POKER MISTAKES THAT BEGINNERS MAKE

Poker is among the few things in the casino where you can theoretically make money in the long term. Most casino games have an insurmountable house edge. This edge can be ‘insurmountable’ either because it’s just too big (eg: keno, with a house edge of 20% to 25%), there’s no opportunity for strategic input from the player (slot machines) or both. The games that do have the potential to be profitable in the long term are those that combine a minimal house edge with an opportunity for strategic input (blackjack) or games where the casino is essentially an ‘intermediary’ either directly (poker) or indirectly (sports betting).

‘Beatable’ casino games all share one other characteristic–they’re very intellectually demanding and mentally challenging pursuits. In other words, they’re not easy. Hollywood makes them ‘look’ easy in movies with autistic savant Dustin Hoffman shredding the casinos’ blackjack tables in ‘Rain Main’ or Matt Damon as a world class poker player in ‘Rounders’. They’re not. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort you can ‘move up’ in the game quickly but if you think that you’re going to just ‘get lucky’ you’ll find yourself working at 7-11 sooner rather than later.

POKER THEORY IS GOOD FOR EVERYBODY

Even if you’re not planning to ever play poker one of the best favors you can do yourself if you’re hoping to succeed at any form of gambling–or many other disciplines such as investing and sales, for that matter–is to study poker theory. Some books are better than others but I’ve learned as much about successful sports betting from poker books than just about any other source. In these articles, we’ll try to synthesize some of the best concepts for players of all levels as well as to point you in the right direction to learn more.

We’re going to start at the beginning, however, and offer tips for beginning players first. When you’re first starting out at any form of gambling the important thing is to keep learning as you get experience. If you get lucky and win money early that’s great but don’t think that you’re a ‘prodigy’. Keep learning and keep ‘paying your dues’.

COMMON BEGINNER POKER MISTAKES

HOPING TO WIN ALL OF YOUR ‘COIN FLIPS’

A ‘coin flip’ is a 50/50 proposition. It’s good to be able to recognize a 50/50 proposition and good to play it in some situations. Unfortunately, a lot of beginning poker players see pro tournaments on TV and think that it’s a good strategy in *every* situation. It’s not. Pros usually go all in pre-flop out of desperation, when they’re short stacked and trying to stay alive in a tournament. They’re also well aware of the odds of winning with the hand that they’re holding. When you first start out and have no concept of figuring odds you have no business playing like this.

As a sports bettor, I love ‘coin flip’ games. This is especially true in baseball where you can frequently find underdogs in ‘coin flip’ games. But when you’re getting +150 in a ‘coin flip’ you’re almost certain to be profitable in the long term. Betting coin flips when you’re laying ‘even money’ or–even worse–laying a price higher than you’re probability of winning (as with a -150 moneyline favorite) you’re just draining your bankroll. You might get lucky and win for awhile but this kind of lazy strategic play will eventually come back to bite you.

OVERPLAYING HANDS

Beginning players want ‘action’. This is true in poker as well as sports betting, horse racing and ‘real world’ pursuits like investing. They lack discipline and solid discipline is essential to long term success at betting. In poker, this manifests itself in several ways but most common is ‘overplaying hands’. Beginning players will try to play out hands they should fold and will overbet marginal hands. There are situations where you *can* (and should) ‘overplay’ a bad hand but as with the previous ‘mistake’ this is contingent on a thorough understanding of the odds you’re dealing with. As a beginner, you don’t have that. It’s essential that you quickly learn to throw away bad or marginal hands and play your good hands strategically. The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll be a profitable player.

PLAYING WITH MONEY YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO LOSE

In ‘Rounders’ we watched Matt Damon play to cover his deadbeat friend Edward Norton’s gambling debts. Given the storyline, it was probably his best option but even his character in the film notes that this is a bad idea. In every form of gambling it’s obvious that you shouldn’t bet more than you can afford to lose. This is true in poker but the significance of money goes beyond this obvious concept. In disciplines such as sports betting and poker (as well as investing) your money has double importance. In addition to its intrinsic worth it’s the ‘tool of your trade’–without a bankroll you can’t place sports bets, buy stocks or sit in a poker game. Being in a position where you have to ‘dip into your bankroll’ to pay bills is like a pizza restaurant selling their oven to pay the rent. You can’t make money without the necessary equipment and in poker that ‘equipment’ is your bankroll.

Another important component that is especially significant in poker is that you have to be willing to use your money as a weapon. Poker legend Doyle Brunson emphasized this concept frequently in his books ‘Super System’ and ‘Super System 2’. These books are required reading for any poker player and extremely valuable for anyone who ‘plays a game’ where risk plays a significant part. Brunson defines poker–and specifically Texas Hold’em–as being a game where the goal ‘is to put a man to a decision for all his chips’. Bankroll management is crucial in poker and it’s essential to not make tactical mistakes if you want to be successful. If you’re putting yourself in a position where you’re having to worry about paying your electricity bill as you make tactical decisions you’re doing something wrong.

START DEVELOPING DISCIPLINE NOW

Discipline is key to any risk based pursuit. You can’t eliminate risk from life and especially from poker. What you can do is place yourself and your bankroll at risk very selectively. It takes knowledge and experience to know when to go ‘all in’, when to ‘unload’ on a sports bet or when to take a big position on an investment. As a beginner you don’t have this. But you do have enough presence of mind and intuition to avoid obviously risky behavior. The streets of Las Vegas are littered with otherwise skillful gamblers who never grasped the importance of discipline. Focus on discipline from the outset and when you do start to understand the other components of the game and ‘put it all together’ you’ll be a lethal opponent.