Your first efforts should center on grasping basic Poker concepts. Even when you understand them, this know-how must be continuously applied. The knowledge and abilities that compose basic Poker skills are not a pill to be swallowed once. They need to be continuously refined.
Andres Segovia, the greatest classical guitarist of his generation, did not spend the majority of his practice time learning new pieces or practicing his concert repertoire. He spent four to six hours per day playing scales and études. Segovia spent 75 percent of his practice time on basics, and did this every day. You’ll have to take our word for it, but this analogy holds true for Poker, too.
Understanding blinds and antes
Every Poker game begins as a chase for the antes or blinds. An ante is a small portion of a bet contributed by each player to seed the pot at the beginning of each hand. A blind is a forced bet by one or more players before any cards are dealt. In Stud games, players usually ante; in Texas Hold’em and Omaha Hold’em, blind bets are used.
Regardless of whether a blind or an ante is employed, every game needs seed money to start the action. Without it, players could wait all day for unbeatable hands before entering the pot.
Playing for an empty pot would make for a slow and boring game. Blinds and antes serve the same purpose: to tempt and tantalize players, enticing them into the pot and creating action because there’s a monetary target to shoot at.
Knowing your opponents
Suppose you’re playing Texas Hold’em and have been dealt A♥K♥, and your opponents are Rick and Barbara, two players who are known for calling much too frequently.
“Fantastic,” you say to yourself when you look at the flop and see J♥5♥9♣. “I have position, two overcards, and a nut-flush draw.” You remember something about semi-bluffing and implied odds, and when your opponents check on the flop, you bet. They call. The turn brings 4♠, and it’s checked to you. You bet, thinking they might fold and you can win it right here.
Maybe you even have the best hand and would win in a showdown right now. Perhaps a heart — or even an ace or king — will come on the river (at the last common card). But you are up against players who sleep very well each and every night of the week, secure in the knowledge that no one, but no one, ever steals a pot from them.
The river is no help; it’s 4♣. Rick and Barbara check again. You still might have the best hand if you show it down. But you bet and you’re called, and you lose to Rick, who holds a 6-5 of mixed suits.
“What went wrong?” you ask yourself. “I had the perfect opportunity to semi- bluff.” Perfect, that is, only from the perspective of the cards on the table and those in your hand. But it was far from perfect if you stopped to consider your opponents. Your mistake involved considering only the cards while choosing a strategy. Semi-bluffing doesn’t work with players who always call. You have to show them the best hand to take the money. Although there was nothing you could have done to win that pot, you certainly could have saved a bet on the river.
Nothing was wrong with the strategy itself. It might have worked if the cards were the same but your opponents were different. Knowing your opponents is as important to winning at Poker as understanding strategic concepts.
Strategy is situationally dependent. Skilled players realize they need to be aware of the big picture while simultaneously paying attention to small details. Understanding strategic concepts is only part of the battle. How, and under what circumstances to apply them, are equally important. If you can do this, you’ll find that you have become a better player and a more creative one, too.
Preparing to win
Success demands preparation. Knowledge, plus preparation and experience (and whatever innate talent one may have), equals know-how. That’s what it takes to be a winning Poker player.
The primary step in making behavioral changes and eliminating bad habits is to be responsible for you. Adopt the irrevocable assumption that you are personally responsible for what happens to you at the Poker table. If you put the blame on forces outside of yourself, you haven’t committed yourself to making changes; you’re denying the problem.