I had dinner the other day with an old friend I hadn't seen in a while. Let's call him Hunter. Hunter knows I'm a poker nut, and when he recently had the opportunity to play in a casino for the first time, he knew I'd love to hear all about it. He was up and down during this Atlantic City cash session, but ultimately lost two full buy-ins at $200NL over the course of six hours at the table. Still, Hunter had fun, and says he's going back at the first opportunity to try again. He even bought a book on poker strategy afterward and read it cover to cover. Needless to say, Hunter came to dinner with questions galore.
Most of our discussion was about specific hands he played, and in most of these I saw Hunter making some fundamental mistakes that a lot of other beginners make. Playing trap hands. Playing out of position. Getting married to one pair. Playing sheriff. Playing AX hands. Not even trying to guess what his opponent had. Bluffing when he had no business to bluff. And so on.
Anyway, during this conversation, I found myself repeating a few things over and over:
- There are two ways to win a hand of poker: showdown the best hand or get the other guy to fold. EVERYTHING you do during the course of a hand you play should be based on this idea. Can you get a better hand to fold? No? Then DON'T bet. Can you get a worse hand to call? No? Then DON'T bet. If you don't know why you're betting, you probably shouldn't be. Which brings us to the next point...
- Even when you're a beginner, you have to start putting your opponent on a range of hands. For newbies, this is simply asking yourself what kind of player you're up against. And this begins with how many hands the villain is playing. Is he in lots of pots or few? If it's a lot, he's probably weaker than average, and you can play a wider range, including trap hands in position. If he's not in a lot of hands, he's stronger than average when he gets involved, and you have to play a tighter game. Don't complicate things.
- Play fewer hands up front, and more in back. EP=Danger. LP=Less Danger. Playing position is just like drinking water-- You don't have to know why it's good for you when you're a beginner; you just have to do it, and the benefits will come, whether you understand why or not.
- Folding is boring, but it's often the best play. That money in the middle of the table is gone. It's sunk costs. It does NOT belong to you. Yes, you want it, but you can only take it if you can answer yes to the questions in point #1 above. Otherwise, the most profitable play long-term is to just fold. Which brings us to the next point....
- When you're not involved in the hand, stay involved. Try to guess the hands the other players have. Give yourself a point every time you guess right (or are close). Take away a point if you're far off. Stay involved, even after you've folded.
- Another mental game to play when you're both involved and not involved in a hand: Keep asking yourself, over and over and over, what is the nuts on this board? What is the second nuts? The third nuts? Now that the turn came, what is the nuts? Now that the river came, what is the nuts?
- Now combine #5 and #6. Does this board hit the the players' ranges that are in the hand? If not, why not? If so, how hard does it hit them?
And thanks for picking up the dinner tab, Hunter. I'll get the next one. The one after that, however, I expect to be purchased by you with poker winnings.
All-in for now...