The ball has dropped, the confetti has fallen, and 2019 has arrived to give everyone an opportunity to set New Year’s resolutions.
But while most of us will be marching dutifully to the gym over the next few weeks, or trying their best to kick bad habits cold turkey, folks who enjoy a good game of poker probably have other ideas in mind.
Poker tends to reward those who manage to blend dedication with innovation, the bold souls who don’t mind thinking outside of the box. And with a New Year upon us, now is the perfect time to establish resolutions designed to improve your game and enhance your experience at the tables.
You might not find a use for all of them, but below you’ll find 12 New Year’s resolutions designed specifically for the poker player set. Find a few that speak to you, commit to them in earnest, and let the cards fall where they may.
1 – Learn a New Game or Variant
The game Doyle Brunson famously dubbed the “Cadillac of Poker” is just that, a true classic that appeals to poker players of all caliber. The major circuits and tours like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and World Poker Tour (WPT) showcase No Limit Texas Hold’em to worldwide audiences, making it the de facto variant in the minds of most.
But while the two-card game can be exciting and exhilarating, to say the least, poker’s family tree includes several branches worth exploring.
These days, the preferred alternative to No Limit Texas Hold’em is Pot Limit Omaha, a variation on the original which gives players four hole cards, rather than two, to utilize throughout the hand. You can find “PLO” cash games running in most card rooms across the country, and the game has also caught on as a tournament format within the major series.
Aside from the Pot Limit betting restriction, Omaha plays out quite similarly to Hold’em, as players take their hole card hands to a flop, turn, and river in hopes of making the “nuts.” Thus, experienced Hold’em players often find the transition to Omaha to be quite agreeable.
If you’re looking for an entirely new gameplay experience, however, why not try a poker offshoot like Seven Card Stud or its inverse Razz?
In the gentleman’s game of Stud, players eschew the community cards for individual seven-card hands. Everyone at the table can see one card face up from their opponent’s three-card starting hand to begin, while subsequent cards come face up until “seventh street.” This dynamic makes memorization and deduction essential skills while bluffing takes on an entirely different feel.
In its traditional form, the objective of Stud is to form the highest ranking poker hand, but Razz flips the script altogether. In a Razz game, players use the same seven-card format as in Stud, but the goal is to make the lowest possible hand.
Other poker variants to explore include Omaha Hi-Lo, 2-7 Lowball Triple Draw, and Badugi, so get out there and take a shot at learning a new game. In the end, even if you find that Hold’em is your preferred vehicle, learning the intricacies of these other games will surely provide a different perspective going forward.
2 – Visit Poker’s Grand Cathedrals
In the cult classic poker flick “Rounders,” Matt Damon’s character speaks in reverential tone about “The Taj” poker room.
At the time this film was released, the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City was considered the East Coast’s poker jewel, and real-life legends like Phil Ivey cut their teeth grinding the low-stakes Stud games.
Today, the Taj has been consigned to history’s scrapheap, but poker players still have plenty of premier poker rooms to choose from.
Obviously, a visit to Las Vegas provides instant access to most of these poker cathedrals. When you enter the Bellagio poker room, for example, you’ll be able to take a peek into Bobby’s Room, the original high-stakes poker lounge where Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey can be found competing for six-figure pots.
And speaking of Ivey, he has his own eponymous high-stakes room over at the Aria, home to one of the most vibrant poker scenes in all of Sin City.
Outside of Las Vegas, taking a trip to Atlantic City brings you to the Borgata, a glittering shrine to all things poker. The Eastern Seaboard is also home to Foxwoods, the largest casino complex in America and site of a massive poker room where the WPT makes regular stops.
Playing within the comfortable confines of your hometown poker room is always nice, but every player deserves to soak in the sights and sounds of the game’s most prestigious venues at least once in their lives.
3 – Scratch the World Series Off Your Bucket List
Speaking of poker’s holiest sites, nothing beats a trip to the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
For six weeks every summer, the WSOP plays host to a jam-packed schedule featuring 70+ tournaments. If you’re keen on taking advantage of the first resolution on this list, there’s no better place to discover new games than the WSOP, where every poker format under the sun is available at one point or another.
And don’t forget about the gold and glory either…
When you’re lucky enough to win a WSOP event, you’ll take home the most coveted prize in all of poker – the gold bracelet awarded to WSOP champions.
The WSOP is held at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, located slightly off The Strip on Flamingo Rd. The digs here aren’t exactly on par with the Bellagio or Aria, but when WSOP season gets underway, the Rio becomes the center of the poker playing universe.
And even better, the WSOP of today has taken great strides to accommodate players of all bankroll level. Back in the day, you’d need $1,000 at the very minimum to compete for a gold bracelet at the WSOP. But through the introduction of tournaments like The Giant ($365), The Colossus ($565), and the Crazy Eights ($888), affordable entry points abound.
