Help me get my game on! Or at least fake it. :)
October 18, 2010 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Hooookay. So I've been asked to play in a charity poker tournament. I'm fierce at craps and was a pool shark in my past life so it appeals to me, but I've just never had a weekly poker game or anything... truth is I haven't played poker in years.

Last time I played I was in Vegas and I did well on the Hold 'Em table, but that's way different than this. I *want* to play in the tournament and have fun... and I know I *could* be good at poker with practice, but I'm nervous! I really don't want to totally suck.

Soooo... gimme yer tips on how I can at least make a respectable appearance at a charity poker tournament. Oh and please feel free to explain stuff like I'm stupid... I'm kind of an idiot savant about things like this. I do pick it up and usually become a shark eventually though... :)
posted by miss lynnster to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Fold right away if you don't see a possible good hand for you.
posted by wayland at 7:58 PM on October 18, 2010

If you don't spot the sucker at the table, it's you.
And if it's hold 'em, read a book by Sklansky. Good fundamentals, quick read.
posted by bunny hugger at 8:01 PM on October 18, 2010

How long do you have? There's plenty of advice on gameplay and such online, and you can play online to get a feel for it. Something beginners tend to do too much is bet on hands that are extremely unlikely to be successful or, having made an initial bet to see the flop (the three cards turned over first in Texas Hold 'Em), continue to pour money into a bad hand because they feel they've already invested too much in it.

What do you mean by 'a respectable appearance'? Do you mean you want to win lots of money, or look like you know what you're doing, or something else entirely? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what you're asking.
posted by twirlypen at 8:01 PM on October 18, 2010

Harrington on Holdem will give you a good overview of basic holdem betting strategies and positional play (very important!)
posted by Bourbonesque at 8:31 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The simplest advice I can give to a beginner which virtually always holds true: bluff sparingly, don't waste your chip stack calling down suspected bluffs from others when you're weak, and fold frequently. This is even more true in tournament poker. If you don't have a good hand or strong prospects on a draw, don't go fishing.

Remember, tournaments are partly about staying alive, consider what is obvious but often ignored: wagering all your chips on a gamble will at best double your chips if you're lucky but at worst get you busted out of the tournament. Once you understand that the upshot of doubling your chip count is nowhere near worth the risk of busting out, you'll be ahead of most novices, and realize that you should just about only risk all your chips when you KNOW you've already won. The classic extreme of this is the scenario in which even folding pocket aces pre-flop makes sense (yes, it can).

Understand pot odds and implied pot odds.
posted by drpynchon at 9:29 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you can't raise with it then fold. Play position. Be aggressive. Erratic play can pay off. Don't be afraid to look back at your cards. Look at your cards sometimes even when you know what you have. Always protect your hand (put a chip on your hole cards). If the guy to your left is aggressive go ahead and check good hands (he'll raise them for you and no one will know what kind of hand you have) and don't pay to see the flop (you'll end up folding once it's raised). If the guy to your right is aggressive go ahead and raise regardless of what you have at least once (otherwise he'll roll over you all night). Never show your hand if you win.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:34 PM on October 18, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, I don't care about winning a tournament. I just like being good at things and I know I'm not practiced. So I just wanna have lots of fun... which also means I don't wanna look like a TOTAL sucker (even if I kinda am).

Case in point... what's a "hole card"? Zoinks.

I agree about the folding thing... I remember that.

Never show your hand if you win? Don't you have to?

(Feeling lame again...)
posted by miss lynnster at 9:42 PM on October 18, 2010

Is this a no-limit Texas holdem tournament? If so, Kill Phil will teach you a quick-and-dirty strategy that will go a long way toward making you suck less and maybe even make you +EV against the other clueless celebrities, although it's not enough to make you a winning player against the pros.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:10 PM on October 18, 2010

Oh dear. Based on your extra questions, I don't know how much metafilter can do for you, but here's what I've got. Also, I'm assuming you're playing no limit hold'em, which is what they play on TV.

"Hole cards" are the two cards you have in front of you, which no one else can see.

Never show your hand if you win refers to not showing your hand if you bet, and everyone else folds. In that case, you win no matter what the community cards (the five cards in the middle of the table) are. If you win this way in an earlier betting round, they won't even finish dealing the community cards out. In those cases, you're totally allowed to just throw your cards away face down (wait for them to push the chips your way).

Poker is a game of incomplete information. It only works because no one knows what anyone else has, and all of poker's skills are directed toward either divining what others have based upon their actions, and hiding what you are doing based upon your own. Erego, don't give information for free. This is why people above recommended not showing hands you win (when you can).

For a beginner, drpynchon has already given you the most important tips. Probably the only things I can add are cases when you know you have the best hand, and a little on implied and pot odds. Anything more and I think you will be overwhelmed with too much info. (Also note that I'm giving you dumbed down advice. Poker is a very deep game, and you're not going to get very far based on some quick reading before the tournament. This will just make you look like not a TOTAL sucker, as requested.)

