People read books. People read books on poker. People read books on poker and they study and study. People read books on poker and they study and study and then they sit down for their first cardroom experience. Then what?
I’ll tell you then what. Then they most likely have chosen to seat themselves in a $1-$2, $2-$4, or $3-$6 limit seven-card stud or hold ’em game and nothing seems the way it was promised. What good does it do to know about check-raising, about reraising aggressively to get extra value, or about tricking your foes?
What they don’t know might hurt them. Those foes don’t even know that they’re in danger of being check-raised or what it means when that happens. They don’t understand why a medium-strong hand is OK to play against a single raise, but often not OK to play against a reraise. And they aren’t likely to be tricked, because they don’t have a firm understanding about what a non-trick play should look like.
Instead of going into casino poker games unarmed, as was necessary years ago when no credible books laid out winning strategies for cardroom poker, lots of new players today do something very smart. They decide that they don’t want to waste a lot of money learning the game by trial and error. Why not take advantage of the already-paid-for, hard-learned lessons of others? Heck, if these experts are willing to make their experiences, their research, and their profit-making advice available for less than $50, well, why should novices risk thousands of dollars trying to figure it out themselves?
The big frustration. And that makes sense. You should take advantage of a head start, if it’s available. But with a few exceptions (such as Lee Jones’ recommended book Winning Low Limit Hold ’em), everything you’re likely to study before attacking your first game will be aimed at a different type of player than you’re going to encounter. These lower limits are likely to see the majority of hands decided by a showdown, many with three or more players participating to the final card. In low-limit hold ’em games, it’s not uncommon to see six and often more players pay to see the flop.
The common complaint is, "How can anyone beat these games?" What good is A-K in hold ’em or a buried pair of queens in seven-card stud if everyone stays around to make his hand. Getting drawn out on again and again is very bewildering to beginners, and very frustrating to experienced players.
Nothing seems to hold up. It’s hopeless. You start with aces in hold ’em. The flop is A-7-6. The turn is a five and the river is a nine. You feel queasy. You just know in your heart that somebody has an eight and will beat your three aces with a straight. You learn to expect it.
When serious-minded new players sit in what’s become known as a "no-fold ’em" low-limit game for the first time, much of what they’ve studied makes no sense. All of the sophisticated plays that they have mastered seem to have no impact on the outcome of the hand. They win only a small portion of the hands that they play, despite the fact that their choice of starting hands is superior to that of their opponents.
What’s worse, these are typically rake games, and $3 or so is taken from the winner of each pot. How can anyone hope to win under such conditions? But, you can beat these games. In response to a message on the Internet newsgroup rec.gambling.poker, I recommended the following:
The formula for winning at low-limit. I talked about this at my seminar yesterday, because it’s such an important question. These are some things that you should know about a rake game. For convenience, I’ll consider "rake" to mean that the house fee comes directly from the winner of the pot.
1. Except for image-enhancing reasons (which usually are not valid in smaller rake games), you should only play hands with enough of an edge to overcome the rake.
2. Only the very best starting hands have enough of an edge to overcome the rake.
3. The majority of hands that you could play profitably in a seat-rental game (including by-the-hand rental when the button pays the fee) are unprofitable in a rake game. You simply should not play them.
4. These so-called no-fold ’em games, in which many players "survive" to see the showdown, tempt you to loosen up your play somewhat. But that strategy backfires in a rake game.
5. If it were not for the rake, you should play much more liberally in very loose games. You’d just need to play, on average, less liberally than your opponents.
6. Tricky plays fail to maximize profit in these games. That’s because loose, weak opponents are not fully conscious of what’s normal and what’s tricky. In these cases, the most obvious best tactic is usually the most profitable.
7. You will get drawn out on. Since you normally will be entering the pot with the best hand, the proportion of hands that you will be drawn out on will be much greater than your opponents’. Don’t get frustrated about this. It’s where your profit comes from. Winning players are drawn out on much more often, among the hands they choose to play, than losing players.
8. It’s true that, in theory, great players can enter pots with hands that would be losing prospects for weak players. The great players can overcome this initial disadvantage by outplaying opponents on later betting rounds. But this strategy is almost never true in a rake game. Even great players can’t make up enough of the disadvantage to overcome the rake.
9. You will not find lower-limit rake games very useful in developing the majority of tactical and psychological tools that will help you beat larger, nonrake games. But the games can be good training in some respects, as long as you understand this.
10. There are very few consistent winners in these games, because most people who are capable of playing excellent poker find the profits to be better at the higher levels. And most not-quite-as-good players who could beat these lower-level rake games eventually "promote" themselves to a higher limit, where they flounder or lose.
11. The old too-simple adage "Tight is right" is actually quite powerful advice in loose lower-limit rake games.
Yes, you can beat most loose rake games, but in addition to basic skills, you need to have a whole lot of patience. I hope that you find this useful.