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April 28th, 2009
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Poker Lesson: Becoming a Complete Poker Player
Author: Steve Zolotow
If you want to become a complete poker player, you need to learn how to play all the variations of the game. You should do this because it’s no good being the world’s best Hold ’em player when the biggest sucker in town only wants to play Seven-Card Stud. Ideally, you want to be able to play whatever game looks to be the most profitable on any given day.
When I first started playing poker, Five-Card Stud and Five-Card Draw were two of the most popular games, but now they’re both almost completely dead. They got replaced by Seven-Card Stud, which has also decreased in popularity. For a while No-Limit Hold ’em looked like it might be dying out because in the high-stakes cash games the tightest players always won, but it proved to be the perfect game for television so now it’s the most popular game. Because of how prevalent Hold ’em has become, I would advise beginning poker players to start out by learning its many variations, including Limit, No-Limit, cash games, and tournaments.
After Hold ’em, you should learn how to play Omaha, particularly Pot-Limit. Limit Omaha doesn’t work very well because deciding whether or not to call a bet on the river when a third flush card hits and you make a Queen-high flush isn’t a very big decision if you only have to call one bet and there are twelve in the pot. But if you’re playing Pot-Limit and your opponent bets the size of the pot on the river, whether you should call with your Queen-high flush or not becomes a much more difficult decision. In general, Pot-Limit games require a bit more skill than No-Limit games. Because you don’t have the all-in move to fall back on, you have to be equally capable of playing before the flop and after the flop.
Next you should learn the Hi/Lo games, particularly Stud Hi/Lo and Omaha Hi/Lo. Another good game is 2-7 Triple Draw, a tremendous action game that’s catching on very quickly. Like the best card games, it has a lot of mathematical elements to it, but there’s also a lot of card reading and bluffing involved. In 2-7, a drawing hand with one card to come is almost always an underdog to a hand that stands pat, so if you have a 9 and you can force your opponent to break his 9 you’ve gained a big advantage.
Beginning poker players are lucky nowadays because they can learn and practice all these games online. When I was starting out, most poker games were private games and you had to pay your dues just to get invited to play. If you were a winning player and you wanted to get invited back, you needed to show up on time, be nice to the suckers, and you couldn’t quit when you were winning a little bit. Even then, there might not be a place at the table for you the following week.
Contrast that with today’s world where you can play on your computer at home any time you want. Playing online offers an unprecedented level of convenience. Let’s say you’re about to go the movies and your girlfriend’s just gotten out of the shower but she’s taking forever to dry her hair. You can actually play an entire Sit & Go while you’re waiting for her. Sit & Gos can be very profitable. They’re also an ideal way to test out new strategies. By studying your hand history afterwards, you can see what worked and what didn’t. You can make notes about how you fared with a big stack and how you did with a short stack, and you can develop new ideas to try out in the future.
I still enjoy playing live because one of my skills is the ability to read people, but there are little tricks you can pick up that will help you gather information about your opponents when you’re playing online. If you’re playing at a single table and one of your opponents is multi-tabling, you can bring up all the tables he’s sitting at and watch how he plays. If he suffers a bad beat on another table, it could affect the way he plays a hand at your table, and you can take advantage of it.
For beginning players, online poker offers a convenient way of gaining a ton of experience in a very short period of time. If you choose to go this route, I suggest you take the time to learn all the games available to you so you’ll never have to pass up an opportunity to play against a big sucker just because he wants to play a game you’re unfamiliar with.
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