How can I improve my low-limit poker game?
November 24, 2006 2:50 PM   Subscribe

PokerFilter: I have a weekly, $2 raise limit, about $20/night, dealer chooses the game friendly poker match with some friends. I need to improve my game. Any suggestions? (NOTE: No Texas Hold'em)

I have fun every week and consider the $20 money for 5 hours of entertainment, it's just a bit embarrassing being the biggest loser every night.

We usually play with 4-7 players, rotating dealer, and the most common games we play are 7 card stud (sometimes with one wild), 5 card draw (sometimes progressive pot), midnight baseball, high or low Chicago roll your own, and Queen and what follows.

We almost never play Texas hold'em, and we play with a very low limit, so none of the books I have seen look like they would help at all.

I'm just looking to improve my game a bit so I don't earn (or possibly maintain) the title of sucker.

BONUS: Our games can get a bit repetitive, so also feel free to mention any games that you know that would freshen things up.

posted by bryak to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total)
Don't chase a good hand against other players. If you can't beat what they are showing, fold.

You might like Crisscross:
This description uses a wild card. I usually don't play with a wild card when playing this game.

LoriFLA's husband.
posted by LoriFLA at 3:05 PM on November 24, 2006

There are all kinds of variations that make things interesting. For example, last night we played seven card stud, with each person's low hole card wild (and any like it). Then, at the end, they can pay a small fee to get their last card up instead of down (thus ensuring that their low hole card doesn't change).

Little variations like this keep things entertaining, even if they are a bit gimmicky.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:06 PM on November 24, 2006

If it's low limit people won't get chased out of the pot - so people tend not to bluff. Think about what other people might have and - like Mr LoriFLA says - don't chase it. If you're in at the end more than 30% of the time, you're going to lose. If a lot of other people on the table tend to chase hands too, then bet big on your good hands as you'll win unless they hit that inside straight.

As for other games, I like Crunch, Pyramid, Tic Tac Toe and Red-Black (can't find links for these at the moment, but I'm sure you'll find them if you poke around a little).
posted by TrashyRambo at 4:06 PM on November 24, 2006

Be prepared to leave broke the first couple weeks. In my experience, you have to play each game a few times to get a feel on what hands are considered "good". For example, a 3-of-a-kind will always win in 5 Card Stud, but you'd usually fold it in Follow The Queen.

A game I like is Love Thy Neighbor: the winner splits the pot with the person on his left. This is especially good for Anaconda, and all passing games.
posted by deepbeep at 5:33 PM on November 24, 2006

(Caveat: I'm by no means a Good Poker Player(tm), but I am consistently at the top of my home poker games, where the competition is weak.) Tips to improve your game are highly dependent on knowing what you already do wrong, but here's some standard advice:

1. Poker is not a card game, it's a betting game. Yes, poker is played with cards, but in most cases (draw poker excepted) you do not control the cards you get. What you *do* control is how much you bet, and when. If you're one of those players that just hopes to win by calling down to the end and hoping for the best hand, understand that you are taking yourself out of the part of the game that actually matters. Which leads me to...

2. Bet or fold. Calling should be your last choice. Since poker is a betting game, you should be active. If you think you have the best hand, bet. If you think you have the worst hand, fold. Don't keep giving them your money when you don't have the cards. (There are times where it's best to call, but if you're the biggest loser every week, I think you're already doing way too much of that, and I don't want to give you any more reasons to keep at it. Bet or fold. Once you understand the game a little more, start bringing calling back into your repertoire.)

3. Don't bluff. Again, I don't know what you're doing wrong, but beginners tend to either call to the end, or bet like crazy, hoping to beat everyone with their Mad Bluffing Skillz. Don't be that guy. There are times to bluff, but you don't know them yet. Play when you have good cards, and bet heavily. Fold when you don't. Later, once you've mastered the basics, you can start to learn how your opponents play, and which ones it's good to bluff against, but start at the bottom.

I think that's the most important advice I can give. Stick to basic poker, and don't get fancy. If you do that, I can't guarantee you'll be a big winner, but you definitely will *not* be the biggest loser.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 5:45 PM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I only play texas hold 'em, but if everyone is staying in to the end, don't worry about trying to bluff or anything like that, just play by the odds.
posted by delmoi at 5:58 PM on November 24, 2006

The book most often recommended to me is "The Theory of Poker" by David Sklansky.