On a final note, the WSOP is capped off by the granddaddy of them all, the $10,000 WSOP Main Event World Championship. This is the tournament Chris Moneymaker won back in 2003 to launch the “poker boom,” and it’s the ultimate bucket list item for poker players everywhere.
4 – Practice Sound Bankroll Management
On a more practical level, you can get 2019 started on the right track by committing fully to a prudent system of bankroll management.
Most recreational poker players – the folks who love the game, but don’t lean on it to earn a living – seldom give bankroll management a second thought. They play a tournament or cash game when the urge strikes, tally up their wins and losses, then head home without worrying too much about their bottom line.
This casual approach can work just fine, but by paying closer attention to your bankroll’s fluctuations, you can easily increase your output without incurring additional risk.
If you’re a tournament player, perhaps you might avoid those impulsive rebuys immediately after going bust. Sure, it’s nice to have a second lease on life in a tournament, but rebuys that occur in the later levels leave players severely short-stacked. Lacking sufficient ammunition to work with as far as chips go, players who rebuy have no margin for error, and more often than not they wind up on the rail anyhow.
Instead of rebuying after a bad beat, try taking a lap around the casino to cool down, before sitting down to a cash game instead. Here, you’ll have no chip disadvantages to dilute your chances, and all it takes is a good little run to recoup that initial tournament buy-in and then some.
5 – Pledge to Treat Fellow Players and Dealers Better
Hopefully, you don’t have any need for this resolution, but let’s face facts – poker players can be rough around the edges, especially when they’re suffering through a downswing.
If you’ve ever had words with an opponent who just delivered a particularly dirty bad beat, or berated a dealer for doing their job too slowly for your liking, take a step back and ask yourself why.
The saying “new year, new me” is vastly overused and overrated, but in this context anyway, it certainly makes sense. Start 2019 off on the right foot by vowing to treat fellow players, dealers, and casino staff with the respect they deserve.
6 – Play Outside of Your Comfort Zone
In most areas of America, players have access to only a handful of poker rooms – if they have any access at all.
For that reason, most of us tend to stick to our usual stomping grounds, playing at a “home” poker room by default. Maybe it’s the casino located closest to your residence, or the underground card club operated by your old college buddy.
In any event, it can be all too easy to limit yourself to a single poker room for the majority of your sessions. After all, attaining “regular” status offers a slew of ancillary benefits, including preferential treatment from the floor staff and discounts offered by the venue’s Player’s Club promotion.
But like a wise man once said, the grass can be greener on the other side…
Every poker room has its own unique qualities and characteristics to help draw customers. Some places prioritize tournament play, running daily and nightly events around the clock. Others emphasize cash game play, with tables spanning the spectrum from $3/$6 Limit Hold’em to $20/$40 Pot Limit Omaha, and everything in between.
Your favorite poker room attained that status for a reason, but you never know what you’ll find when you branch out and take a seat in a new venue. The tableside food menu might be top-notch, drinks may be free instead of $5, and the rake could even be lower across the board.
But you’ll never know about these potential benefits without escaping your comfort zone, so resolve to visit a few different poker rooms throughout the year and see what you can find.
7 – Try a “Big Blind Ante” Tournament
Online tournaments are known for their innovative spirit, but the live arena is a little less lively.
Poker tournaments played in person have followed the same basic structure and format for ages, but things are definitely changing for the better in recent years.
Just picture yourself at your local casino grinding towards the money in a nightly event. You’re short-stacked, and the blinds escalate every 20 or 30 minutes, leaving you little room to maneuver. As such, you want to get as many hands in as possible to give yourself a fighting chance, but there’s one hiccup in that plan – the antes.
In a live tournament played under the old rules, each player must contribute an individual ante to the pot before the dealer can distribute starting hands. And invariably, while eight antes are splashed in rather quickly, one guy or gal will take their sweet time. Some players are even habitual line-steppers in this regard, constantly forcing the dealer to chime in with “ante please” just to get the game going.
Enter the Big Blind Ante concept…
Envisioned by acclaimed tournament directors Paul Campbell and Matt Savage, the Big Blind Ante eliminates the tedious process of asking eight or nine players to ante up. Instead, the big blind pays the combined ante amount for the rest of the table on each hand. With only one player responsible for anteing up, the process becomes streamlined and efficient, adding several hands per hour to a table’s typical routine.
The Big Blind Ante idea was once restricted to certain events held at Campbell’s Aria poker room or Savage’s digs at the Commerce Casino, but it’s spreading like wildfire throughout the industry. The World Series of Poker Circuit (WSOP-C) began integrating the Big Blind Ante last season, to rave reviews in fact, and the 2019 WSOP at the Rio is expected to fully embrace the shift.
If you’ve never played a tournament using the Big Blind Ante, make it a point to find one near you and give it a fair shake. Chances are high you’ll love the picked up pace of play, especially when you’re short and the money bubble is in sight.
