Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on those collaborative teachings.
If you think it takes patience to play poker, then we agree. I’ve probably known a hundred players in my life who had everything it took to win except patience. I mean, what good does it do a man to know every nuance, to have all the poker statistics memorized, to be able to get inside his opponents’ heads if he doesn’t capitalize on these advantages?
You can know it all and still lose at poker. If you don’t have the will to sit through long dry spells and wait for the good cards to rain on your wheat fieldyou’re out of business as a poker player. Knowing the best way to play a hand does you no good if you don’t play winning hands in the first place.
There has never been a world class player who didn’t have the ability to wait for the profit, to wait for the winning opportunities. The only thing knowledgeable players prove when they lack patience is that they can fare better than average players with those same terrible hands. They still lose, just not as much.
So, patience is important in playing poker, but it’s also important in teaching poker. Giving personal instruction can be tricky. I guess we’re all going to have to teach poker to a friend or relative at some point in our lives, and the exercise can be taxing. What’s obvious to us won’t always be obvious to the beginner.
I remember my acquaintances Harvey and Helen. It was about 1972. I was sitting in their living room, preparing to accompany them to a party. Suddenly Helen was struck with inspiration and said, “Harv, why don’t you teach me poker so I can play tonight.” At these parties, many of the guys would play friendly, low-limit games.
Harvey said, “Why are you asking me this now? It’s too late to teach you poker right before the party. Tell her, Doyle.” Reluctantly, I weighed in on his side of the argument, saying it took longer than a few minutes to learn poker.
Helen begged, “Just teach me as much as much as you can.”
So, he began presenting his crash course on poker. But about 20 minutes later, as I watched TV, there was an emotional explosion. Harvey screamed, “Why would you break a straight to draw to a flush! That’s stupid!”
And Helen responded by flinging the cards in the air. They fluttered to the carpet haphazardly. I’ll always remember her words as she stormed off, “Just pick them up, if you’re so smart!” It didn’t make any sense to me, but it sure pointed out that if you’re going to teach poker, patience is required.
After she ran into a bedroom, he turned to me for comfort. “What did I do?” he wondered.
“When’s the first time you realized not to draw to a flush when you had a straight?” I asked him. He fumbled for words, finally stating that it was obvious almost from the beginning.
“Well, how did you feel about it 10 seconds before then?” Harvey agreed it was a good point. And I’m guessing the next time he taught anyone poker, he exhibited the same good patience that make him a winner at the tables. — DB