Learn how to poker the night away
January 21, 2004 8:25 PM   Subscribe

A friend is setting up a poker group. I've been invited. What's the best way to learn so I do not completely embarrass myself? Any books, websites, and/or programs that you would suggest? How can you tell when someone is bluffing? Any other lingo I should know?

Before anyone asks ... yes, I would like to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em.
posted by jasonspaceman to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First of all, you should find out which game of poker they plan to play. Or, will it be dealer's choice? Not to mention any house rules.

As for lingo you should know, you could start off with 'dead money'.
posted by mischief at 8:45 PM on January 21, 2004

Best answer: This Poker FAQ helped me get started. Basically, if your play is like most people, there will be a combination of games. Here's the basics without the assumed knowledge of the FAQ:

Most likely there will be a 5 or 7 card draw. In either game you have to make the best 5 card combination. Those combinations are listed in the FAQ, so I am not going to repeat them. The first round you'll get either 5 or 7 cards. There will be a round of betting where someone will check (no bet -- a knock on the table), a raise, call (put in whatever was raised to stay in the game), or a fold. Then you put up to 3 or 4 cards down for the draw (most of the time 3, though some rules allow you to give up 4 cards). You then get 3 or 4 new cards to hopefully make a better hand. There's really no way I can tell you how to pick which cards to discard. Going for a straight or flush is very hard, it's much more likely you'll get a pair or two pairs. If you have nothing in your hand I would suggest folding and playing conservatively, at least until you get a grip on the game. Bluffing when you're inexperienced is bad. Don't be afraid to fold, it will take time for you to get the feel of the game and you don't want to do something stupid.

There's also the popular Texas Hold 'em. This is my favorite and is usually a favorite to play. I know there are a lot of rules and strategies (enough to fill books), so I'm going to leave a lot out, but here's the best to play when you're not up against sharks. The gist is that you'll want to make the best 5 card combination from the 2 cards you are dealt and the 5 cards dealt for the community. I suggest watching the near constant Texas Hold'Em loop on Bravo for some basics on how to play. You'll first be dealt your two cards which will be followed by a round of betting. If you have a pair, two high cards, two cards of the same suit, then bet aggressively. Don't be afraid to hold back, especially with like a pair of kings. Next there will be 3 cards dealt face up for the community. Bet according to what you have and what cards are showing. If there is an ace showing, someone is betting really aggressive, and you have nothing (say a 3 and a 5), get out quickly. Don't be afraid to fold in this game especially as there's quite a few rounds for you to lose all your chips when you can never really win. After that round of betting is another card for the community flipped up, followed by a round of betting, then another card (the last card) and the final round of betting. You then have to make the best combination. The most common trick I know, is that if there's 3 hearts for the community that was just dealt, and someone checks their cards -- they're most likely seeing if they have a heart, going for the flush. This game can get really complicated and once you get a grip on it, you can quickly figure out how to bluff people by betting aggressively on certain combinations. It will just come naturally.

That's really all the advice I can give. I don't play in casinos and haven't played with expert players (though I consider my friends rather good, though conservative). There's a ton of game combinations (7 card no show, high-low), that your friends will just have to explain to you. Most are more then willing to explain these homespun games, and the more they diverge from the "standard" games, the more they rely on just blind luck. Just stick through the first couple of games and you'll pick up poker quickly. Don't be afraid to fold and don't be afraid to play conservative. Stick to your guns if you have a good hand, don't let them buy you out because you're new.
posted by geoff. at 9:06 PM on January 21, 2004

i would highly recommend buying a poker book for beginners. most of the books at that level are pretty much the same, so i don't really have a recommendation (dollars to donuts there's a Poker for Dummies that will do the trick).

learning while you go is counter-productione when it comes to poker.
posted by o2b at 9:14 PM on January 21, 2004

I'd recommend homepoker.com as a good place to start. It'll most likely be the hold-em game that geoff described, as that's the current favorite of a lot of people.

