Thursday, January 05, 2006

How To Introduce Your Friends To Poker

John McClane: Look I fail you cover my ass. You fail I cover your ass!
Zeus: And if we both fail?
John McClane: Then we're both fucked!
”Die Hard: With a Vengeance”

Reading around the blogs, I was struck by something Scurvy wrote. Go read it yourself, he’s always worth a read, but to paraphrase it was basically the “I don’t talk strategy because other’s smarter than me already do” line just doesn’t wash with him no more.

I was a big fan of that line, and I try to limit my strategy thoughts here to a minimum – zero preferably. Why? Because there is a very good chance I don’t know shit. I guess I am a little worried that I will say “go left” and everyone else will say “go right” and I’ll look like a fool. For somebody who fusses over a bankroll that was worth 5 cents at one stage, looking like a fool should be something you assume is already happening.

While I don’t know much, life time wise I am a winning player. I play with a 1000 chip set (11.5g), on a home built table with premium plastic cards and online on a funky brand new graphics heavy computer – all paid for with poker profits. That’s got to mean something, right?

Others may be better at describing their thoughts and emotions at the table, but there is something I consider myself a bit of an expert on, and that is introducing new people to the game.

When I started out in live games, I knew about 4 people that played. Now we have a circle of over 50 that compete in various home games around Sydney. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t introduce them all to poker, but there is a large number I did.

Here is part one of a continuing series called – “How to introduce your friends to poker”. I use Texas Holdem for this guide, because lets face it, no new comer is beating down your door to learn Razz.

STEP 1 – Make sure they are interested
Firstly, don’t force it upon them. If you go up to one of your friends or significant other and say “I’m going to teach you poker”, there is a good chance you’ve failed already. This isn’t like learning to read or write, nobody “needs” to know about poker, and if they feel like it is being forced upon them then it won’t seem like fun. Ok, so you did that once to one of your buddies and now they make $20K a week online – good for you. The majority of the time it won’t work. Let them ask you – because presumably you talk poker a lot, don’t you? It comes up in casual conversation, they mention they would like to play – pounce baby! Make the offer, or accept their request – you can’t teach the unwilling.

Also, don’t bother teaching when either yourself or the other person is drunk. You’ll both fuck it up. Stick to drinking games in this case.

STEP 2 – Keep it simple, stupid! (KISS)
You’ve probably heard of the KISS principle (sometimes it’s Keep It Short & Sweet, but I prefer the first one). So you understand 4th level thinking, implied re-draw odds and when a bluff re-raise all-in will work. Great – keep it to yourself. When you are teaching someone to drive, you don’t teach them to do a power slide around a corner doing 90 on the first day. Same goes for poker.

The very first thing you should do is write out a list of the order of hands, from Royal Flush down to high card. Yes, write it down and give it to them! I don’t care if they say they know it already, believe me they will check it. It is amazing how many people say they know the order of hands, but still can’t decide if a straight beats a flush. Or even, perhaps they are Manilla players who have a flush beating a full house (watch for these guys in home games, they love playing their draws). Write it down and give it to them.

Also, leave the history lesson for another time. While it is great to know that Doyle wrote the bible back in the 70’s that is still read today, and he won the World Series two years in a row with the same hand, keep it to yourself for know. Once they are hooked on the game, they will love all this info and more than likely it will come up during a game anyways. Right now, all they want to do is play so give them what they want.

Why wouldn’t you just hand them Doyle’s book, or any other well respected book, on poker right now and get them to read it? While I’m sure many people will say “This is the best book for beginners”, a familiar face and teacher sitting right in front of them will be better most of the time. Baby steps people, baby steps. You wouldn’t get Phil Jackson to coach your under 6’s basketball team, would you? Although I would love to see the 5 year olds try the triangle offence…Anyways, it’s best that you don’t force your literature on to them for a little while yet.

STEP 3 – Wash, Rinse, REPEAT!
You ever heard the story about how some shampoo company increased profits by 66% just by adding that last word? Becomes a very important word to them, doesn’t it? Well, it is a very important word for you too.

Repeat everything you say at least twice. I don’t mean like a parrot sitting in front of them. Just make sure when you cover 2 or 3 points in a row, go over them again to make sure they understand. Say it a different way, make an analogy, get them to repeat it to you, quiz them, whatever works for you. Never assume because you have said it once that they have automatically absorbed it instantly. Similarly, if they ask you to repeat something, do so. Actually, this can be a pretty good sign because they are obviously interested in what you are saying – either that or you speak with a horrible accent and they can’t understand a word. Don’t get annoyed because they are asking you to clarify something or if they have forgotten what you said just seconds ago – it will happen, more than once. There is a lot to absorb here, even in just learning the unique names for each round of betting (pre-flop, flop, turn, river). Encourage them to ask questions, it no only makes sure they are getting their fill of information but also shows how much they are retaining. It doesn’t matter how obvious anything seems to you, or how quickly you picked up on a principle – patience is the key here.

STEP 4 – Play a hand open faced

Now we have you approach down pat, lets look at WHAT to teach them first. They already have their hand rankings in front of them, so lets go about teaching the mechanics of the game.

Play a hand, it’s that simple. It’s much easier to explain that everyone gets two cards when you actually give everyone two cards. This might seem really obvious, but I am amazed at how many people try to teach this without visual aids. It’s just far easier to understand when everything is put out in front of them.

Don’t take bets just yet, but go through the hand with the cards face up. Deal the hole cards, the flop, turn and river – explain that there is a round of betting in between and then see who has the best hand at the end of it. Simple, yes? Now get them to deal one too.

Congratualtions, they now have the most basic understanding of Texas Holdem.

To finish off each post in this series, I will put in some FAQ’s that no doubt you will be asked at some time, and how I approach this questions. I tend to use analogies a lot in explanations, but you do what ever you feel comfortable with. It isn’t my answers here that are important, more so that these questions will more than likely rise so be prepared to answer them. They are some questions and some comments that come up frequently from new players.

FAQ 1 – But any two cards can win!

Yep, we’ve all heard this one before. New players see those 5 juicy cards on the flop, and 72o can beat pocket Aces. But you don’t want your students becoming play-anything monkeys, do you? While it might be great to take their money off them if they are, you just don’t for the sake of this exercise, ok?

My analogy to explain this is – in Basketball, you can still score 3 points if you take a shot from the half way line, but it’s worth the same as a shoot from the top of the three point line. So why do all the pros wait until they are past half way to shoot? Because it is a damn sight easier.

In my opinion, it is also much easier to get a tight player to loosen up than vice-versa. Once they have that play anything attitude, it takes a lot of time to get it out of them. A tight player can be convinced to start playing JTs from the button in an unraised pot. So teach them to be tight first, it will make things a lot easier in the long run.


HighOnPoker said...

That was a damn fine post. More power to you. I'll be stopping by here a lot more often.

Yeah, but about what Scurvy said, I discuss hands somewhat regularly and 4 out of 5 times I got people telling me they would never do it that way. But that's the interesting stuff. Poker is a thousand different games to a thousand different people.

TripJax said...

For some reason, this post got me jonesing for a home game. I just called up a buddy and I think we'll have one. Thanks!