Anyone who was ever great at doing anything did it once for the first time. The simpler way to say that phrase is, “There’s a first time for everything”. If you’re looking to start out playing poker at any level, it’s really important to do a little research before you pony up any money.
Poker is a game that is fun to play even out of boredom, but it offers you more than that. Poker allows you to express yourself socially, it gives you an outlet to practice reading people, and if you’re good at it you could make a little money.
Poker is definitely a social game, and if you don’t want to embarrass yourself amongst your peers, you’ll need to respect the game. Respecting the game of poker means knowing it well, and all of the associated rules. Here are some general beginner tips to get you started in minutes, but it can take a lifetime to master.
Start online at the Free Tables
This tip is like training wheels, you can still fall, but it’s not that bad. Start out playing for free, just to learn the game. You should play for free until you know what hand beats what, and the basic betting orders. If you can’t make some “free money” on the free tables, you probably won’t win much when you’re playing for real cash.
Also, the free tables will allow to learn the game without interrupting the flow of an actual cash game. Playing for free, or points, is the safest and best way to start out learning the sport of poker.
Gamble with Your Lunch Money
The first time you put real money on a poker game, use your lunch money. If you lose and go hungry, it will be just as bad of a lesson as losing a car. You can keep the stakes small and still enjoy the huge emotional swings.
Start out gambling with only your lunch money, and you can eat your sandwich if you lose still, we won’t tell anyone. What we really mean by this is to keep the stakes small. You may even stay at the free tables, play some ‘free rolls’ (which are free online poker tournaments) and “free your way” into real money. If you must dip into your own pocket to fund your first poker hands, start playing for the lowest stakes possible. This allows you to learn and build a bankroll from the game, instead of your rent money or something.
Know Poker Etiquette
If you don’t want to be a jerk, it’s important to learn the etiquette and rules of any game. Taking a little time to research poker etiquette could mean the difference between a short poker career, and long lasting friendships. Poker is a social game and you need to understand social rules.
Don’t delay the game, don’t table talk, don’t hit on the wait staff, don’t complain to the dealer, and other common poker etiquette rules will keep you from looking stupid. Most of it is common sense, but it always plays in the long game.
Learn One Game at a Time
Pick your favorite poker game and start with that. Most people choose limit, or no-limit Texas Hold’em. Don’t spread yourself too thin when it comes to poker. Start with one game, and learn it completely. If you’re playing a bunch of different types of poker, you’ll rarely get good at one.
You’ll need to learn more to rise to the top in any game, poker is no different. The best way to do this is to first talk to a friend you might know who is good at poker. When we say ‘take lessons’ we mean to study more than just the lesson of losing your money. Seek out good players and figure out what makes them successful.
Being a successful poker player isn’t just about getting dealt the right cards, it’s the entire lifestyle. You’ll need to know how to manage your bankroll, personal security, rounding, statistics, body language, mental discipline, and personal motivation. Find a coach, a friend or another player willing to give you lessons on anything to make you a better poker player.
Read at Least One Poker Book
Pick a book to read first, this is important. Every Time I get into a new hobby, the first thing I do is read a few books on it. If you really love the game of poker and even want to go pro one day, you’ll need to put in your reading time. Besides, who wouldn’t want to read about poker?
It’s debatable on what makes a good poker book, but it’s not debatable that there are a ton to read. I would recommend some of these more popular books on basic strategy:
- Every Hand Revealed (Gus Hansen)
- Caro’s Book of Poker Tells (Mike Caro)
- The Theory of Poker (David Sklansky)
- Super System (Doyle Brunson)
If you’re more into tournament poker, then here are some more recommendations:
- Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker I-3 (Jonathan Little)
- Winning Poker Tournaments – One Hand at a Time 1-3 (Lynch, Van Vleet, Turner)
- Poker Tournament Formula 1-2 (Snyder)
- Easy Game (Seidman); Moorman’s Book of Poker (Moorman)
- The Raiser’s Edge (Grospellier)
Keep reading, and it will pay off well for you in the long run. Reading books about poker is probably one the best ways to improve your game.
Have a Budgeting Plan
You must have an active budgeting plan when playing poker for real money. To have any success at poker, you need to understand how to budget your gambling funds. If you don’t have a plan for your money at the poker table, chances are someone sitting there does. If you want to keep your chips and turn them in for cash that you take home, you’re going to need to understand budgeting and money management.
You’ll want to set limits, both for your losses and wins. You’ll want to set goals for your session. This is something more advanced poker players focus on, but as a beginner it is good to have a concept of this idea; especially if you have aspirations of a poker career.
Keep it Legal
This tip is actually more of a common sense thing – but think about it for a second. What’s worse than losing your money?
And if your game gets raided, you’ll lose everything at the table. Sure you can’t get arrested for playing in a poker room, only running it; still, the idea of being raided alone should stop you from wanting to play in underground rooms.
There are some cool underground poker games out there, but you’re really asking for it if you show up to a mafia run poker room, and you don’t know which hand wins between a flush and a straight. Many people take poker very seriously and there’s a professional mentality that you need to develop before you explore the dark side. As a beginner, it’s best to keep all of your poker 100% legal for a better overall experience.
Tournaments before Cash Games
Start with the micro level buy in poker tournaments first. I recommend that you start with tournaments before cash games for good reason:
Cash games can be very loose; it’s hard to budget your money, and you have to pay to play for every hand. Whereas tournaments offer you a risk at a flat rate, yet you have the potential to be reward so much more for good play. You can spend $5 and have a $2K chip stack in a tournament. In a cash game you’re $5 is only $5. The tournament you can take your $5 and if you place 1st, you might make over a grand. In a cash game, you’d be lucky to make a few hundred dollars over the same period of time.
You’re likely to lose much more playing cash games as a beginner. Once you learn how to go into “survival mode” in a tournament, and you can do that consistently, then you’re ready to sit down at the cash tables.
Report Your Winnings
Give Uncle Sam his share, even his share of the rake. If you hit the final table at the WSOP or something, and you go off to buy some hummers, invest in your friend’s new business, or anything like that; don’t forget about your tax obligations. There is something worse than losing, it’s winning …then getting everything seized by the government for tax evasion.
We never intended for this to be the final list of advice for new poker players, but I think it’s a great start. If you diligently follow these pointers you’ll hopefully avoid some of the common pitfalls that keep new poker players from becoming professional players. We’re aware that one could talk for a year on all of poker’s nuances; there are endless advice columns on how to play hands, read players, and win tournaments. After sifting through all of the available lessons on the game itself, some of the most important aspects of the game have nothing to do with the hand being played at all. Once you truly understand that, you’re on your way to becoming a pro.
Poker is like any game or activity in life, the more you put into it – the more you’ll end up getting out of it. Even after you’ve been rounding for a while, it’s good to get back to basics. Look at where you might have a flawed approach and correct things for the future. Make sure that you schedule some time to review your poker education every once in a while, it could end up being very beneficial.
Bonus Tip: Have Fun
If you don’t like to play poker, stopping at the beginning is probably best, as it’s a long train ride. If you’re doing it right there should be some long moments of boredom that will test a true gambler’s patience. If you stick to these tips, you’re likely to come out ahead in the long run.
Having fun is really what it’s all about; even a bad beat cleanout can be worth a sturdy belly laugh. Please tell us if we’ve missed any tips for the poker newbies in the comments below.