Preflop, the best hands are AA, KK, and QQ. If you have AA or KK, you should generally be happy to get all your money in preflop. QQ is harder, but overall I think you should probably do it. (On this, I disagree with drpynchon. As a beginner, you will be at a negative in every hand you play, and hoping that luck outweighs your lack of skill. Getting your money in with pocket aces, the best possible hand, will always be the way to go for you. You don't have enough information to know the instances where folding is better.)

Other good hands to raise preflop: AK, AQ, AJ, JJ, TT. If you make a pair on the flop (the first three community cards), it will likely be top pair, and you should bet it. You should be wary of putting all your money in if someone reraises you, but if they're just calling, it's okay to keep betting. If you make two pair or three of a kind, it's fine to get all your money in.

Other good hands to play cheaply, if you can:

Any pocket pair. With these, you just want to get to see the flop. If you make three of a kind (you have a 1 in 8 chance of doing so), you will have a very strong hand. In most cases, you will be perfectly happy to get all your money in the pot with this kind of hand. Only time for you (as a beginner especially) to play at all careful if you make three of a kind is if the flop is all one suit (e.g., all hearts).

Suited connectors: These mean two connecting cards of the same suit. Such as 8 and 9 of hearts. You are looking to make either a straight, a flush, or two pair with these kinds of hands. On the flop, you are hoping for a flush or straight draw (e.g., you have four hearts and need a fifth, or 6-7-8-9, and need a 5 or Ten. More on what to do with draws below.

That's about it. In general, most people in no limit hold em lose all their money by making one bad decision. So don't play the kinds of hands that will put you in really difficult situations where you won't know what decision to make. This means you'll be folding most of your hands. That's okay.

Implied/pot odds:
What drpynchon is referring to here is the fact that sometimes its best to call a bet when you know you have the worst hand, on the chance that you'll get lucky and another card will improve your hand. By far, the most common situation where this is true is when you have a straight or flush draw, so that's what I'll discuss here.

If you have two suited cards and the flop gives you a flush draw, you will have about a 1 in 3 chance of making a flush with either of the next two cards. The same is true if you have a straight draw. So if there are more than three people in the hand, each of which is calling a bet, you have "pot odds", meaning that the amount you are putting in to call the bet is low enough that your call has positive expected value. (To use an analogy, if you were playing roulette, and the casino paid a million dollars anytime you bet one dollar on the right number, it would be great to make a bet on a number. 29 out of 30 times you'll lose, but the 30th time you'll make all your money back and a lot more.).

Implied odds is very similar, and refers to the fact that, if you make the best hand, you can bet, and people will call you with the worst hand. So if they're likely to call lots of bets, its worth it to invest on a hand that is worthless now, and then make them pay big when you get lucky.

One other situation in considering pot odds is the size of the bet. Lots of times, beginners will make the following mistake: There is $100 in the pot. They think they have the best hand. They bet $1. (or, on the flipside, they think they might be beat, and fold to $1.)

Why is this a terrible play? Because very rarely is a hand ever so bad that it only has a 1% chance to win. People will be very happy to call with all kinds of hands in hopes of getting lucky and taking the pot. (On the flipside, if people know they can bluff you for $1, it's a bet with very little risk and very large reward.)

I think that's about all you can handle. Good luck.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 10:46 PM on October 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

I'm assuming you're familiar with the basics of the game if you did well at a live game in the past (betting process, blinds, flop/turn/river), but maybe you're just not familiar with the lingo.

Pot odds are important, but if you want to last as long as possible, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Technically, pot odds could dictate that you call someone's all-in bet even if you knew you had the worse hand, just because the potential compensation in chips would make up for it.

If you played lots of tourneys, that's fine, but for a one-time deal, for charity, I'd just play tight and conservative, and hope to last as long as possible (unless you have other things to do if you're out early).

Pretty much the only thing that would make you look silly is the last example given by kingjoeshmoe... bad betting/calling habits. Estimate the pot amount, and use it a measure of what you want to achieve. If you get a good, but vulnerable, hand on the flop (eg, two pair), bet about the size of the pot and try to scare everyone off. If you have a good drawing hand (eg, four cards for a high flush), bet maybe half the pot. Don't ever bet less than maybe 25% of the pot.

Conversely, don't call someone else's pot-sized bets without something strong. Say you need one card for a straight after the flop (eg, you have 9-10, and the flop is 2-6-7), DON'T keep calling huge bets hoping you'll get your straight, as tempting as it may be. You'll get a lot of funny looks if you end up having to show your hand.

If you're not concerned about takings things too seriously, I won't get too detailed in numbers. Just go by feel. And a bad fold is better than a bad call. And Sklansky and Harrington's books are a bit too hardcore for a casual player.

One key difference between a regular poker game, and a tourney, is the escalating blind structure. Every few minutes, the blinds will increase. When your chip total is low compared to the big blind (eg, you have $100 and the blinds are $10/$20), go all-in with any decent hand. If you don't, by the time the big blind comes to you, you'll have too much of your money in with a bad hand, and you're likely to get eliminated anyway.

