Choosing the Right Poker Type 

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Choosing the Right Poker Type 

Probably many of you have heard lots about poker, and the incredible sums of money that have been won by people involved in the game. Perhaps you're interested enough to have a go yourself, but are afraid you'll be taken to the cleaners by expert players.

Well, we're here to help ease you into the entertaining world of poker by showing you that poker is a game of knowledge and ability that's based on mathematics and psychology. The winner is not the luckiest player (although luck does play some part), but the person who makes the most use of his skills, knowledge and observations whilst at the table.

Poker requires patience and concentration. The game bears little resemblance to the version you might be used to seeing in movies, or during live tournament broadcasts. It is not a never-ending stream of showdowns of strong hands for thousands of dollars worth of chips between movies stars dressed in their best dinner suits, or dudes wearing baseball caps and sunglasses. In reality, each big pot is preceded by dozens and dozens of small deals that may seem meaningless at first sight; the millions are made in the later deals.

Poker is actually a generic term for many different card games that all follow the same process: competitors make a series of bets in sequential order with the aim of winning money by having the best hand, or by convincing other players they have the best hand. This is a common “pot” game – the pot consists of the bets that the players have made during the hand, and is won by the player who has the best hand at the showdown, or who is the last player remaining in the round if all other players have folded.

In all forms of poker, the players cannot see some or all of the cards in their opponent's hands. This makes poker a game of inexact information. An example of a game with exact information is chess, as each player can see where all their opponent's pieces are on the board and can form their strategy accordingly. In poker, you have to learn strategy by using all the information you have at your disposal in order to make the best estimates about the information that's concealed.

All poker variants can be divided into three categories:

  • Flop games. These are games where “community cards” are dealt into the center of the table and may be used by any participant along with their own cards to make a winning card combination. The best-known flop games are Texas Hold'em and Omaha.
  • Non-flop games. There are games where there are no community cards and each player can only use the cards he is personally dealt. At least some of the cards (and sometimes all of them) remain unseen by opponents. Typical non-flop games include 5 and 7-card Stud, and Razz.
  • Exchange games. In these types of game, again, there are no community cards, but players may exchange the cards in their hand in order to try and make the best combination. Exchange games include Low-ball, Badugi and Draw.

Each game typically has its own specific set of rules. In most games the strongest hand is a royal flush (AKQJT of the same suit), but in others it is 75432 where more than one suit is involved. Another key difference is the betting structure:

  • No limit poker – the bets are only limited by the amount of money a player has on the table.
  • Limit poker – a limit to the size of bets that can be made is set before play commences.
  • Pot-limit poker – no player can make a bet higher the current value of the pot

Finally, the last category of poker types involves the game structure itself. Poker games are typically either cash games (also known as ring games) or tournaments.

In a tournament each player contributes a set amount of money which is called a buy-in. This money is then pooled to create the prize fund. Each player starts with a set amount of chips which bears no relation to buy-in amount. Once a player has gambled away all their chips, they are removed from the tournament. The overall winner is the “last man standing” who literally has won everybody else's chips.

A cash game is quite the opposite. Each participant exchanges chips for money, and uses those chips during the game. A player is free to leave the table at any time, or join if there is space. They can gamble away as much money as they wish to. The number of people at the table at any one time usually numbers between two and ten. When playing at a cash table the object is to obviously win as much money as possible. The strategies for tournament play and cash-game play have significant differences.

As you will now be aware, there are many different types of poker, each having its own rules and strategies. However, no one has as yet come up with one overall winning strategy that guarantees riches to anyone who follows it. Some of the top players rely on strict mathematics to make their decisions, whilst others use psychology and intuition.

The most popular poker variant is currently, by far, Texas Hold'em, and of all that game's varieties, No Limit Texas Hold'em is the number one overall. Millions of people all across the globe play Hold'em because of the simplicity of the rules and the dynamic nature of the game which can lead to countless interesting situations and hands. Usually, it makes sense for any beginner poker player to learn to play Hold'em before attempting any of the other multitude of variants.

Other arguments for Hold'em being the first variant to learn include the game's profitability, the amount of learning materials available concerning the game, the short time it takes to learn and get used to the rules, and the limits that blind chance has on a game's outcome. There is also no limit to the amount of income a player may earn from playing Hold'em – good players can earn anything from a few hundred dollars a month to several thousand dollars a day, although of course becoming a good player does not happen overnight. Mastering Hold'em takes time, energy and dedication.

As opposed to the other games of chance that are available at a casino, in Hold'em it's the players skill and knowledge that dictates how well they do, as opposed to how lucky they are. In Hold'em you are not playing “against the house” but against other players, and how well you play against them and how often you capitalize on the mistakes they make will be the key part of your success. Yes, luck plays a part in poker, just as it does in roulette or blackjack, but if you get terrible cards in poker, you always have the option to fold and minimize your losses. This is exactly the reason the best poker players keep ramping up their bankrolls, and it's the same faces you see so often on TV during the top poker tournaments.


LESSON #2: Low stakes poker strategy guide