Monday, January 09, 2006

How To Introduce Your Friends To Poker - Final Part

Franklin 'Frankie Figs'Figueroa: You what? You told Jimmy? What the hell did you do that for?
Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky: I felt sorry for him! I like him. Well, I liked him?
Franklin 'Frankie Figs'Figueroa: So you don't like him no more?
Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky: Well, it's a little hard to maintain a friendship with a man who wants to kill you.
”The Whole Nine Yards”

Now I would like to dive into the hardest part of teaching anyone poker – besides making sure they are interested in the first place. Lets assume if you have made it this far that they are, and now you need to teach them the biggest part of the game – betting. The is essentially what poker is about, and this is why the cards are dealt face down. This topic could be covered a million different ways, depending on the teacher and the student.

If your student is mathematically minded, then I think you get off easy. You might be able to teach pot odds here and the chances of their draws hitting, and so on, and they can base their betting around that. If so, good for you. But lets assume they left maths in highschool and use a calculator to work everything out now. We need to start with the basics.

STEP 1 – The basics.
Check. Call. Raise. Fold.

There, that was easy, wasn’t it?

Ok, so technically “Bet” is different to “raise”, and a “check-raise” has significance, but it is a little early for that. Just explain the four basic choices they have, and this forms the fundamentals of the game.

It would be good to point out here that a “check” can be very important. Too many beginners are tempted to fold when they have a crap hand, even if they are first to act after the flop, turn or river. Make sure your students never fold when they can check, not only is it a zero expected value move, it makes them look stupid.

Before you start, yes sometimes it is fine to fold when you can check, I have done it myself. Sometimes you just have an absolutely shit hand with five runners seeing the flop, you’ve got a runner-runner draw only that may even be dead to a better flush or whatever, and you just fold for the sake of not tempting yourself or because you have been getting spanked the last few orbits. Good for you. Don’t teach this to your students. If they can check, then they should never fold. Let them change it for themselves much later if they wish.
STEP 2 – The Etiquette.
Very, very important step (and say that to them). Here you need to teach them about how to properly conduct themselves at the table.

Explain the term “string bet” to them. This will save a lot of grief down the track. Always make sure they act in turn – not only is this proper for the game but it can help them later on with angle shooters if they play live games.

Even I still get annoyed when people slow roll and splash the pot. Don’t make your student one of these people.

Slow rolling especially – even though they might think saying “Two pair – Aces and aces” is funny, it’s still al slow roll and will piss people off.

Also it might be a good time to give them the old “one person to a hand” talk here, and make sure they don’t talk about a hand that is still in play if they are not involved.

And please, don’t show any Hellmuth clips to them here, or at any stage.

STEP 3 – Calling.
I think in NL, calling is one of the hardest moves on the river. Whether it is calling all in or not, essentially it conveys the purest thought in poker – I have the better hand. One of the consequences is a call on the river will display your hand to the world – so if you have been playing a stupid draw or a weak bottom pair against your opponents flopped flush, your follies are now open to the table.

It might be a bit of a big call, excuse the pun, to say that calling is the hardest move to make on the river. What about the all-in bluff? Too easy to do, and is sometimes a cop out move. If you have the stone cold nuts, how much skill is there in moving all-in? Any bet you make on the river gives you two chances to win – you either have the best hand or your opponent/s fold. Calling leaves you with only one way to win, you must have the best cards.

Calling bets on the turn or river though is a different story. A lot of folk will tell you that calling is a sign of weakness – it should be either raise or fold. Anybody who follows this rule 100% of the time is either extremely lucky or broke. I strongly believe that there are no absolutes in poker. Sometimes I will call with nothing on the fop just so I can bluff at the turn – works against the right opposition at the right time, otherwise this is just giving away chips.

Back to calling bets on the turn or flop. You need to install in the students mind that a call is not automatic. A call must assume that they either have the best hand or have a chance at drawing t the best hand with the right amount of odds.

How do you explain the odds here without getting too math heavy? Well, you can’t really. Like I said before if they are mathematically inclined then go ahead, otherwise try to keep it simple.

Keep it really simple, and don’t give them many drawing options. You don’t want the end product to be a calling station. So lets set them some barriers to begin with, and they can find out where they like to sit in them for themselves as they grow in experience.

Lets say, on the flop only call on a draw to a flush if you have four to the flush with two in your hand, or with either the nut draw with three on the board. We are not looking to draw to runner-runners here just yet. If the bet is greater than pot sized to you, then you should probably be thinking fold. If it is exactly pot sized, then think about it if your draw is strong enough, and how good the other player might be playing. If the bet is half the size of the pot, then give it a go on the flop.

Semi-bluff re-raises here are a bit advanced at this stage, so lets leave that for another time.

Drawing to straights is slightly different. If it is drawing to the sucker straight, then it is a definite maybe (there, that should help them!). Seriously, if it is the sucker straight them tell them to keep with it if action doesn’t get too wild (and the board shows no flush or pair).

Tell them to forget about gut shot draws. It’s best this way for a beginner.