And speaking of poker, I'm trying to put a game on tomorrow night. If anyone in the Eugene Oregon area is up for some small stakes poker now or any other time, send me an email.
posted by woil at 9:17 PM on January 21, 2004

as mentioned by geoff, here is Bravo's guide to Texas Hold-em. (flash required)
posted by whatnot at 9:51 PM on January 21, 2004

As one of Woil's pokerbuddies, I also heartily endorse Texas holdem. For general poker stuff: find out what stakes your friends are going to play for. Most casual games I've seen are nickle/dime/quarter, which means you should expect to lose $20 in an evening. Expect to lose it, then you'll be pleasantly surprised if you don't.

No matter how much you educate yourself, you'll want to check on a few house rules: Here's some important ones I can think of:
1) Are aces high AND low?
2) What happens if there's a tie (two people get the same straight, for example.) Does it go by suit, or is it a push (winners split the pot.)
3) If you check (pass the bet), can you come back later and raise the pot on the same betting round? This is called a "bear trap" by some.

To tell if someone is bluffing - look at what their hands are doing. Establish a baseline then start making educated guesses. This tact might work for me, if I could ever pull my eyes away from my own cards.

[By the way, specific poker question: does anyone know if Doyle Brunson's "supersystem?" is as good a Texas holdem read as ESPN always says it is when you watch the world series of poker? I'm just not sure if it's worth dropping $20 for.]
posted by Happydaz at 11:54 PM on January 21, 2004

More than in any other thing I've noticed, I would say that alcohol negatively impacts on your ability to play poker. It may be worth avoiding if you want to win, but then that may take all the fun out of it.
posted by biffa at 1:48 AM on January 22, 2004

A friend is setting up a poker group. I've been invited.

look around the table. if you don't see a rube, you're the rube.
posted by quonsar at 3:48 AM on January 22, 2004

A fundamental: how good you think your hand is is directly related to how many others are playing. No good betting aggressively with a pair if you're up against 5+ others (unless you're bluffing).

For what it's worth (not much), I've found success playing conservatively. You really have to work the odds. If there's doubt in your mind, fold early. When you've got a strong hands, go in guns blazing. People will get nervous, and you may not be able to win as much as if you really know how to manipulate the bet, but it's safe and sets up a good foundation for bluffing later on if people think you only bet aggressively when you've got the goods to back it up. Never bluff for the sake of bluffing.
posted by nthdegx at 5:04 AM on January 22, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for your tips!
posted by jasonspaceman at 7:23 AM on January 22, 2004

What happens if there's a tie (two people get the same straight, for example.) Does it go by suit, or is it a push (winners split the pot.)

I've recently been attending a regular Texas Hold 'Em game, and this caught me out the first time it happened. No one on the table but me knew the suit rankings, so when it came time to split the pot, I had to share $60 (which is a big pot for us), even though my spade flush out-ranked a diamond flush. They refused to believe the suits were ever ranked at all, in any poker game, even though they all claimed to be regular poker players.

Also, don't forget that in the event of a tie, the community cards can help turn the pot from one player toward another, depending upon whether they can use them or not.

Other things:

Many Texas Hold 'Em games don't do the blind betting rounds, but instead make everyone ante first. This is a nice change, because it makes amateurs play a little more level-headedly. A non-pro player forced (by the blind) to bet is more erratic.

It is customary that when a round comes down to a showdown between two players, or is particularly heated between three players, that the winner of the showdown ante in the next round for the person(s) with the losing hand(s).

If you're waiting for the river (the last community card to be shown) to complete your hand, then you are playing aggressively. If you're losing constantly, and continuously waiting for the river, you need to play more conservatively. Your hand should basically be made by the time you reach that last card, unless you are looking to finish a flush, or unless the betting is slow and you have little to lose.