Another way to think of it is, "If I get involved in a hand now, and make a bet or call along the way, how much of my chips will that cost?" If it's most or all, just go all-in to start with. Also, a common beginner's error is to go all-in when your chip stack is way too big compared to the pot.

Yikes. Poker's a lot of fun to teach, but I think it's a lot easier to do in person.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:46 PM on October 18, 2010

I'm a middling player-- the biggest bits of advice that helped me not lose quickly are to fold a lot, bet aggressively when you're in, and pay attention to the pot odds. I can destroy my friends at poker, but I lose when play against 'real' players. If you're not playing against a pro, the advice in this thread should take you a long way.

Has nobody explained how to calculate odds yet?

Use the rule of 4's explained here. It's easy to remember, and it takes a lot of the pressure of betting off. If you just have 4 to a flush in head-to-head and the other guy bets the pot, you just fold, no difficult thinking required.
posted by empath at 3:23 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, in casual games, don't bluff, and don't assume the other player is bluffing. The worst players to try to bluff against are bad players.
posted by empath at 3:24 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's how I ended up winning quite decently when I finally played poker in front of people.

1) Reading Play Poker Like the Pros by Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

2) Practice doing what exactly was said in there against online opponents (with a slightly less risky strategy since I could only afford to put $25 in my online account and that had to last for a while); playing safely, I turned this into $200 in a couple of days and was able to play riskier, and loss accordingly.

Your mileage may vary. Others haven't found the book useful. But starting from just more than nothing, it helped me a lot.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:36 AM on October 19, 2010

The thing that greatly improved my confidence in live tournaments is to play online in "play money" tournaments. I play on PokerStars, the play money sit-and-go tournaments, but I'm sure there are other options out there. Reading a book or two is helpful, but nothing is better than just playing a bunch of hands (with no risk of gambling away your life savings).

Oh, and when you do play in the charity tournament, tell your table mates as soon as you sit down that you're a newbie - they'll figure it out anyway and it will relieve your anxiety to just get it out there. Also, just play... don't worry about making the "right" play. The only "right" play is the one that wins you money, and you can't be sure of that until the hand is over.
posted by jshort at 9:16 AM on October 19, 2010

Obviously, you're a total beginner at this. Getting prepped for the tourney will depend on how much time you have before the tourney and how much effort you're willing to put into it.

The best thing you can do right now is get some good knowledge and put it to as much practice as you can manage. You'll probably get some good advice (and some marginal advice) on metafilter, but how many of us do this for a living and are really good at it? You might as well go to the pros for advice. I recommend the following books:

Hold 'em Wisdom For All Players by Daniel Negreanu. Very useful tidbits in here. Lots of bang for your buck, in your situation.

Play Poker Like The Pros by Phil Hellmuth. He's a total ass but a very successful player. Extremely well-written for beginners.

Harrington on Hold 'em: Strategy for No-Limit Tournaments, Vol. I by Dan Harrington. The title is self-explanatory. Very useful info on how tournaments actually play out and how to stay ahead of the pack.

Super System by Doyle Brunson. Many good players consider this the Bible of poker. Very worthwhile read.

I recommend reading those books, in that order. Focus on the sections that talk about Texas Hold 'em - as you may or may not know, there are many different poker games, and some of these books cover multiple games besides Texas Hold 'em. Pay special attention to advice regarding calculating pot odds and positional play. IMO, these are the areas in which beginners see the most improvement once they figure out what they're doing.

Then, you definitely need to practice. I recommend getting online and (to disagree with MCMikeNamara and jshort) playing for real money. In my experience, playing for play money online is a total waste of time. No one has anything invested, so people play differently and it's not good practice. You can start by putting up a small sum, and playing in low-blind games - the worst that can happen is you lose that small amount, and that won't happen quickly if you've absorbed what you've been reading. You'll start to get a feel for the strategies you've been learning. Consistently making good decisions at the poker table will start to make sense, and then start to become more natural, the more practice you get.

Whatever you do, don't spend much time watching televised tournaments. They give a total misrepresentation of what tournament play is like. Poker is not nearly as glamorous as it's made out to be these days.

You likely won't become a pro in a short amount of time. But you'll definitely avoid being a total beginner, and you'll have fun in the process.
posted by hootenatty at 6:21 PM on October 19, 2010

Response by poster: Well, the celebrity poker tournament was yesterday. And you'll be happy to know... I'm proud of myself!!! I was NOT the first person out at my table, nor did I stand out as the lamest. The first person out was actually a decent poker player!!! I sat between the dealer and some actor named Tony Davison who used to RUN poker rooms in NYC so I was kinda intimidated and terrified at first, but I stayed in the game for almost two hours!!!! I folded a lot and then had three aces at one point so I won a few hands!!! SUCK ON THAT, CHAD LOWE!!! AND QUIT CHEWIN' YER GUM LIKE A COW, DUDE!

In the end, they started upping the ante and I didn't want to put my own money in so I walked away. But at one point I was up to $4000!!! Fake money, but still $4000 in fake money I didn't have before. I know what my limitations are. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 11:58 AM on October 24, 2010

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