I suck at Texas Hold 'Em

Well, there you have it. I’m not any good at this. I decided to hop on PokerStars for the first time ever today and try playing Texas Hold 'Em several years after it became cool. I get the gist of what I’m doing (I know what hands beat what, how things are dealt, etc. - the nuts and bolts), but the strategy escapes me.

I blew through my $1000 in play-money in mere moments. I blew through my second $1000 in a few more moments. My third $1000 has been turned into $12000 through sheer luck, and I really would like to know what in hell I did right so I can duplicate it.

Any tips for an absolute beginner?

I suck too.

I just don’t play unless I have a ridiculously good hand. This usually gets me close to the endgame, although the other players hate it.

Playing Hold 'Em with fake money is not a good barometer of your playing… people will go all-in every hand, as the up-side is huge and there is no down-side.

You would be better off buying in real money and playing $1 sit-and-go’s

First off, be aware that the play in play-money games does not typically resemble play in real cash games. That said,

  1. Were you playing limit or no-limit?
  2. How many players were at the table?
  3. How often did you see the flop? i.e. how often did you fold pre-flop?
  4. When you saw the flop, what kinds of hands were you typically holding?
  5. On average, how many players typically saw the flop?
  1. Limit. I’m at a 10/20 table in PokerStars (I have no idea what that means) and went over to a 200/400 one for a few minutes to lose everything.

  2. There are usually 6-9 people at the table.

  3. I’m folding pre-flop probably 30-40% of the time.

  4. I don’t really know how to answer this - kinda all over the place.

  5. All of them. Not a lot of folding until we’re four cards in (river, turn, wha?).

Four cards on the board is the turn. With a very loose table like that (lots of people playing lots of hands), you need to build quality hands that stand up against multiple opponents. You should be playing:

-Big pairs: Looking for an uncoordinated board (low chance of others having straights, flushes, or trips) where your big pair is good, or to get trips on the flop
-Other pairs: Looking for trips on the flop
-Suited A (maybe even Suited K): Looking for four to a big flush on the flop, or a big two pair
-Connectors: Looking for four to an open-ended straight on the flop (e.g., you hold 98 and the flop comes 76x, giving you a straight if either end hits on the turn/river). Possibly looking for two pair if your high card is big enough.
-Suited Connectors: Combining straight and flush possibilities.

The rest you should probably toss away pre-flop. Nobody is going to fold to a bluff and the pots will be so large that you cannot hope to protect your hand with a bet; the bet won’t be big enough. Build a big hand and bet it for value. AKo (Ace-King of different suits) is an okay hand in some cases, but not a strong hand in this type of game. If the flop doesn’t come in such a way as to support your hand, fold rather than chase like everyone else.

Just to reiterate, play money games are a poor test of poker skills. Even the loosest low-limit tables in Vegas are usually tighter than this.

Given what’s been said about these play-money games being poor tests of skill, is there any way to use them to build up those skills? I’ve started doing this to learn my way around the poker table, as I’ve just accepted a new job in a pretty close-knit company and I know two things:

  1. The owners love to play poker, and

  2. There’s an open seat at their table.

I’m just hoping to get competent enough at this so that I can join them and not make an ass of myself right off the bat. Am I wasting my time here (well, not wasting it - it is kinda fun)?

I have played mid stakes poker as a supplemental income for five years and though I am not a star in the online poker world I think I qualify to give advice.

I agree that the play money games can be dangerous incubators to learn in. There is no money at stake and that means that you tend not to learn the patience and discipline that are crucial to success at poker. At limit full ring tables (as opposed to short handed ones with only six players) most successful players are folding around eighty percent of the time. In looser games seventy percent is fine, but that is still a lot of folding. You fold so much because you want to put money in the pot in two situations:

[li]You believe you have the best hand right now[/li][li]You believe that you will win a lot of money if you get the right card (this especially applies to smaller pairs before the flop)[/li][/ol]

Much of the money you lose will go in while you are desperately hoping you have a hand that will hold up. People routinely play hands like A7, but the problem is that even if you get your ace you will be forced to pay off the person with a better ace. You are much better off keeping 33 pre-flop and folding if you don’t get a three.

