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a Beginner's Survival Guide

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a Beginner's Survival Guide

by: Lou Krieger ©

Some of my best ideas come from readers like you. Recently a reader’s email suggested a column offering a survival guide to ease the transition for beginners who are about to take the plunge and play casino poker for the first time. This is an idea whose time has come, and it probably ought to come around about once a year, since there is a continuing influx of new players - and new readers - who may never have given a moment’s thought to the differences between playing poker in a casino or cardroom, and playing in a home game or across the kitchen table with family and friends.

Start Small:
Playing in a casino is not like playing in a home game or with family and friends. The game is faster, for one thing, and that takes some getting used to. And regardless of how many truly awful hands you’re apt to find played in low-limit, “no fold’em” hold’em games, those games are usually a lot tighter than they are around the kitchen table when your opponents are Uncle Billy, your parents, and three or four of your cousins. Even if you are an experienced home game player, you will find the pace of casino poker substantially swifter than the home game variety. You probably should figure on losing money the first few times you play in a casino, if for no other reason than your own unfamiliarity with the pace of the game and a few formalized procedures, rules, and points of etiquette that are new to you. Since you will, in essence, be paying for lessons the first few times you play poker in a casino, there’s no reason to make them any more costly than necessary. My advice is simple: Play small at first. And stay small until you feel comfortable with the environment, are sure that you can outplay your opponents, and can afford a bigger game. Then move up.

Join the ‘Good Hands’ People:

Playing marginal hands can be your undoing. Play few hands, but play aggressively when you are dealt a good hand. Actually, if you’re going about it the right way, you’ll gain as much or more by watching your opponents when you are not involved in a hand than you’ll learn by vying for pots with them. Make sure you have some idea about the hands you will play from various starting positions before looking at your cards. If you’re playing hold’em, my books contain suggested starting hands that can be played from early, middle, and late position. Other authors have also promulgated starting standards for hold’em players, and most agree about the vast majority of starting hands. What matters most is that you need a basis for deciding which hands are playable and which ought to be folded. When you’re really new to casino poker, playing fewer hands will probably mitigate your losses while affording you an opportunity to watch your opponents, observe and mentally catalogue the kinds of hands each of them plays from early, mid, and late position, and eventually use that knowledge to outplay them.

Don’t Bluff
Low limit games are no place for bluffers. In these games, where you typically have a relatively large number of opponents seeing the flop and even continuing beyond it with all sorts of hands I can’t imagine ever playing, a bluff is unlikely to work for two reasons. As a general rule, the more opponents you are confronting, the greater the chance that at least one of them has a hand. And he or she will call when you come out betting. In addition, low limit games are populated with players who sleep very well, thank you, knowing that no one, but no one, is stealing from them. Since bluffing is unlikely to work, don’t try it ¾ unless you’ve identified some opponents who are actually willing to throw hands away when someone bets into them with what appears to be a big hand.

Don’t be disappointed if you can’t bluff. It’s an overrated tactic anyway. What you have going for you instead is the certainty that you can expect to be called whenever you bet, and may of those callers really should have thrown their hands away a lot earlier. Moreover, whenever you make a big hand, like a full house, the nut flush, or nut straight, you can raise with the certainty that you will be called ¾ thereby winning additional bets that you could never count on winning in games where players will lay down marginal hands to a bluff. In the low limit games you’ll be starting out in, you’ll probably have to showdown the winning hand to capture the pot. That makes for a somewhat mechanical, occasionally boring, but undeniably profitable strategy: If you got the goods, bet. If you don’t, check. And if someone is betting into your hand and you know yours is better, go ahead and raise.

Keep Learning
You’ll never know it all. There is always something more to learn about poker, and even when you think you know all there is to know, you won’t. Moreover, much of what’s learned about poker has to be relearned from time to time. Read books. All of them. Even if you get just one or two good ideas from a book, it’s an investment that will pay for itself in a relatively short period of time. I have a large library of poker books, and I don’t consider any of them to have cost me money. They are investments that have repaid the money spent to acquire them many times over. Books aren’t all there is, either. Watch videos, get yourself some software, like Wilson’s Turbo Texas Hold’em, or Turbo 7-Card Stud (which not only lets you play against computerized opponents, it is a terrific tool for running simulations and conducting your own research about various hands and scenarios), discuss poker with knowledgeable players, and avail yourself of the advice proffered on the Internet newsgroup, Rec.Gambling.Poker.

This seems like a pathetically small measure of advice, particularly when there is so much to know before one morphs from newbie to skilled poker player. But there’s a finite limit to the number of angels I can get on the head of this particular pin. If you take my advice, you’ll get your feet wet gradually ¾ there’s no real need to dive into the deep water head first ¾ and reinforce your experiences by thinking about what’s transpired in your game and assessing it against the theories you’ve learned from books and software. Don’t expect too much at first. Setting the world on fire isn’t important. Learning and improving is. Keep moving forward. Baby steps will do. As long as you’re making progress, you’ll reach that point when you realize you’re a poker player ¾ a real one too, not a pretender. Even then, you’ll have to keep learning. But it’s much more enjoyable when your winnings are underwriting your hobby and maybe even your lifestyle.


Lou Krieger

Read more about how to raise your poker game by clicking here . Lou Krieger is the co-author of 'Poker for Dummies' and the host of Royal Vegas Poker . To learn about the promotions offered at the site visit our Royal Vegas Poker Bonus Page

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