"One of the healthiest ways to gamble is with
a spade and a package of garden seeds."
-- Dan Bennett
"Poker" is not like "chess" where a clear picture appears from just one word. Besides "video poker"
and "poker runs", which hijack the word into unrelated territory, there are many forms of poker. These different games feature
some cards face-up, some face-down; sometimes you get more cards all at the same time, sometimes you get one at a time; sometimes you
share pots; sometimes you try to make high hands,
sometimes you try to make low. Different poker games have many different features.
It shouldn't be surprising then that different poker games value different skills, and even have different relationships with the
concept of "skill".
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Texas Holdem is the most common form of casino poker. But interestingly it is often not the first game many players learn. Draw poker
or stud poker often come first. But draw and stud are both games where skill differences are so massive that new players would never
have a chance against solid players. Newbies would go into casinos and get slaughtered. So along comes Holdem -- a fast, easy to understand
game that has huge bucketfuls of short-term luck. To be blunt, Holdem is the most popular casino card game because most casino poker players
don't play well. Holdem gives these players a reasonable shot at not just having winning days, but big winning days.
So does Holdem's
higher random luck mean it is an easier game to master?
Nope. It doesn't work that way. The challenges of Holdem are very tough nuts to crack indeed. Holdem is all about exploiting small
advantages over and over and over. Small advantages applied time and again do mount up. Most people simply don't have the
discipline, let alone the true skill, to meet the
challenges of the game.
Let's compare Omaha to Texas Holdem. Texas Holdem is far easier to play instantly. You get two cards, you make Draw-type five card
hands, and you normally end up with mundane hand values like one or two pair. At first glance, Omaha is much more complicated. You get
more cards. You can play various combinations. You usually are playing a high-low split variety. The winning hand normally is a very
strong one, often the "nut" hand possible.
If you would ask many players, they would answer that they just don't "get" Omaha. They stick with the "simpler" game of Holdem.
But looks can be deceiving.
Holdem is like a skateboard, while Omaha is like driving a car. The first is easier to do instantly, but far tougher to excel at. Any
physically fit person can roll along at a slow pace on a skateboard without even ever having seen one before. But driving a car
requires multiple basic skills, and is nearly infinitely more dangerous. Almost everyone needs driver's education before they are fit
to handle a car at even slow speeds.
But after the basics, things start to turn around. Put most adults in even the hottest racecar and they could drive it. Now hand an
adult a skateboard and ask them to do those loops and spins and extreme sports junk you see on ESPN late at night. Not only can't they do it,
they can't come close to doing it. Performing above-the-rim excellence with a skateboard is a lot harder than with an automobile.
While Texas Holdem is easier to simply sit down and play, and is designed to have a high luck factor, truly mastering the
nuances of the game is a much more difficult task than with Omaha. Where Holdem excellence involves dozens of miniscule
skills, Omaha allows players to reach a high level
of competence much easier. You only have to master a few Omaha skills (good starting hands, build pots early, exploit huge edges).
This is due largely to the fact that most people play Omaha dreadful, much worse than they play Holdem. Much worse. You can be
a successful Omaha player (given enough
game selection) while on autopilot. Not so with
Holdem. No easy shortcuts here. Holdem is work. Holdem is spotting an edge and pouncing.
Okay, it's not really this cut and dried. Omaha has small skills to exploit too, and Holdem has a few major hurdles to jump, but the
basic idea is valid. Omaha played among a group of outstanding players may again surpass Holdem on the complex skill front (Holdem is
not played at the highest limits very often), but that's going to affect a lot less people.
Next time you go into a casino, imagine all the Holdem players on skateboards. Most are just teetering along at a snail's pace. Some
of the snails even think they understand the game. But then pick out the extreme sports equivalents -- doing loops and spins and
running rings around the snails in a dozen ways every single hand. Now that is Texas Holdem.
See also Winning Texas Holdem Pots and
The Basics of Texas Hold'em