8 – Ditch the Headphones and Hoodie
Pull up YouTube and watch the classic final table scenes from the 2003 WSOP Main Event, and pay close attention to the players’ attire.
You’ll find a young Phil Ivey sporting Steve Francis’ jersey from his Houston Rockets heyday, and Sammy Farha, looking cool as a cucumber in a dress suit with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. And of course, Chris Moneymaker is there, wearing a polo shirt, ballcap, and Oakley sunglasses.
What you won’t find, however, are the headphones and hoodies that have become ubiquitous within the poker community. At one point or another during the poker boom – probably after Jonathan Duhamel won the whole shebang in 2010 wearing a hoodie that made him look like Darth Vader’s little brother – poker people decided concealment was key to success.
And in an era when spotting physical tells was crucial to outsmarting opponents, donning a hoodie and headphones probably made sense.
But this fashion trend has become a true scourge, turning even televised final tables into silent staring contests.
Sit down in any poker game in America, and you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll play against someone wearing a hoodie, headphones, or both. This poker “uniform” became a staple over the last decade, but in 2019 and beyond, players deserve better.
Removing these masks and playing face to face makes the game fun and lively. You’ll exchange table talk, “soul read” tanking opponents, and maybe even make a few new friends along the way.
9 – Take a Strategy Course to Improve Your Skills
If you haven’t explored the world of poker training courses yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Many of the game’s brightest talents – world-class pros like Doug Polk, Jason Somerville, and Jonathan Little – have transitioned from full-time play to become teachers.
Polk runs Upswing Poker, an online tutorial where subscribers gain access to instructional videos and “solvers” designed to improve anybody’s skill level. Somerville heads up the Run It Up online program, while Little is a prolific author with dozens of poker strategy books available on Amazon.
These courses obviously vary depending on the source, but after a little digging, you’ll soon discover a poker class that seems to be designed specifically for your needs.
10 – Don’t Eat Finger Foods at the Table
One of the most unpleasant sights a poker player can see – aside from the pot being pushed in the other direction – is somebody eating finger foods while playing.
Hot wings, spare ribs, slices of pizza… you name it, and a poker player has eaten it right there at the table.
You shouldn’t need a long lesson on why this is a major faux pas, so let’s capture the sentiment in one simple word – spit.
If you don’t like the idea of touching cards and chips covered in another human’s saliva, make it a point to avoid any and all finger foods while playing. Unless it comes with a fork and knife, leave the dish for dinner break.
11 – Tip the Dealers Early and Often
Here’s a dirty little secret about the poker industry – dealers are essentially service workers who live on tips.
While they make a basic wage for their services, dealers are generally on the bottom of a casino staff’s payroll totem pole. To compensate, dealers rely on the generosity of strangers, namely players who toss them a chip or two after winning a hand.
It never hurts to tip the dealer, even one you might consider lackluster in their approach. Just remember, these men and women have families at home too, and unless players treat them right, everybody loses in the end.
12 – Don’t Tell a Single Bad Beat Story All Year
The most difficult resolution to keep has been saved for last on this list.
If you’ve ever spent more than a minute inside of a poker room, chances are you’ve heard a bad beat story or two:
“Man, you won’t believe what just happened. I had pocket aces, and this idiot decided to blah blah blah…”
The “blah blah blah” at the end there is entirely accurate too because unless you’re talking to the person who staked you in the game, nobody on planet Earth cares how you lost a big pot.
Poker is a game defined by natural variance, which is what makes it so beautiful and complex in the first place. You might have pocket rockets in the hole, but even the game’s strongest starting hand is destined to lose 19 percent of the time against an inferior hand like pocket kings. And take your aces up against a mini monster like 6-7 suited – the best hand with which to confront American Airlines – and you can only expect to drag 76 percent of pots played to showdown.
In other words, bad beats are par for the course when playing poker. Call it “luck” or “the swings” or whatever else, but poker games were specifically designed to make uncertainty a certainty.
So next time you’re nut flush gets rundown by a full house on the river, or 2-7 offsuit manages to kill your kings up, just remember all of the times the show was on the other foot. You’ve definitely won your fair share of hands by coming from behind, and there’s no shame in spiking a two-outer to save your stack.
With that in mind, the next time you feel compelled to tell a bad beat story, do the world a favor and don’t.
New Year’s resolutions can be made for an array of different reasons, but at their core, the idea is to improve yourself going forward. You might not stick to them for 365 days, but simply giving a good resolution a shot can work wonders for those who need a little extra motivation.
That fact applies to poker players too, and maybe even more so than the general population. After all, poker people are creatures of habit by nature, and habits tend to cause trouble if we’re not careful. To help yourself break bad habits, and maybe even pick up a few positive habits, in turn, try your hand at any or all of these 12 resolutions to ring 2019 in on a good note.