Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.
Today you get to exercise your imagination. You’re young and about to embark on a poker career.
Pretend I’m you father and that you, as my daughter or son, may ask me five questions. But since this is a series of columns in which I get to ask the questions, not you, you’re going to have to envision that the five questions below are actually the ones you would have chosen.
Okay, now you know today’s rules. Let’s do it…
Question 69: Tell the truth — will I find it easy to win at poker?
Here’s where you need to listen closely.
Most players lose. Only a small percent win. But if you’re talented, dedicated, and disciplined, you have a good chance of winning at poker.
You’ll need to play consistently excellent poker. And, no — you probably won’t find it easy.
Question 70: So, if I study hard, will I win?
Hey, you remember the song: “When I was just a little (girl/boy), I asked my mother, what will I be…” It’s the que sera, sera factor. Whatever will be, will be.
Studying hard helps. Playing intently helps. Understanding opponents helps.
But beyond that, your fate isn’t entirely in your hands. If you have a large advantage over your opponents, you’ll surely win over time, but how much you’ll win is a mystery. And if you have less than a huge advantage, you might not win at all, even though if it were a fair universe, you should.
The best you can do is the best you can do. You need to stay to the end of the movie to find out what happens.
Question 71: On what should I focus first?
The order of poker focus doesn’t matter greatly, but I would concentrate on the mechanics before psychology. Although your table image, your ability to read tells, and your skills at manipulation will add greatly to your bankroll, you can’t win at all without first understanding the basics.
Beyond that, I teach something called “the Mad Genius Method,” which is essentially just a form of going into the poker arena and concentrating one technique for an entire session. Ignore everything else.
The magic comes from the fact that you really won’t “ignore” other things. You’ll automatically make decisions on those that are consistent with your current skill, while mastering the assigned element. And, of course, those assignments you’ve already completed stick with you — so you’ll do the right things in the future, even when you’ve moved to a new focus.
Question 72: I’m having trouble calculating and remembering odds. How much will this hurt me?
Probably not very much.
Odds and mathematical analysis are important when researching poker and pinpointing the best tactics. But that’s theoretical work done away from the table.
And, fortunately for you (if you’re not as strangely obsessed with doing this research as I am), I publish my findings. Other reliable researchers do, too.
Although years ago, winning poker players survived by semi-accurate guesswork and expensive experience, today you have access to great advice. You can buy excellent poker books, watch videos, and visit web sites. None of this was possible when I began playing.
Know what to do
So, it’s the resulting advice — sometimes derived from odds and math — that you need to learn. You need to know what to do, not how it was determined. While it will help somewhat if you can calculate odds in the heat of your poker battles and plug in the right solutions on the fly, this rare talent — if it exists at all — probably won’t yield enormous benefits in typical games against weak opponents.
As long as you remember some of the most basic odds, you’ll be okay. For instance, it helps to know that it’s about 7-to-1 against flopping trips in hold ‘em when you start with a pocket pair. Knowing this and a dozen or two other key odds gives you perspective, keeps you from being frustrated, and perhaps promotes pride and confidence. But not much more.
It’s accurate published advice about which pairs you should play in which positions that you should concentrate on learning. That advice already took odds into consideration.
So the answer: Not knowing how to calculate odds — except maybe dividing the pot by the size of your bet to get “pot odds” — won’t cost you a lot. Failure to memorize a lot of odds won’t cost much, either.
The fear that you can’t succeed at poker without being a mathematician is pure misconception. It will be hard to succeed if you don’t understand people, however.
Question 73: I’m starting out with $200. What are my chances of never going broke and building this bankroll gradually into an eventual fortune?
Almost non-existent. Expect to go broke, perhaps frequently.
Even if you’re a very cautious player, you’re poorly funded, even for the smallest games. Yes, you might eventually build your fortune at poker, but most players have suffered setbacks on their climb up the ladder.
Those setbacks can happen to your $200 right away or to $2,000 as you accumulate money only to lose it at a bigger game. There’s nothing wrong with this.
What you need to keep in mind is that at some point you may succeed in building a bankroll large enough that it will be almost impossible to replace if lost. At that point, you need to be much more defensive and take fewer risks.
Expect to lose
Now let’s get one thing straight: That $200 is enough to get started. So is $100 or $50. Expect to lose it most times.
Maybe you’ll get lucky right away, but that’s a long shot. Let’s say that you’re defining “an eventual fortune” as $1 million. That means you’re asking what your chances are of making your bankroll 5,000 times as big! Believe me, it’s worse than even money. But even if it were 2,000-to-1 against getting jump started and rolling on to luxury with your $200, you’d still be getting greatly the best of it. And eventually, you probably will get lucky — and get launched into a more-comfortable bankroll zone.
But, unless you have an unusual amount of early maturity and discipline, you’re going to have breakdowns in discipline. You’ll enter bad games, take bad risks, and spend too much of your bankroll.
I wish I could prevent this by just warning you about it. Unfortunately, you probably aren’t going to listen, but you’ll get wiser year by year. Good luck on your poker adventure. — MC