For as long as there have been casinos, which is about 385 years, there have been so-called experts claiming they have infallible strategies to beat the house. Yet like the Loch Ness Monster and the aliens in Area 51, their details remain hazy to the wider world. Pragmatic casino players know that the only true way to shift the odds in your favor is to play a game that incorporates an element of skill. Blackjack is one example, and poker is another.
The best blackjack players, who combine every strategy there is and execute perfectly, can reduce the house edge to less than one percent. That’s impressive, but the house still has a slight advantage. Likewise, in video poker with the right version, the right pay table and perfect strategy, the house edge can be eliminated – but making the right call every time takes superhuman skill, and we are all human. With other forms of poker, such a Texas Holdem, however, it’s another matter.
Beating the competition, not the house
There’s a story of two men walking in the jungle who encounter a lion. One quickly grabs running shoes from his backpack and hastily puts them on. His friend says “those won’t help you run faster than a lion,” to which he replies “No, but they will help me run faster than you.”
The same principle applies at the poker table. You don’t need a magic formula or an absolutely perfect strategy to beat the house, because the house takes its rake and doesn’t care who wins or loses. You simply have to put on your running shoes and be faster than the guy sitting across the table. That means having better skills where it matters.
Honing your skills
People get hung up on the fact that poker involves cards dealt from a shuffled deck and think it is all down to luck. But winning doesn’t depend on the cards you are dealt. It depends on how you play them. That means knowing when to fold, when to bluff. and how much to bet. Getting lucky is great, but it only gets you so far. An amateur could go out to the 12th hole at Augusta and get lucky with a hole in one. But that luck wouldn’t help him win the US Masters.
To play poker to a high standard, you need the right poker mindset and attitude. When you learn how to play poker as a beginner it is vital to concentrate on the three areas mentioned above.
- When to fold – the ability to reason sets us apart from the beasts and the ability to fold sets poker apart from games of chance. Being able to look at your cards and throw them without wagering a cent (blinds permitting) means you can choose your battles.
- Bluffing – this is all about skill and nothing to do with luck. If you bluff well and at the right time, you will win, even if the cards are against you, it is that simple.
- How much – value betting in poker is a topic all of its own. Again, it is related to picking your battles, but here you can choose how much is at stake based on what you know is in your hand and what you suspect is in your opponent’s.