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Basic Strategies

by Brad “Otis” Willis


Just a few years ago, I sat in a Las Vegas poker room and listened to a floorman brush people into the room with a barker’s call. “Come in and try poker, folks,” he’d yell from the rail. “It’s just like you’ve seen on TV.”

Since then, as poker has exploded into one of the hottest phenomenons on television, millions of people have been lured by the sirens’ call. Many, however, have risked their money without understanding the basics. If you feel you’re ready to take the plunge into these dangerous waters, let me be the first to offer some shark repellant. Here’s some realistic, practical advice that you won’t get from watching the pros on TV.

Poker Room

Do Your Homework
More than 20 years ago, poker legend Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson assembled a brain trust and created the poker player’s bible titled Super System. Subsequently, Brunson lamented that he’d given away his secrets and taught a legion of youngsters to play like pros. Now, just about every pro on the block has a book, and you’d do yourself a favor by reading a few of them. Lee Jones’s Winning Low-Limit Hold’em is a great primer for beginning players. Also look for names like Doyle Brunson, Tom McEvoy, T. J. Cloutier and David Sklansky to help you further your skills. Poker is a game that combines mathematics with psychology, and no amount of television-watching will prepare you better than a few days with strong poker instruction books.

Play in Your Underwear
By this I mean rather than head straight for a card room, you should log on to the Internet and practice what you’ve learned in the books. (Actually playing in your underwear is optional.) The anonymity of the Internet allows you, the inexperienced player, to practice without fear of embarrassment until you’re comfortable with your game. Online poker also allows you to see dozens more hands per hour than you’d see in a real game, so you’ll gain experience much faster. If you don’t feel comfortable playing for real money, many online poker rooms allow you to compete with play money against real players.

Pick Your Game
The majority of televised poker is based on no-limit Texas hold’em. This is only natural, since no-limit poker is a more action-packed version of the game. As a beginning player, you’ll want to understand that, in a no-limit game, you can lose every chip in front of you on one hand. The swings of the game are much easier to take if you take advantage of a structured limit game. Limit games are a very good way to ease into poker without losing more money than you can afford. Trust me, the no-limit games will be there when you’re ready.

Hubris, Be Gone
Before you sit down at a table, accept the fact that you’re more Dolly Madison than “Texas Dolly.” You’re going to make mistakes, and trying to pretend that you’re experienced isn’t going to prevent you from doing so. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the dealer. If you’re friendly and treat the dealers with respect, they’ll help you until you’re familiar enough with the game to ride without training wheels. There are, however, a lot of rules of etiquette in a poker room that may differ from a typical home game.
Three of the big ones are:
· Wait until it’s your turn before betting or folding.
· Don’t talk about your hand or the cards on the table.
· When it’s your turn, clearly announce your intentions to call, raise or fold.

Know Your Limits
Entering a poker game is like being poolside at a Vegas resort; before jumping in, you want to know how deep the water is. While you always want to enter a game with the intention of winning, you must accept that poker is a game of wild swings, and your bankroll must be able to support you. Before you sit down at a table, figure out how much you’re prepared to lose. An easy way to determine this in a limit game is to multiply the big bet by 25. For instance, in a $5/$10 game, if you’re not willing to lose $250, you should consider playing $4/$8 or $2/$4. In no-limit, a good rule of thumb is to multiply the big blind by 100. If you aren’t willing to lose $500, you should avoid the $2/$5 no-limit game and find a nice $1/$2 no-limit table.

Now it’s time to turn off your TV. There’s a seat at the table with your name on it, and this time there won’t be any commercials in between hands.

Brad “Otis” Willis is a freelance writer and Web content manager at He can be contacted at FOR PLUNGING INTO THE POKER POOL

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