“If you pay attention to the wrong things, the very best you can hope for is to get lucky.”—Lou Krieger and Richard Harroch, Poker for Dummies
How did you first learn to play poker? How do people generally learn to play games?
If you are like most of us, somewhere between the ages of five and twenty-five, someone—a parent perhaps or a sibling or friend—taught you the rules and how to play the game. The same applies to any game—poker, chess, Monopoly, tic-tac-toe, you name it.
The way we learned to play poker was in a heads-up or short-handed environment. No one plays their first game of poker at a nine-or-ten-player hold ’em table in a casino. In fact, for beginners to sit down for their first game in a full-ring game is about as sensible as walking blindfolded across the freeway at rush hour.
While it is true that the serious player’s long-term goal is to master the full-ring game, the road to that goal should be in careful, graded steps: first master heads-up play, then move to short-handed play, and only then to a full-ring game.
Why do I teach poker using “The Scientist’s One-Step-At-A-Time Poker Training Method©?” Incremental and repetitive training is simply the way we human beings learn, whether it is crawling, walking and running as children, or learning science or math at school.
Just as athletes train by developing each different skill and ability in isolation, so you learn by “isolating” each skill set or element, and mastering each one in turn. Once each skill is worked on, practiced, understood, and mastered, you put it all back together in an integrated system and create your own personal poker-playing style.
To get to poker specifics: It is easier to learn how to play and understand starting-hand values in a heads-up match than to try to do so amid the noise and confusion of a table full of opponents.
Again, it is easier to learn the bluffing and betting patterns of a single opponent than nine unknown players at once. You can easily track what is occurring at the table in your head. This facilitates your decision-making and risk-management, and eliminates guesswork.
What I particularly like about this incremental method is that it becomes easier to understand intricate flop-and-turn play and when to fold versus when to cap aggressively in a limit game, or push all-in in no-limit hold ’em cash or tournament play.
As new players are added incrementally, you move from heads-up to three-handed, to short-handed games with five or six players until you finally graduate to a full-ring game. In this way it is easy to learn to cope with the hit-squads and armies you face on each battlefield.
Knowing how to analyze and play heads-up, shorthanded, and at a full ring game enables you to use Gary Carson’s “Starting Hands and Flop Play” theory in low-limit games, and when it is worthwhile to play a made hand or a draw at a loose versus a tight table.
Chess is a heads-up game, but poker makes chess look like tic-tac-toe. If you begin by mastering heads-up play, then move to short-handed and only then enter full-ring play, I am certain your game will improve significantly.
Give it a try, and let me know your results!.