Drawing to a full house is a lot harder. With a set or trips, it is quite easy to come along for the ride because there is a fair chance you have the best of it anyway. With two pair it is very difficult. In my opinion, two pair is the hardest hand in Holdem. It looks good, but it is so easily beaten. I think the safe route here is saying that while two pair can win, it is never a monster. It can be a good hand, but it is NEVER a monster.
STEP 4 – Folding
Folding is one of the most important moves in poker in my opinion. Just like the song says, you got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. The beginner can some times get too caught up in the ego of poker, and be scared of folding the winning hand.

As a very general rule, I would rather fold the winning hand than call with a loosing one.

Ok, so that can’t really be applied across the board or quantified, but the reasoning behind that statement I believe rings true. Don’t be scared to fold. Even if your opponent shows their bluff and claims all colours of skill over you, big deal. We all get bluffed off pots from time to time, it’s part of the game. It’s funny how people are so willing to accept bluffing as part of their game, but can’t accept that it is part of everyone else’s too.

Here is a simple equation that will get the beginner through their first few weeks at the table, before they really start to develop a feel for the game.

If you can’t decide between calling and folding; fold. If you can’t decide between calling and raising; raise.

STEP 5 – Pulling some moves
Now we get to the good stuff, the moves that when they come off make you feel like a world champion. And when they fail? Well, we don’t talk about those times.

It’s easy to get confused here, as there are millions of different moves that work at different times. I’m talking about bluffs, check-raises, position raise, betting on the come, semi-bluffs, representing a hand, slow playing, value bets, and so forth and so on. Yes, there is some over lapping there, but lets not get caught up in the details.

It is hard to teach these sort of plays to the beginner when so much of it is down to instinct or pure math. It is probably easy to assume here that they are not experts in either at this moment, and a highly doubt most of you are as well. I think it is best to teach them one or two moves for now, and they can work more out later on after they have been playing for a month or so.

I suggest going with something like a “position raise” and maybe a “continuation bet”. Both have pretty simple motives behind them, and can get them in the frame of mind that the cards are not the only winning factor in poker. Neither are very complex and shouldn’t get them in too much trouble at this stage.

A position raise will get them used to the value of position in a hand. Start with, for example, if they are on the button with everyone folding in front of them (assuming the game has at least 6 players), give the blinds a small raise if they have chips. If you explain it right to them, it should make sense and then you will find that the will also be more willing to folding QTo in early position.

A continuation bet is very simple in principle, and for a new comer can be very rewarding. A continuation bet at low limits will win a lot of hands – either on the flop or turn.

Finally, I think it should be wise to teach them the art of the slow play – but with a caution. I am sick of hearing people who slow play whinge about getting done by a 2 outer. Please, for the love of Jebus, explain that the risk in slow playing your flopped set or straight is that you are giving draws to the other players. Sometimes, this can be bad.

Suggest to your student that if they flop a monster – and for now, lets assume a monster is the best full house on the flop (i.e Queens full on a queen high flop etc) or better. Now, if they come out betting like a madman because they have just flopped quad aces, they won’t make much money more than likely. Let somebody else hit two pair, they might make a bet. Let them hit a full house to your quads, and you’re looking at taking their entire stack. This teaches your student about maximising the pot – and more than likely will also teach them about suckouts, but they have to learn that sometime don’t they?

This level of the teaching session (the bettign side of things) is by far and away the hardest. So hard in fact that it never ends. But here is a good time to leap into the final step here.

STEP 5 – Play a game.
Pretty simple, but here is my big controversial twist to this step in the process.

Play for money, not a free roll.

Wow, that is a big step early on isn’t it? Get their money in the middle now, on their first day learning? I am assuming that my post yesterday and this one today are in fact the same day occurrence – otherwise yesterdays session was pretty light for them as it was more about your approach than them actually learning poker.

But lets face it, poker is about money. Sure, it is also about the fun of it, friends gathered around a table sharing lies and insults, but at the heart of it, poker is about winning – and that means money. How many friendly home games do you know that are played for free every time?

So I say get them used to playing for money now. Depending on how rich you or your friends are depends on how much this game is worth – but I’d say make it no more than a dollar. And obviously make it tournament or SNG structure, with deep stacks. Even consider not raising the blinds if you feel like it.

It is very important I feel that you actually play a game in the first lesson with your friends. It would be boring as hell if all they do is hear you talking about your theories on poker and what you think are right and wrong. Get the game going, and they will learn much faster.

I think that might do for my lessons in teaching your friends poker. After this, you can start to get as technical as your skill allows, or as their skills allowed. Encourage them to read up if they are really interested, and perhaps get a few online free rolls under their belt. They are not ideal, but as long as they know what they are doing and stick to the basics they will come along fine.

The last thing I encourage is never take anybodies advice without consideration. Everybody plays the game their own way, in their own style. You need to develop the style that best suit you, and what works for somebody might be the worst thing for you. Just because you read some book that said go left, doesn’t mean you can’t go right. Take the advice on board, but don’t adopt it as fact without trying it on for size first.

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