Poker easy to learn, but takes a lifetime to master

May 23, 2017 3:00 AM

Is playing poker easy or hard? As a matter of fact, it’s both. It’s easy to learn how to play. You can do that in 15-20 minutes with any poker teacher, or by just reading about it in a poker book. But that won’t make you a winner. It takes real skill – expertise – to go home with more money in your pocket than you had when you arrived at the casino. There are numerous skills involved. That makes the game rather complex – hard.

Whether you aspire to be a successful doctor, lawyer, teacher, businessman (or woman) or a professional athlete, skills are essential. It takes considerable effort – it’s not easy; it’s hard – to become successful.

Essential Skills

Most Important – Starting Hand Selection: You have been dealt two hole cards. Should you make the investment to see the flop? Is this a viable starting hand? Lots to consider: Are your two cards high enough in value? Are they paired, connectors and/or suited?

Other factors to take into account: your betting position – early, middle or late; whether an opponent has raised before you? If so, what kind of player is he/she – tight, loose, aggressive, passive, deceptive? How many are staying in the pot? Starting hand selection can be hard, but it is so important.

Raising: There are many reasons for raising. The skilled player knows these and can use them to his advantage. The most common: Raise to build the pot (betting for value); raise to force out opponents – to thin the field and protect a vulnerable hand; raise to gain position by forcing out players behind you; raise to prepare for making a bluff bet on the next round of betting; raise to get a better idea of your opponents’ hand strengths based on their response.

Bluffing: Whether you call it an art or a science, knowing when and how to bluff successfully takes considerable skill. And, for reinforcement, we plan to attend co-columnist George Epstein’s class at the Freda Mohr Senior Center when he discusses his book. Bluffs will gain chips for you if you can exceed the break-even of 30-40 percent. (I win about 80 percent of my bluffs.)

Using Outs to Gain an Edge; Basic Poker Math: Post-flop, most hands are drawing hands; they must improve to win the pot. It takes little skill to estimate your outs – how many unseen cards will make your hand. Somewhat more skill is needed to use the 4-2 Rule to convert this number to your card odds – the odds against making your hand. Compare this to the pot odds – the approximate number of chips in the pot vs. your cost to stay to see the next card. Then, if the pot odds are higher than the card odds, you have a positive expectation – a winner in the long run.

Tells and “Reading” Your Opponents: The truly skilled player will also look for tells from his opponents. (Could be valuable.) It takes skill to observe and interpret your opponents’ tells. (How many take the time or make the effort to do so?)

Along the way, it’s wise to get a read on your opponents’ hands. What are their most likely hands – their ranges? Once you acquire that skill, it also takes even more skill to decide how to play your hand – whether to bet out, call an opponent’s bet, raise, or fold?

Another skill is playing pocket pairs. That’s a topic  George will discuss in one of his columns.