In essence, there isn’t anything daunting about poker that puts people off from picking it up and playing competitively. The rules are relatively simple, the premise of the game is equally simple, and getting good at the game relies more on your powers of recall than any form of natural ability.
Yet there is something incredibly difficult at poker that stops budding beginners from becoming seasoned card sharks. In this article, we will explore what it is about poker that makes it easy to pick up but difficult to master and hopefully provide you with a few tips and tricks to upping your game.
Poker: A Beginner’s Guide
There are hundreds of poker variants played around the world but the most popular variant of all is Texas Hold ‘Em. First pioneered in 19th century America, Texas Hold ‘Em is the perfect balance of methodical strategy and high-octane action.
In order to start playing and have fun, you need to know two key things before sitting down and making your first bet…
Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Rules – The Basics
At the beginning of every hand, the dealer will dish out two cards to every player around the table face down. These cards are known as ‘hole cards’ and are unique to you, they shouldn’t be shared with other players.
Then a round of betting known as ‘preflop’ betting will occur when players make bets based on the strength of their hole cards. Usually, these bets are small and are seen as nothing more than a formality, it is not until the flop that the betting gets real.
The flop describes the first three community cards that are laid face up in the center of the table. These cards can then be combined with your hole cards to make the best possible combination.
If everyone continues to bet, a further two community cards will be placed face-up on the table, they are known as the ‘Turn’ and the ‘River’ respectively. Usually, players will up their bets as their hand strengthens until all betting has ceased and players’ hands are compared to work out a winner.
There are of course variations to how every hand plays out, but this example gives should help you to understand the rules of poker.
Texas Hold ‘Em – Hands
Different combinations of cards hold differing values which helps to ascertain the winner of each hand. Whilst there are a number of possible hands and combinations to look out for the main ones that you will need to know as you start out are…
High Card: If no one has a ranked hand the winner is decided by the player with the highest card. It is rare that a hand comes down to this, but it can happen if players call one another’s bluff.
Pairs: The next best thing up from a high card is one pair, which means that you have two matching cards either in the hole or by combining with the community cards. One up from this is two pair and then up from that again is three of a kind.
Straight Flush: After a three of a kind the next best couple of hands you can get are a straight (five consecutive cards of differing suits), a flush (five cards in the same suit) and a four of a kind (four of the same numbered card). But none of them beat a Straight Flush, which is five consecutive cards of the same suit.
Royal Flush: The only way you can lose with a Straight Flush is when your opponent has a Royal Flush, which is a ten to ace straight of the same suit. This is the best and rarest hand of poker, so if you see it, bet on it.
Why Is Poker So Difficult Then?
After reading our brief beginner’s guide of how to play Texas Hold ‘Em poker you might be wondering to yourself why poker is so hard to master. However, there are two key skills that separate beginners from seasoned players. Master these and you’ll be stacking up your winnings in no time at all.
Bluffs: Oftentimes you can hazard a pretty good guess as to what hand your opponent is holding by their betting patterns. Say for example a new and inexperienced player is frantically raising at every opportunity and smiling uncontrollably, you can safely guess that they have a fairly strong hand.
But do they really? Are they confused? Do they think they’re on for a Royal Flush and actually have nothing? Or, do they actually have a pretty rubbish hand and want to intimidate you into thinking they hold something good?
These unanswerable questions can plague you at the poker table and influence your decision making, forcing you into betting on bad hands and throwing away good cards. Understanding the psychology of your opponents is something you’ll learn with experience, but it is not an exact science and you can always fall foul to a good bluff.
Probabilities: Whilst bluffs can be hard to gauge or understand, one thing that doesn’t lie or deviate from the facts is probabilities. If you want to advance beyond the beginner level at poker, you’ll have to spend hours and hours studying poker probabilities.
This might sound like a thankless task, but a mastery of probabilities will allow you to go into every hand with a degree of certainty. From analyzing your cards, the community cards, and working out how many are left in the deck you can work out the odds of your opponent having a better hand than you.
This then allows you to make educated bets based on the balance of probabilities, rather than the hunch you have about someone’s bluff.
Don’t expect to master bluffing and probabilities overnight though, these are tough skills to crack but rest assured once you have them cracked, you’ll be leagues above regular players.