Before you think about sitting down at a poker table there are several fundamental things that you should keep in mind. If you forget them you will be at a disadvantage before you start. For the sake of helping you to remember let’s call these tips the guide to poker practice.
Alcohol Alcohol does not help you play better; it only makes you enjoy losing (that is until you wake up in the morning). So, your first guiding principle should be: Don’t drink and play.
Bankroll Poker players call the money they use to play poker with their ‘bankroll’. There is a saying in poker circles’ don’t play with scared money’ – that is, don’t play with money you cannot afford to lose. If you do you are liable to play’scared’ and not give of your best. Believe me on this one, it is very difficult to call a bet when you know that if you lose you won’t eat next week. This leads us to guiding principle number two: Play poker, particularly cash poker, only with money you can afford to lose.
Borrowing Money This is related to the point on bankroll. If you lose all of your playing cash don’t borrow from other players. Remember that there will always be another game tomorrow and you don’t have to reach into your pocket for more money, or worse still borrow from friends. If you do start on this route you will soon run out of friends. It is not often I get a chance to quote Shakespeare, but this one is from Hamlet: ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all to thine own self be true.’
Control It is important to have the discipline to be able to get up from the poker table if things are going badly and just go home a loser. If you are playing in poker tournaments do so with the intention of limiting the number of re-buys you have and exercise control. Thus, the fourth guiding principle is to have control of your emotions. Not many players are good at controlling their self¬destructive urges – if you can, you will immediately have an edge over your rivals at the poker table.
Cheating Deceit is an integral part of playing poker. In many ways it’s what makes the game interesting, but it can spill over into cheating. Games run in European and US casinos are well managed and as a result cheating is rare at the poker table, but it does happen. Therefore, be wary, especially in home games. One form of cheating which is very difficult for the casinos to spot and hence to control is collusion between two or more players. This is where players are playing out of the same bankroll and may be communicating with each other via signals. So be vigilant.
Do’s and Don’ts Do bet weak hands at high-stakes poker if you think there is a good chance you will not be called, but don’t call with the same strength of hand. By betting in the first place your opponent indicates he has a strong hand. Another similar rule of thumb is don’t call a bet unless you would call a raise.
Guard Your Hand I mention this one in the section on rules. Occasionally, a dealer will think a hand has been passed, because the player has seemed to push it away. These hands will be scooped up and put in with the other discards and the cards cannot be retrieved. It is each player’s responsibility to guard his own cards. This can be done by being alert and/or putting a chip on top of live hands. Take care though that this behaviour does not produce any tells.
Home Games You can leave casino games whenever you feel like it – you are under no obligation to play on, even if you are a big winner. Remember if it had been the other way round and you had lost all of your money you would have had to leave. However, some home games have rules (often not overtly stated) requiring winners to play on for a specified time. Usually, a winner will declare that he is going home in an hour’s time or whatever. This is no bad thing in home games as most do not have a lot of players and games can break up if a few winners leave. In any case, if someone comes into a home game, plays a few hands, wins a big pot and then leaves ten minutes later, believe me that person will not be popular. Do it two weeks in a row and you will never be invited back.