"Guessing has never been widely acclaimed
as a good gambling strategy." - Dr. G
At the time of this writing the
World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel is halfway through
its first season. A significant surge in the numbers of players playing at online poker sites the past few weeks has no doubt been
accompanied by a similar increase in attendance at brick & mortar casinos. This influx of newbies is of course welcomed by more
experienced players as well as by the cardrooms. (More Poker TV Shows and an
update on this article)
While the television program's creation of new players is a good thing, these newbies have a lot of pitfalls to avoid -- most obviously
what up till now was known as the Maverick Syndrome. Unnecessary, ill-advised, pointless, "flashy" play is the death of any
poker player, but spells particular doom for novices. And, this is especially true when novices watch a No Limit Holdem tournament
game and try to apply what they have seen to Limit ring games.
The shoe don't fit.
Windows - Mac
No Limit Holdem is a game of betting. This is shown
repeatedly on the World Poker Tour broadcasts. The most aggressive bettor in a hand usually takes the pot. Many times the player with
either the chip lead or the smallest stack will make a large bet that no one can call, unless they have one of very few hands. These
sorts of bets though seldom work in ring games of any kind, or Limit Holdem tournaments. If people can rebuy more chips, or don't face
the prospect of being eliminated, the game becomes much less about betting and more about people and cards. Betting still matters, but
it becomes just another one of the game components, not the dominant one.
From a create-new-players perspective, having No Limit Holdem as the featured game is pretty disastrous. New players have no chance at
all playing this right out of the gate, and the game has way too much silly luck to be taken seriously as a game of pure skill. Too many
hands come down to the Holdem "race" -- two overcards versus a smaller pair, like AK versus 77. This confrontation is close enough
to 50/50 that the game at key junctures just becomes pure luck. The higher skill games of Draw or Stud Poker would be much better, and more
understandable television for the general public. New players would also have a fighting chance when they first play these games.
But, overall weaker players
would be much worse off if Draw or Stud were featured and more widely available. Good players destroy bad players in Draw especially.
50/50 hands come up rarely. Normally clear favorites exist where skillful exploitation of edges wins the day, or at least "wins the
life". Weak players gravitate to Limit Texas Holdem because of all the games, this one gives them the best chance to have good days
or even good short-terms, and doesn't punish them as much for foolish plays.
So what is a newbie to do? This poker stuff looks like fun, and like it could be a great intellectual challenge. While both of those
are true, what isn't so obvious is that a huge amount of hard work and study are also a part of winning poker. Flashy, daring
plays that are done for a well-considered reason by a top pro, or even just a good player, are light years away from faux Maverick-like,
completely inappropriate plays made by novices. (This especially ironic as the poker played by Bret and Bart Maverick in the TV show
was almost always workman-like, not "flashy".)
The play is not the thing. The game is the thing.
Texas Holdem is a complex mix of subtle skills and buckets of random luck. You don't succeed at it by making "great plays".
You succeed by paying your dues and doing the work to become a great player. Also see
The Trinity of Poker
More Tournament Poker Strategy