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.
So, Newbie, can you do it? Do you have what it takes? Well, let's do the math. It's understood that in this world, in almost any line of work, talent + time + drive = success. Now, everyone has talent. It's part of our human package, like ten fingers and ten toes. But talent isn't the critical factor. Time isn't either. As long as we're still breathing in and out, we have ample time to invest in our dreams. No, the critical factor is drive. The simple difference between those who succeed in poker (or anything) and those who don't is the willingness to work hard, to commit all of one's energy and spirit to the cause.
So here's a shocking notion: If you have drive, and drive alone, you can make it in this game. Maybe you won't become a star, but there's no reason you can't become a winning player, and a force to be reckoned with whenever you sit down to play.
There are a few simple steps you can take-now, today-to start you down that road.
First, read. The explosion in poker popularity has created an attendant explosion in, if you will, poker scholarship. The body of knowledge that used to take rounders a lifetime of raw experience to accumulate is available to in countless books, magazines and websites. It all has something to teach you, for "the ocean is blue, but it's also wet." Second, play. Play for free. Thanks to internet poker, and the myriad of free play sites out there, you can learn the rhythms and mechanics of the game within the safe, anonymous confines of your own home. Gone forever is the rookie's self-consciousness of trying to learn the ropes under the disapproving gaze of crusty veterans.
Third, talk the game. Discuss strategy and tactics with your poker playing friends or in discussion groups on the internet. Sharing the discoveries you make will quickly bootstrap your understanding of the game to a higher level.
Fourth, keep a poker notebook. Writing things down not only cements your learning in your mind, it will create for you a permanent record of your poker quest. Remember, you'll only be young in poker once; years from now, looking back, you'll be fascinated to reflect upon the voyage you took. Fifth, record all your wins and losses. The willingness to document one's performance fully and frankly is what separates casual players from serious students of the game. Money-even play money- is how we keep score in poker, and you're not a real player till you start keeping yours. You stand on the threshold of an amazing journey, dear newbie. Whether you end up being a poker star or just the best player in your home game, it's gonna be a hell of a trip. Enjoy!