The next thing I would do is play the different variations of hold em and decide which you like best. It is very hard to get good if you move back and forth from limit to no-limit and then to tournaments. Almost all good players specialize. I play single table tournaments (STTs) and I would consider starting at the real money ultra low buy in tourneys. In these games you can win if you are very tight early and as people bust out you become progressively more and more aggressive, until you are pushing all in fairly often by the end.

Finally, the one thing you can do above all else is go to www.twoplustwo.com and start to read the poker forums there. They have forums subdivided for every game and every limit. There are some great poker minds there, and aside from a little bit of a frat boy atmosphere, they are really willing to help. Post some hands and tell people what you were thinking when you made your decisions.

Some of us Dopers get together every Thursday night at 10pm ET for a $0 tourney: SDMB Poker Q2 2010 - It's like taking Tabasco from a baby - The Game Room - Straight Dope Message Board

The best thing you can do to start is write up a list of decent starting hands; have a set of hole cards in mind that will be your minimum standard for continuing to pay into the pot. There are plenty of good guides you can find easily online that will give you an idea of what these hands should be. Once you’ve established this in your head, my personal general rule is: if your hand is good enough to call, it should be good enough to raise, especially early in the hand. Of course this is not a rigid rule; context will play a big part in the moves you make(position, blinds, etc.).

Just keep playing. Experience is a lot more important than “luck.” Find some friends to have a friendly low-stakes game with on a regular basis. My friends and I play pretty regularly with very low stakes($5 buy-in, 10 & 20 cent blinds), and over time there is definitely a big difference in the success of those of us who always play every week, and those who only play once a month.

I have to agree with most of the posters here, you can not gauge your play at play money tables.

I play at a brick/mortar casino, never have played online for real money. I do really well at the low buy-in tournaments. I am very patient and try to play only premium hands. I played in a tournament a couple weeks ago, and I was the chip leader and I only had to show my cards three times when I won a pot. apparently I projected a tight image and I try to exploit it.

There were only 24 people at the tournament. I nearly doubled up at about 15 players when I picked up A-A. I raised pre-flop, and was re-raised by the someone who had almost as many chips as i did. The flop K-8-3 rainbow. I checked, he bet, I raised, and he raised all-in. I called instantly. He had A-K and was dead to two kings. I became a massive cheap leader at that time.

we got down to the final 3 and we are all about even. We split the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.

Well, if this is your goal, you might be barking up the wrong tree (depending). Home games can be a lot different than your typical semi-serious cash game. The straight-up ring Hold’Em and 7-card stud are pretty serious setups for your typical home game. Not that there aren’t these types of home games, but there are also a good number of home games that feature dealer’s choice setups with crazy games and silly rules, where the whole thing basically boils down to coin flips when all is said and done. Before you go investing a bunch of time learning Hold’Em, it might be worthwhile to try to figure out what types of poker the owners like to play regularly.

I strongly disagree with everyone here. I have played hold’em for a long time, and the idea that luck is not an important factor is just silly. In all of the hundreds of tournaments I have played (mostly low stakes no-limit with friends, but also some casino games), there has never been a game in which the eventual winner was not the beneficiary of some extremely lucky circumstance during the tournament. The winner will have drawn pocket aces against two players with pocket kings and queens, respectively, for example. That shit happened. A 5-7 offsuit called a raise pre-flop because she had a “feeling” against AK suited. Flop was 5 A 5. That shit happened. A flush on the flop went all in against high pair, and the high pair called. Turn and river are perfect-perfect for a full house. Bullshit like that happens in literally every game, even when you’re watching the professionals on television. Lucky is better than good.

Luck is certainly a factor, nobody can deny it, and the hand you describe does happen, we’ve all seen it; the point I think a lot of people are making about luck is that you can’t count on it. I’ve played plenty of 5-7, 2-4, 6-9’s just on a feeling, and every now and then it winds up coming through, but no one would ever endorse counting on those hands. Obviously, in the example you describe, had the flop come out any other way, that 5-7 is an instant fold unless she was in a position to try and bluff, in which case she would have most likely lost.

Sometimes people go on a run and the cards keep falling their way all night, that’s just how it goes. However, those with experience will always win out in the long run against those who rely solely on luck, IMHO.

