Most poker players stumble blindly through their hands, lurching from decision to decision without much thought to the way the hand will play out. This is not the way to think of poker, especially no-limit hold'em, where each hand is an evolving combat, and where those who think ahead enjoy a material advantage over their foes. No, the way to think of poker is like chess... chess plus luck.
You'd have to have spent the last few years or so in a coma not to notice how phenomenally popular poker has become. The World Poker Tour is rating its ass off. Punters are dumping mortgage payments into online games much larger than they'd ever dare to play live. The article you're reading now, and others of its ilk, contribute to the ever-broadening stream of public poker interest. Taken as a whole, this stream has earned the name (okay, didn't really earn it, just got labeled it by me): poker porn.
How bad is the short buy-in? Consider this scenario. A guy buys in to a $6-12 game for $60. On his first hand he picks up pocket aces. He knows he should raise to isolate, but he's afraid to commit too much money to the pot, in case the hand doesn't go his way. From the outset he's playing defensively. Or maybe he's thinking he can get a big parlay out of his small stack by taking his aces into a five- or six-way field. In any case, he lets a lot of small holdings limp into the pot, and while he's a favorite over each of them, he's an underdog to all of them.
"That was a terrible call!" shouted my opponent as he stumbled away, busted from the nolimit hold'em tournament in its first half-hour. "How could you make that call?" I had just cracked his aces and sent him to the rail by flopping a straight to my 3-4 offsuit holding. Goodness, he must be right! What was I doing in the hand with 3-4 off?
Well, for starters, he slow played his aces, just flatcalling in early position. You know what they say...
Don't Play Like I Play!
As you know, I've written some poker books, and sometimes people buy these books from me in person when I play. Whenever I happen to sell a book, I'll sign with this semi-tongue-incheek advice:"Don't play like I play."
There's an old saying -- the title, in fact, of a book by Sheldon Kopp -- "If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him." What this means, I think, is that anyone who claims to have Answers should be met with skepticism, or possibly a sharp stick. No one has Answers. All they have are hypotheses.
If that's true of other people, it's doubly true of ourselves, and triply true in the context of our poker game. The minute we get too cocky about what we think we know, that's when the real trouble starts.
What follows may be the single most important piece of poker wisdom I've ever encountered. It originates with Tanzan, a 19th century Japanese Buddhist monk and professor of philosophy at the Imperial University, and it comes down to us today in the form of this Zen story or koan.
Tanzan and Ekido were walking together down a muddy road in the rain. Coming around a bend in the road, they arrived at a small, swift stream, where a lovely young girl in full dress kimono stood crying.
"Grabs" are distilled pieces of poker wisdom that keep us on the straight and narrow or remind us about what's really important in this game. It's been a while since we've spent some time with grabs, so let's spend some time with some right now. PEOPLE SEE WHAT THEY SHOW. An inveterate blindstealer is more apt to put you on a steal than on a real hand, because that's where he'd be if he were you. Put yourself in your enemies' shoes, and then use their suppositions against them.
What is it about poker that's so compelling? With so many fascinating things to do in this world, why do we invest so much time, energy, (money!), effort and obsessive attention in poker? Just what is it about this game that makes it so spellbinding?
It's not like we can take it or leave it: 'I've been playing poker three times a week for thirty years, but I can quit any time I want.' Yeah, right.
In trying to close the gap between the player I am and the player I want to be, I often find myself bogged down in complicated and conflicting strategic advice. One way out of this mire is to try and reduce complex concepts to trivial one-liners. Here are a few of my favorites: