Man Skills: How to play poker… and win

26 04 2011

It’s notoriously difficult for men to make friends with eachother. Even typing this made me cringe a little bit as the male psyche is wired to act like you’re an island and that you don’t need friends as you are basically the embodiment of masculinity.

Well I’m going to go against that and say it is good to have a group of mates that you can have a laugh with and rely on in times of trouble (I’m about 5 seconds away from singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water”). But whilst the fairer sex can go just get together for a “chat”, guys don’t really do that, so you need a activity to bring you together: which is why poker is so great!

My friends and I play Texas Hold’em which is the most common form of poker and pretty easy to understand. It takes a few games to learn the rankings for all the hands but if it’s a friendly game, your mates will let you play with something like what I’ve put below:

Essentially after each hand, the role of dealer moves to clockwise, the person to the left of the dealer is the “small blind” and so they are obligated to put in half the minimum bet, the person to their left is “big blind” so same again except they put in the “full” minimum bet. Everyone else then gets a turn to decide whether, based on the two cards in their hand, they want to put in the minimum and if noone raises, the dealer turns over the first 3 cards which is called The Flop. If you’re lucky, you may already have one of the hands – likely a pair or a 3 of a kind. Or, you may have the beginnings of what could be a good hand – like a straight, full house or flush.

The betting goes round again before the fourth card to be turned (imaginatively called The Turn) and this is where the bullshit starts flying. Some people have an okay hand but they’ll try and make you think it’s excellent with a casual attitude to betting (Loose Players), some will have an great hand but will perhaps decide it’s too early in the game and fold (Tight Players) and some will have terrible cards but will bet really big (known as Buying the Pot) as they’re either desperate or are what are known as Maniacs which is basically a wreckless player.

There’s one more round of betting and by this point most people have been weeded out. If you’re all still in but you’re looking at a pair of two’s, you might want to worry. Once all bets have been taken, my friends and I sometimes put our cards down so you can laugh at the bluffers or it really increases the tension if a few of you have hands that could be made or broken by the final card being turned – called The River. To see this all in action, where someone actually gets a royal flush on the last card, check out the video below:

I’ve only been playing for around a year, so I sought the help of my friend Dave (everyone has a friend named Dave) who is a little more advanced – high stakes games, Vegas tournaments – all very impressive!  He had this advice for the beginner poker player…

  • Money Management – This is the most important aspect of poker or any game of chance. As my old Nan used to tell me, only play what you can afford to lose. If you get greedy or desperate, you’ll start making rash decisions which is not a good characteristic in poker.
  • Patience/Discipline – If you’re a beginner, there’s no shame waiting for good hands. People will see you as easy prey and bluff into you but have a bit of patience and they’ll get complacent.
  • Position – After every hand, the dealer moves to the next person so statistically if you want to play more hands, start raising when you’re in the late position (furthest away from the dealer). This way you’ll be the most well informed player at the table as you get to see everyone else act before you have to which is a huge advantage. Conversely, if you are in an early position, which means close to the dealer, play really “tight” (fold lots of weak hands).
  • Awareness/Body Language – Learn how your opponents play. This is where knowing the group you play with comes in very handy, so if someone hasn’t played a hand in a while and suddenly starts raising, there’s a good chance that you’ll need a good hand to take them on. This is the part of poker that I find most fascinating: you can crunch the numbers, work out the probabilities,  but there’s no formula for human behaviour. When you discover people have bluffed, what were their movements? Do they get quieter? Do they talk more to appear relaxed? On the other hand, think about your actions when you bluff.
  • Adaptability – If you have held on in the game and you’re making it to the later stages, first of all – well done! Secondly, you need to start getting a bit more adventurous. Note that I say adventurous and not stupid. There are less people in the game so chances are, you stand a better chance of winning with weaker hands, otherwise the other players will keep taking chunks out of your chip pile and you’ll be “blinded away”

Those are the basics – you can get more advanced with hand rankings and pot odds but get comfortable with these and you’ll be on your way!





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