It was recommended to me in the context of Texas Hold 'Em, but the book uses examples from several different poker games- including five card draw, seven card stud, lowball, high-low split, and so on.
posted by nat at 6:19 PM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

typically, in a game like your describing, you're going to see a very loose game-- that is, a lot of people betting, calling and just generally throwing money around.

Bluffing in these games are pointless.

If your goal is just to win money without having a lot of poker knowledge, fold. A lot. And early. You're going to probably want to fold 90% of hands in a 5 or 6 player game. Yes, there are going to be a lot of hands where if you stayed in, your pair of q's would have taken down the pot, but there will also be a lot of hands where some moron called with garbage for the entire hand and gets a lucky draw to beat you.

Depending on the game, you're going to need to have a better than good hand to take down most pots-- AA or 3 of a kind or better, since with so many people playing till the end, somebody is bound to get lucky.

You have to go in with iffy hands every once in a while, but don't lose too much money doing it. You're only doing it so you can keep people honest.

Basically the goal is going to win just one or two pots in an entire night of playing, and lose slowly the rest of the time.
posted by empath at 6:24 PM on November 24, 2006

Seconding the Sklansky book recommendation. I found some of the comments in the amazon reviews worth bearing in mind when reading it as well.
posted by chrissyboy at 7:48 PM on November 24, 2006

Analyzing a lot of the "home game" style games can be quite difficult, compared to standard games, becuase of quirky rules, wild cards (even shifting wild cards), etc, etc.

Want to know my trick to winning at home games (when I actually go to them, which is a little rare...) - I call standard casino games when it's my turn. When it's not my turn, I play extremely tight in games that I don't know well, or am not great at. Since most home games operate with a VERY low ante this is often not a problem.

My favorite games to call are triple draw lowball (because it *seems* like an action-oriented-crazy-home-game but actually has a lot of strategy and a big edge for a skilled player) and games which are otherwise deceptive, like omaha hi/low eights or better, stud hi/low, even regular omaha. The thing that cracks me up is I am constantly getting teased for introducing CRAZY games to home games, even though they are standard casino games well known by most people who have played poker for some time.

If I'm feeling particularly cut-throat, and the game I'm at is no-limit, I usually end up adopting a allin-or-fold mentality, in which I peddle the nuts. I am never short on callers. it is boring and often frustrating so I wouldn't recommend it unless the stakes are big enough to be monetarily interesting (usually, they are not)
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:02 PM on November 24, 2006

The most basic advice that works for virtually every form of poker and ever player is this:

Play fewer hands (tight) and bet and raise more frequently when you do play (aggressive).

Virtually all losing players are involved in too many hands. Every player who is the biggest loser in their game is definitely playing too many hands.
posted by Lame_username at 9:21 PM on November 24, 2006

In my experience, you have to play each game a few times to get a feel on what hands are considered "good". For example, a 3-of-a-kind will always win in 5 Card Stud, but you'd usually fold it in Follow The Queen.

This is so very true. Something that I have found to be true of inexperienced home-game poker players is that they don't realize that wild cards don't really increase your chance of having a "good hand", they decrease the number of hands that are considered good. If you're playing some crazy-ass crap like Chase the Dr Pepper Baseball Queen, then don't get all horny when you have four of a kind, because that's probably a really crappy hand.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:37 AM on November 25, 2006

I'm going to disagree with the Sklansky recommendations... He's certainly a good theorist but I don't think his stuff is as practically applicable as some other authors. One of my favourite books to loan out to friends who are learning to play is improve your poker by Bob Ciaffone. It covers most of the concepts discussed in theory of poker, but it addresses more varieties of poker and focuses more on the practical side of things.

Not sure what games you're playing, but if I had to offer a few minor peices of advice, I would suggest that the person with the best hand at the first round of betting is likely to have the best hand at the end, and that you should be folding well over half of your hands at the first betting round. If you do not believe you have the best hand, or a *good* draw to the best hand, fold.
posted by cmyr at 8:26 AM on November 25, 2006

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