I’ve been playing poker since I was a kid, when my family played 5 card draw in between highly competitive games of Uno. (Cheating was a strategy, and mirrors were employed once to great effect.) However I’ve really only been studying poker since 2005. I’m at that level where if a handful of casual friends get together, I’m the elephant gun at the knife fight. In Vegas, outside the tourist-laden tables at tables of real stakes or with pretty serious players, I’m still the underdog.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned anything. If you’re a beginner, I can be helpful to you since I’ve stood where you are just a few years ago, and I haven’t forgotten how perplexing poker books written for a broad audience can so often be over your head.
A quick note on my play style: I play poker with a math base, meaning I like to know what the correct play is mathematically (based around pot odds) before I consider the other factors (position, my reads on the other players, my position in the tournament’s payout structure, etc). I sometimes make mathematically incorrect plays, but there are other reasons for doing so that I’ll explain.
Why you should play Limit Hold’em at first
I believe you should focus and study Texas Hold’em while playing limit, not no limit. When you play no limit, your mistakes are often devastating to your whole stack, and it’s hard to draw distinctions about your play from a session when a single mistake loses your whole stack in the blink of an eye. Also, impulse control is a mental discipline you must master along with your poker math, and failures of impulse control cost you all your money in no limit, but only a handful of them in limit. Once again, I suggest while you’re learning you make mistakes that aren’t as costly.
A poker syllabus street by street
The number one mistake, in either limit or no limit, is to play too many hands. This will be even more exaggerated when you’re a beginner. Why? Because when you play lots of hands, you need to play very well post-flop in order to not have all these hands cost you money. So let’s start there and work our way to the flop, turn, and then river.