Friday, July 19, 2013

Learning Poker the Hard Way

Imagine a Jane Doe. Jane is a thirty-something, smart, fun-loving girl. She enjoys games and puzzles and competition, but doesn't know poker from pinochle. Never played it as a kid, but was always a little intrigued by it when she saw it on television. She went to a party last weekend with some friends, and the group played a mini Texas Hold'em tournament that went late into the evening. Twenty people entered, including Jane, and it cost her $5 to play. The top few players split the prize pool. She was explained the rules and mechanics of poker before they began. These rules were relatively easy for her to grasp, and she actually went fairly deep before busting out. She had a lot of fun playing the game. It was challenging and exciting, but it was also frustrating in a way. Jane didn't mind that she didn't make any money, but she was frequently confused by the jargon that was bandied about during the game. More importantly, some of the players were clearly much better than others, and two of these guys ended up winning the lion's share of the prize pool. By the end of the evening, Jane was intrigued by this game she had previously thought was all about luck and chance. It was simple on the surface, but also complex. And the better players seemed to have an edge over the weaker players. This looked like fun...

So the next day she went to Google to learn a little more about poker....

...and OMG, was there a lot of information. Way too much, in fact, for her to process. Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of books on the subject, dozens of training sites, videos by the tens of thousands on YouTube, coaches under every rock and in every crevice, forums filled with experts and trolls alike, email lists, podcast broadcasts, newsletters, boot camps.... Holy cow, Jane thought, this is crazy. And exciting. And maybe even profitable, if she could learn more about it.

It was clear to Jane after just a little searching that poker was actually a game of skill. What wasn't clear, however, was exactly what the skills were that the good players had that the losing players didn't. And how did one go about obtaining those skills? The amount of information  available was almost overwhelming to sort through. Jane wanted to learn more about poker, but she was stymied by, frankly, the disorganized glut and overabundance of information on the web.

So Jane joined a poker forum. And she asked some basic questions about how to learn poker. And she got flamed for being a beginner and asking stupid questions. Didn't she know where the Search button was, for christsake? Worse, when she received back actual answers to her questions, the responses were all over the map, and often contradictory. One person would say she should join an online site and learn the game on the play tables. But then someone else chimed in that she would be ruined forever if she played on the play tables, and don't trust that particular site, anyway. Instead, she should read XYZ book. No, someone else would then write, the XYZ book is crap and totally out of date, so don't read it. Watch PDQ videos, instead. What? Those PDQ videos are horrendously bad! You'll learn terrible habits if you watch that crap. Oh, yeah? You're an idiot! If I'm an idiot, you're a bigger idiot...

And so on.

So Jane decided to just check out a book from the local library. Certainly that was a more sane and logical approach to learning the game, right? The library had two on the shelf, but they were less than helpful. The first one assumed she was an idiot (in fact the title included the word "idiot") and the other assumed she was already a skilled intermediate player who was ready for advanced concepts.

So Jane went to YouTube. What she saw there was mostly screen captures, with amateur players talking aloud while they played online. And the majority of videos she watched seemed like thinly veiled brags of winning sessions. Where was the actual information on getting started learning strategy and tactics?

So Jane went to a training site and watched some of the sample videos. These looked better than those on YouTube, but a) the subscriptions were expensive; and b) they mostly assumed she was already a relatively experienced player. The jargon and technical terms in even the beginning videos were far over her head.

Jane then, briefly, considered hiring a live coach. The first one that she contacted was incredibly pricey; the man wanted $500 per hour because "I'm worth it." Uh, huh, thought Jane. The second she contacted was more affordable, but he was also highly disorganized and confusing when she spoke to him on the phone. Worse, he wouldn't show her his own poker results, so she had no way of telling whether he knew what he was talking about or not. There wasn't even a set of lessons available from the man; let's just talk, see where you are, and we can go from there, the coach told her. We'll turn you into a professional player in no time. Figure four to five hours a week for the next couple of years. Let's start with this thing called Tilt....

So Jane called up her Uncle John, who played in a weekly home game. John said that she should give up trying to figure out the game; poker is all about drinking and luck, but if she wanted to come by some time, and didn't mind cigar smoke and getting hit on by the old men in the game, she could sit in and play. And they played $10/$20 stud, so she better bring a lot of money. Oh, and that newfangled Hold'em crap is for losers. We never play that stupid game...

Huh, Jane thought? I just want to learn how to play basic poker. Why can't there be some simple way to learn the fundamentals in a logical, step-by-step fashion? I just want to start simple. If I don't like it-- fine, but if I do, and I want to keep learning, how do I do that? Why is this so complicated and difficult?

So, ultimately, Jane got frustrated with the entire process. And then she quit.

I heard she picked up the game of pinochle and is quite happy now.

All-in for now...

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