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5 Steps everyone should walk

In response to Cowboy’s comment on my “3 Month Anniversary” post I’ve decided to try and make a definitive 5 Step method for getting better at texas holdem (not sucking). Of course I can not possibly go into deep detail on game theory or advanced tactics so for some of you more experienced players this may seem like common sense, but feel free to point new players to this post, hopefully it may make them decent enough so it isn’t frustrating to play against them.

Step 1 – Know what you have in your pocket

Many professional poker players can tell you a time when they knew exactly how much money was left in their pockets thanks to a bad run of cards or poor money management. Well, disregard that. I’m talking about your ‘pocket cards,’ the two cards you are dealt face down at the beginning of a texas holdem poker hand. It is the very beginning of the poker game, and the first thing you should know. Knowing the two cards you have goes hand in hand with how good they are. Hands like K6 and J7 can really look tempting, but they should be thrown away. Keep your chips for better oppurtunities. The hands you should be playing should resemble aces with high kickers, pairs, and suited cards above 9 (i.e. J10 suited, AQ, AK, 99 and JJ…). When it comes to betting Keep It Simple Stupid (or KISS those chips goodbye, har har). Until you have more experience you should bet if you have a good hand and check/fold if you don’t, simple as that. *This five step program assumes you know the rank of poker hands (straight flush, full house … two pair, one pair, etc) and can discern what you have.

Step 2 – Don’t be a puss and don’t be a bully

One of the real downsides of being a newbie at poker is not knowing how much to bet. I see a lot of new players betting the absolute minimum and a lot of new players betting way too much. It all matters on the pot size. The pot size is all the money currently in the middle. If it is a big pile of chips try to at least get an estimation. Lets pretend the pot size is $10,000 just for the ease of math. A good, standard bet is usually around 2/3 – 3/4 the pot. I won’t go into the math but trust me when I say it makes the draws pay a good price without risking too much. A good bet here would be somewhere in the $6,000-$8,500 range. A bad bet would be anything below $2,000 or above $15,000 (unless that is an allin). You don’t want to make it cheap for an opponent to beat you and you don’t want to scare them away when you have a good hand, simple as that.

Step 3 – Position isn’t a political stance

If you searched for poker articles or have read strategy articles before you will find a good percentage of them talk about position. Position is the place you are sitting relative to the dealer, and it changes every hand. It doesn’t mean you’re in seat 4 and have a great view of the craps tables. Where position comes into play is mostly in what hands you can play. The advantage of ‘having position’ is the ability to act after your opponents. What this means is you have more information than they do. When the flop comes down and your opponent has to act first he has no extra information on you. You, on the other hand, get to see how he reacts to the flop, how much he bets, or that he checks. With this advantage you can allow yourself to slip a bit in the starting hands you play. If you have the button (you are the dealer) you can play more hands than if you are under-the-gun (first to act). Warning though – don’t go overboard on what hands you can play – hands like J3 and Q2 are still utter crap and belong in the muck.

Step 4 – Put yourself in their shoes

The very first lesson in trying to get a ‘read’ on someone may surprise you. It doesn’t include a facial tic or a nervous hand, it’s just instinct. When a player bets (or checks, or raises, whatever) replay the hand in your head but put yourself in their shoes. Then ask yourself “When would I do that?” What would make you want to do what he did. Would you bet out with top pair or a flush draw? Would you call a bet with a draw and then bet out when you hit it? The main question for making a read shouldn’t be what they did but why they did it. Using this simple strategy should improve your game readily, and don’t get frustrated if you’re wrong a lot when you first start, you will get better with time and practice. The best time to practice is when you aren’t involved in the hand. Try to put each player in the hand on a hand and see how far off you were when they’re turned over.

Step 5 – Have fun!

Why are you playing poker? If you’re really a new player then you shouldn’t be playing to make money, that will come later (it took me a good 6 months before I was making any sort of profit). Play with friends, play in your spare time, and play to have fun. If the money means too much to you, then play for less. It should be a trivial amount of money, but enough to make you want to win and not just goof off. When I started playing poker I played for $3 (and I really wanted to win those!), then $5, then $10, and now my home games back in Cincinnati are usually $20, but I’m still having a blast hanging out with friends and not stressing about the money in the pot. If you’re playing poker and not having fun take a break, go bowling or something, haha, just make sure you don’t burn out before you really get started.

Good luck, hope that helped for all you newbies!

I've been playing poker for almost four years now (well before it was legal for me, woops!) Besides poker I enjoy playing the guitar and I'm very enthusiastic about pursuing Dentistry as a career. I'm currently at The Ohio State Univeristy studying Microbiology, living with three of my close friends. I'm dating a lovely girl from Australia and am looking forward to the oppurtunity to study abroad over there as well.

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