Now let's talk about your goals. Where do you want your poker game to be a week or a month or a year from now? It's a given about goals that you can't begin to move toward them until you state them, so I would ask you to take a moment to think about-and write down as precisely as possible-your poker goal or goals. Here are some possibilities that cross the mind.
• To be a working pro
• To appear on a World Poker Tour telecast
• To dominate and crush all comers online
• To win small tournaments on a regular basis
• To be a net-plus player over time
As we grow in the game of poker, it's useful not to expect too much too soon. One way to curb expectation appropriately is to think of ourselves as serving an apprenticeship. There are a few reasons for this.
&Bull; It keeps us rooted in reality. An apprentice knows that he's in the learning phase of his career, and requires nothing of himself beyond learning.
&Bull; It keeps us humble. Today's achievements are meaningless, except as a function of moving us closer to perfect play.
&Bull; It keeps us patient. No sensible apprentice expects to master all the tools of the trade overnight.
Your poker philosophy should be built on two principles: aggressiveness, and honesty. Aggressiveness is a given. Anyone who plays the game for any length of time quickly learns that the person who takes command and control of the poker game has the best chance of scoring a big win. But honesty? What's up with that?
Incredibly enough, there are still some people in this world who have not yet played poker. I got a letter recently from one such neophyte, asking me if she had what it takes to go the distance in the game. In the name of efficiency, I answer her here, by way of open letter, and encourage you to share this column with anyone you know who's thinking of taking up the game in any sort of serious way.
Today's poker wisdom comes from the unlikeliest of sources: a book on playing slot machines. The book doesn't pretend it can make you a slot winner-an idea as nonsensical as counting on Brownian motion to hold you up if you jump off a building. It does, though, have an intelligent word or two to say about game selection and goals. If your goal is a good, long session, says the book, then find a machine offering a high frequency of small payouts.
Poker is compelling; this we know. It's especially compelling when you're new to the game and your learning curve is steep. The brave new world of position raises and isolation bluffs can leave you dizzy with contemplation, and eager to find a game right now where you can put your new chops to the test. Left unchecked, poker, like gas, will expand to fill the available space in your life. I'm sure you're not opposed to that-you'd hardly be reading these words right now if you were averse to the advice, "Play more poker!"
Next time you're in a bar, here's a bet you can always win: Simply ask your victim to name the source of the quote, "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Nine times out of ten he'll say Shakespeare, because most people think that almost every clever thing ever said in English stems from Shakespeare. These words, of course, are not Shakespeare's but Sir Walter Scott's. The reason I bring this up is to introduce a fundamental fact of shorthanded poker: Even more than in its fullhanded cousin, you have to lie to win.
There's a cartoon you might have seen: Two vultures are sitting on a tree in a desert and one says to the other, "Patience my ass, I'm gonna kill something." If your attitude toward no limit Texas hold'em is "patience, my ass," man, do I have a game for you. It's called shorthanded no limit Texas hold'em, and not only does it let you play a ton of hands and see a ton of flops, you're actually playing incorrectly - disastrously incorrectly, in fact - if you don't.
"The best offense is often a good pretense"
The game was $200 buy-in NLHE with $2 and $5 blinds. I had about $250 in front of me and a no-nonsense image. I was dealt As-Qs on the button. A canny, frisky player limped from under the gun and the cutoff seat made it $15 to go. I knew the cutoff to be someone I could move off a hand, so I raised to $55, looking to get heads up against him, then outplay him on the flop.
Because so many rumors have been swirling around, I thought I would set the record straight and lay down the official version of events. I'll tell you right now that the story does not have a happy ending: I did not turn a piece of my posterior into a million dollar payday at the LA Poker Classic. But at least I took a shot.