Slow, low-stakes betting rounds are a great way to figure out the other player's methods, more so than the fast, high-stakes rounds. This is because people tend to be overthink and be more careless when there is little to lose. The fast, expensive rounds bring out conservative, gut-instinct playing.

If you have to go to the bank for more chips beyond your initial buy-in, quit for the night. You're playing badly, drinking too much, or are out of your league.

A really conservative player will always check (that is, neither bet nor fold, but pass) when it is possible. This is a great way to stay in the game when you have few chips left. But if you start out playing that way, and then change up to a more aggressive mode when you have a good hand, you risk scaring the other players: they will simply fold, or bet tiny amounts, and your winnings will be small. Make sure to mix it up.

A good start in Texas Hold 'Em is: a high pair (two tens or higher), two highish face cards of the same suit particularly if they are only one card apart (say, a nine and a jack of spades), or two consecutive face cards (a queen and king of any suit).

Final note: I read somewhere that each year more money is lost to cheating in so-called friendly games than is legitimately lost in Vegas. Maybe an exaggeration, but keep that in mind. There is a certain type of person who knows basic cheating tricks and thinks that taking $40 from six people a couple nights a week is pretty good money.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:38 AM on January 22, 2004

I meant, "two highish cards, of the same suit, even if they are only one card apart."
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:42 AM on January 22, 2004

Mo, suit ranking is usually a house rule, and the Hoyle book a read (from the 70's) explicitly stated that in standard poker there are no suit rankings.

Jason, learn you basic Poker hands, make sure they explain whatever game they're playing, bet small/fold early and watch other people. Poker should be more about the beer anyway :)
posted by alana at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2004

Alan: Nononono. Second what biffa said: Alcohol and poker DO NOT mix, unless you want to piss away your money the way you'll piss out the alcohol the next day. Man, I'm gonna have to learn this "play conservative" thing.
posted by Happydaz at 8:23 AM on January 22, 2004

Fold. When in doubt, fold. Unless you've got a great hand, fold. Don't try bluffing initially- learn to play the cards before you learn to play the players, as it's always better to win a small pot than lose a big one. Unless you're a natural actor, a decent player will be able to spot your bluff and "play along" to trap you with a better hand.

A key thing to learn is which hands will win which games. A straight may carry a game of 5-card draw, no wild, but probably won't win a 7-card stud with two wildcards. A pair, on the other hand, will often win a round of Texas Hold'Em.
posted by mkultra at 9:49 AM on January 22, 2004

BTW, draw poker is for weenies ;)
posted by mkultra at 9:50 AM on January 22, 2004

I've recently been attending a regular Texas Hold 'Em game, and this caught me out the first time it happened. No one on the table but me knew the suit rankings, so when it came time to split the pot, I had to share $60 (which is a big pot for us), even though my spade flush out-ranked a diamond flush.

Um, care to explain how there were two (different suit) flushes? There obviously aren't enough cards involved (nor is this possible in Omaha). Maybe you were playing stud?

And yes, draw poker is lame, unless you're playing Anaconda or somethiing like that (where four of a kind is not unusual and full houses are the norm; you need to realize that a good hand sort of depends on which game you're playing). If you guys aren't just playing Hold Em, I would suggest also looking at the rules for Omaha and seven card stud. These are the two other most commonly played games. A lot of games you're going to play will just be variations of these (e.g., krazy pineapple, royal cincinnati, king and little ones, ...). Definitely understand what it means for there to be a "low" (it doesn't just mean you have the worst hand0, and in particular realize that A-2-3-4-5, despite being a straight, is a low (and the best possible one, obviously). This often trips up new players.

Good luck!
posted by JasonSch at 10:39 AM on January 22, 2004

Um, care to explain how there were two (different suit) flushes? There obviously aren't enough cards involved (nor is this possible in Omaha). Maybe you were playing stud?

You're right, of course. It wasn't a flush. Full house? I don't remember.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:42 PM on January 22, 2004

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