 offsuit). the one completely inflexible rule though is that you need to pay attention. if you can't do this, you might as well give up now. by paying attention you pick up on what kinds of hands people play, verbal and physical tells, and who's on tilt. but probably most importantly (particularly for, i think, no limit games) is that watching everyone all the time allows you to pick up on betting patterns. if you sit at a game long enough and watch a player enough, you will usually be able to tell what kinds of bets he likes to make. all of this information dictates what you do. there are situations in which you might fold AQ immediately, but other situations in which you might raise liberally with A2. you'll never know which to do if you don't pay attention. when i play a long session, i am mentally exhausted by the end of it, mostly because i just spent eight hours intently watching everything that happened all the time. get used to it; it's poker. 2. put together a plan and USE it. now back in the "old days," putting together a plan meant trying out new things, without people telling you. in my first trip to vegas, i once put together a plan before playing 3-6 limit hold'em to play hands only if both of my hole cards were 9 or higher (by the way, i actually don't think this is too ridiculous for a beginner). in retrospect i chuckle about the plan, but i stuck to it and had a winning session. in fact, i won two or three kicker showdowns in that session, which was a direct result of me picking my cards carefully. but just playing tight doesn't guarantee anything. i once put together a plan in a 6-12 game to raise every pot that was unentered when it reached me, regardless of my cards. miraculously, because of the table that day, that turned out to be a winning session too. will you win every time you play? phil ivey doesn't win every time he plays. but if you're trying out new things and seeing how different styles work, you will be learning. what's a good way to start? it's always dicey giving a list of hands, but when i sit down at a brand-new LIMIT hold'em table for the first time, i tend to play a pretty set way. this is a list of hands i like to play in different positions when i don't know anyone at the table. note that this list shifts, sometimes dramatically, based on: -- my feel for the players -- the action to me in the hand (raises, etc.) this is probably a looser set of starting hands than many books would suggest, but most people who are beginning will play WAY more hands than these anyway, so reeling yourself in to these might be a good start. does position matter? in a word: yes. in more words: you won't believe me until you've played enough: HANDS FROM EARLY POSITION (SB, BB, under-the-gun) AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, AK, AQ, AJ, KQ * if i'm feeling creative i might play other pocket pairs as well. HANDS FROM MIDDLE POSITION (spots 4-6) add: 88, 77, AT, KJ, QJ, JTsuited HANDS FROM LATE POSITION (SPOTS 7-9) add: pocket pairs, A9, A8, other suited Aces, KT suited, QT suited, JT offsuit, T9 suited, 98 suited, 87 suited, 76 suited. READ BOOKS BY PEOPLE THAT KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING the other thing, besides the internet, that i think has really aided the beginner in poker is the influx of many many good books to read. here's a list of some: -- The Theory of Poker, by David Sklansky: this one is sitting on my desk at home. apparently i'm the only serious poker player in the world that did not start with this book. -- Super System 2, by Doyle Brunson (and friends): the first book i read was the original Super System. i think the second one is better. this book probably has the best description of the different games of poker as well as, i think, the best treatment of the ATTITUDE that you need as a poker player, particularly for no limit. for strictly hold'em players, jennifer harman writes the limit hold'em section. she's considered one of the best at that game in the world. -- Harrington on Hold'em (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), by Dan Harrington: if you are into no limit hold'em tournaments (and even if you're into strictly no limit cash games), these two books are must reads. he breaks the game down dramatically to technical details that will make you say "hmm, that makes so much sense." others to consider: -- Tournament Poker for Advanced Players, by David Sklansky. -- Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players, by David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth -- Ace on the River, by Barry Greenstein -- Super System, by Doyle Brunson (and friends) -- Phil Gordon's Little Green Book, by Phil Gordon -- Caro's Book of Poker Tells, by Mike Caro other resources: -- cardplayer.com: probably the best online resource available. great articles. etc. what should you do with these resources? you should think of these books as textbooks (albeit hopefully more than school ones). there is no way that they will supplant experience, but you should treat them as ways to help you put together your plan of play. they are supplements, not replacements. and at that i will stop because that's probably all that i'm qualified to talk about.

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