Poker Lesson 16

On poker philosophy: Learning the game for life
There exists a classic quote from the American writer Michael Pertwee. The young man asks his father "Dad, how long does it take to learn how to play poker?" and his father replies, with a solemn face: "All of your life, my son."

There is an important truth here, and one which you should take to heart. Achieving success in poker requires most of the same qualities you must possess in order to achieve success in golf, ocean racing or football: hard work and mental discipline. There are no shortcuts to success, and definitely not in poker.

One of the fascinating factors about poker is that it is, at the same time, both incredibly simple and incredibly complex. Anyone can, after fifteen minutes of basic instructions, sit down at a poker table and join in the game – and thanks to the luck factor take home a profit right off, on the very first evening.

But the game of poker has many layers; and the deeper you dig, the more complex they will become.

Another important truth is this one: most poker players do not strive to improve their game. They will play in the same manner evening after evening, year after year, and they will not understand a number of situations at the table. But if YOU are willing to invest time and work when it comes to continually improving your play, you will in the long run make a steady profit from your lazier opponents.

There are many "tools" which you can use to actively improve your poker skills: this continuing series of lessons here is one of them; and good instruction DVD's, computer software, and discussion sites on the Internet are others. Foremost, however, are quality books on poker. Buy or borrow a number of them, and study them as you would study school books: starting with beginner's books and, eventually, moving up to more complicated ones on advanced poker theory and psychology. Used wisely, these books will improve your theoretical knowledge of the game immensely. And as you progress in your "studies", make sure you apply and experiment with your new knowledge in practical play. If you are involved in an important, interesting, or just "different" hand, write down the details carefully and analyze it afterwards: what happened and why, and whether you could have played the hand better.

If you have a reliable friend who is also interested in improving his or her game and working with you, so much the better. Together you can analyze your respective play, afterwards constructively criticize the moves that were made, and so together dig deeper into the intricacies if the game and lay the foundations for a solid, knowledgable, skilled, mistake-free poker that will turn you into a money winner.

Remember that there is more than one winning style; find out what suits you best. Some top players, like former World Champions Chris Ferguson and Dan Harrington, use a solid, "quiet" style based on game theory and mathematics; while other but equally winning players, like Gus Hansen and Phil Ivey, employ a "flashier" and more aggressive style aimed at outplaying weaker opponents. Eventually, you will find out what suits you yourself best, and how you can vary your game.

And, while all the time playing inside your own economical "comfort level", be prepared for the fact that every now and then, you will have losing sessions along the way – they are simply part of poker. But if you afterwards analyze and learn from the moves and mistakes made by you and your opponents, even these sessions will prove useful. As former World Champion Doyle Brunson half-jokingly has put it: "It cost me the equivalent of a Cadillac to get good at poker."

There are no shortcuts, if you want to understand the game properly. Getting good at poker requires hard work, and it will take "all of your life" – but it WILL pay off.