Depends what you mean. Sure, for any given small set of hands, luck is a huge factor. But over tens of thousands of hands, the randomness evens out and any edge you can gain from skill becomes the dominant factor. Casinos operate on this idea after all. You may walk away from the Blackjack table with a big payday on occasion, but on-net the casino is taking the patrons’ money. Granted, the house edge there comes from the structure of the game instead of some kind of skill-based edge, but the idea is the same.

I wouldn’t say you are wasting your time completely - play money tables are good to just see a lot of hands for free, until you can be absolutely comfortable with what goes on at a poker game in terms of the blinds, the button, who gets to act first, minimum/maximum bets, what is the best hand for any given board cards, etc.

Once you have this basic grasp of the mechanics of the game, I would agree with the other posters that you should deposit, say, $20 (which you will probably lose sooner or later), and start playing $0.01/$0.02 cash games. You will immediately start to learn a lot more about how to actually play the game. As others have said, you should be folding most of your hands even at this low level.

Finally, on the information you have given above, I would say that if this poker game is at all serious (and all poker games for money are, IMO), you don’t need to worry about making an ass of yourself. You probably do need to worry about donating money to everyone else in this game for some while, until you have built up a bit of experience. And if their business owners, I doubt they are playing for pennies (though I could be wrong of course). Put simply, they won’t care about you betting out of turn/showing cards by mistake/making an outrageous betting mistake if they can reliably win $100 a week from you.

Feel free to ask for definitions of anything that’s not clear in this post/thread.

Is there any sort of tournament simulation program for poker? Ideally a program that lets you tweak just about damn near every tweakable variable there is to tweak, up to and including the aggressiveness or lack thereof in the CPU controlled opponents.

I agree with most everything in here. Playing tons of hands is your best bet for getting a feel for how to play. Being disciplined is critical – you need to be folding 80% of the time. And luck is most certainly a factor in the short term – I have also never seen a tournament won where the eventual winner didn’t catch a giant break at some point. However, smart, disciplined play generates its own luck and creates opportunities that wil pay off over time.

I will differ from the crowd in saying that play money games can be beneficial. If you treat it like a real game, and focus on playing only premium hands. You can play a gazillion hands online without spending a dime and give yourself the chance to mess around and try different tactics without worrying about bankrupting yourself. For me, I found that playing a bunch of limit hold 'em at play money tables really helped me get a feel for when to be aggressive, when to fold, when to check, etc… The key, though, was to force myself to be very, very tight, for the most part playing only paired face cards or suited connectors that were 10-or-better. Or J5 (I like Motown, okay?).

Here’s where you start:Getting Started In Hold’em. Lots of excellent advice on the twoplustwo forums also.

Concentrate you efforts at first on learning which hands to play; playing 60 to 70% of you hands is a guaranteed disaster. I have over a million hands of limit Hold 'em in my PokerTracker database; I have played 15.84% of the hands and that’s a pretty typical number for a winning player on PokerStars.

You don’t have be very good (or nearly that tight) to do Ok in most home games but you do need to have some clue if you don’t want to just give your money away.

If you do decide to read the book, don’t mention it at the table. You will likely hear other players talking about “The book says …”. If you’ve read the book you’ll realize that most of those who say that haven’t actually read it; when you figure out who actually knows something, talk to them away from the table.

I’ll agree with those who say the online play money games are not a good training ground … with the one exception being that you might use them just to develop the discipline to throw away bad hands; if you can’t absolutely crush the play money games you will have no chance whatever of beating even the penny games.

One final suggestion: Invite Mosier to your game. If the stakes are high enough, consider paying his airfare. :wink:

What others have said…hands, hands and more hands. I’ve noticed that different levels have different strategies wrt the buy-in, and the obvious differences between internet hold’em and BnM hold’em. Limit and No-Limit. Nobody got good or great overnight because thousands, if not tens of thousands of hands played by hundreds if not thousands of individuals (with varying playing styles) are played against over a course of months, if not years.

Another doper here to invite you, Soul to our little Doper Poker game. Although it’s free to play (no software required) and there’s no buy-in, we do play as if there is money on the table, because we have a ranking system in place on our thread and the players come together every week to play, so we are not total strangers to each other, therefore we are not trying to pull some hit and run all-ins in the first few hands. IMO, it seems that we play as if we are in a $5 or $10 NL tournament…it would give you a better feel for the game than your typical play money game.