The Education of a Poker Player

This is a poker strategy book with a difference.

Many poker books, often written by big-name professional players, focus on the advanced tactics you might find useful in top-class poker championships. Often, this isn't, however, what your typical poker player is actually looking for. They want to know how to beat Mike from next door, not Doyle Brunson or Phil Ivey.

If you've never read any poker strategy books, that's great, because this is the place to start - this is strategy for typical players looking to improve the fundamentals of their game.

On the other hand, if you have read poker strategy books or magazines or listened to poker 'experts' on the television, but haven't found that the advice you've received is getting you very far in your home game, then this book is designed to focus your mind on the fundamentals that those other sources of advice often overlook.

Please read these sample chapters to see if this is the sort of book you would enjoy reading:

The Education

of a Poker Player

A Traditional Education

  Poker is an incredible game. Like most great games, the rules are simple. Yet, whilst it takes only minutes to learn how to play, it usually takes some years to learn how to play well.
  Following the dawn of the millennium, poker enjoyed a huge expansion in its popularity. Many millions of new players took up poker, excited by the big-money world championship events or by the poker shows on the television. The internet made poker available in your own living room twenty four hours a day and set out a path to possible fame and fortune for anyone with a telephone line and a computer. You could - and many people did - start off with a few freeroll, online tournaments and work your way to the $10,000-entry World Poker Championships Main Event in Las Vegas.
  Young and old alike took up the game in their millions. Nevertheless, when I sit down at a poker table - whether it's a local game or a casino tournament - I generally find that modern players have rarely received the standard of poker education that I was lucky enough to receive. Frankly, it's like taking candy from a baby!
  Now, I'm a thoroughly modern player - most of my hands have been played on the internet - but I learnt my poker before the internet age and I received a thoroughly traditional poker education.
  I feel very fortunate to have had such a traditional poker upbringing. The modern poker player's education is often very narrow by comparison and, though it can sometimes appear advanced, is often painfully shallow and lacking in a fundamental understanding of the game.
  I've been fascinated by the art of poker since I first took an interest as a teenager. Perhaps it was the saloon bar poker of westerns that first drew me in - a setting and atmosphere we inaccurately recreated in the kitchen of our digs at university during our regular Monday night games. It was there - surrounded by dirty saucepans and with a table almost choked by glasses, ashtrays and cans of cheap lager - that I first learnt to play.
  My poker heart, of course, is still at that kitchen table at college where some of the important lessons, not just of poker, but of life, were learnt!
  I've played poker in swanky London casinos. I've played in Vegas. I've played countless thousands of hands online. I've played heads-up, at full tables and in multi-table tournaments with thousands of entries. I've played for pennies and I've played for big bucks.
  I've played Hold'Em, Omaha, Draw, Stud and some of the most grotesque, bastardised versions of double-barrelled, high-low, two pots to win, with three draws and deuces and sevens wild poker known to mankind.
  I'm not a famous poker player and playing poker is not my day job, but I've gained a lot from playing poker. What I am is someone who can walk into a typical social game or typical casino game in a small town and feel confident that I know what I am doing, confident that there won't be many, and probably not any, people in the game who have anything approaching my wealth of experience or level of expertise.
  Understandably, from my perspective, most poker players don't play very well. Watching a typical game is an experience of witnessing the ineptitude of your average poker player. Most hands are marked by several pieces of bad play, most of which go unnoticed by most other players.
If I were to walk into a typical home game or a typical casino tournament, what I would generally see is a lot of poker players who don't seem to have grasped the fundamentals of the game. They've picked up ideas from other players, from the television or from online games and poker magazines. They get by, but the fundamentals are missing.
  You can play poker, you can play it successfully, yet not really understand what it is about, what it means, its nature and its essence. There are many poker books that teach you the rules of the game. There are many books, often by big-name players, that offer to teach you advanced tactics and strategies - but there are not so many that teach you to truly understand the game.
  Poker books often concentrate on how to play specific hands, on particular tactics and individual plays - but tend to rather skimp over the essential principles of the game. I want to encourage you to be a student, a connoisseur and a scholar of the game, not just another player.


  I want to begin by debunking some of the absurd modern myths about the way we all 'ought' to play poker.
  Much of the poker advice you hear from poker commentators on the TV or read in poker magazines and poker books may actually be of little or no use to you at all - and may very well be highly misleading.
  For example, lots of poker 'experts' go on and on about how 'essential' it is to be aggressive.
  Being aggressive means actively betting rather than just passively calling. More specifically, being 'aggressive' means that you bet strongly and reasonably frequently. You bet with good hands, but also with some marginal hands and sometimes when you have nothing at all. You are, essentially, attacking your opponents with your bets, putting them in difficult situations and forcing them to make tough decisions about whether to fold or to cough up a sizeable amount of dough to stay in the hand. You hope to pick up a lot of small pots when nobody has any particularly good cards. You also hope to be sufficiently boisterous that, when you do have a very good hand, people might suspect you don't have very much and may call you down with a losing hand.
  It sounds like a good strategy and, in some circumstances, it is. Being overly passive is a common fault of many players. They passively call too often and don't do enough active betting. Many players do need to be more aggressive.
  However, the modern fad for being highly aggressive leads some people to believe that trying to bully other players off the table is the only successful way to play.
  In fact, however, being aggressive may not be a very good strategy at all in the circumstances most ordinary players are actually going to find themselves in most of the time in their ordinary home games. This may be especially true when other players at the table are competing in a silly, TV-inspired competition in trying to be the top pit bull at the table.
  Think about this: If you sit and just play tight against good players, they'll bluff you out of most hands and when you do occasionally have a bet with a good hand, they'll just fold and, overall, you won't make any money.
  So, against these players, it makes sense to disguise your good hands by being more 'aggressive' and repeatedly betting with marginal hands or having a bluff with nothing at all, as well as with your good hands. Now you're facing them with a challenge. Now, when you place a bet, they don't know if you've genuinely got the hand or not. You're putting them in a position where they can easily make mistakes. They might fold when you have little or nothing at all - or they might call you when you really do have the goods.
  If you can subtly confuse your opponents and make them guess wrong slightly more often than they guess right, you might make a modest profit. And that's probably all it will be - a very modest profit - as you're often working with fine margins and they'll be trying exactly the same tricks on you as you're trying on them.
  Against good players, this aggression has a point - it's all part of a strategy to deceive and disorientate your opponents. But none of this deception is remotely necessary if your opponents are rank amateurs who just aren't paying attention.
  If you can just bet big when you've got good cards and get called every time, why would you want to use any other strategy? Or, if there are plenty of aggressive players at the table, you can just let them bet and raise and then you can re-raise them and take their money.
  If you do what the pros often recommend and bet aggressively in your typical home game, it might not work and it might be totally counterproductive. The idiots you play against just keep calling and calling - they'll call when you have a good hand, but they'll get their money back by calling you when you're betting with very little. A lot of the time, they won't even notice that you are representing a really good hand. If they have any moderately good hand, they won't be pushed off it by your aggressive betting - they're just not going to let it go!
  In such circumstances, you'll often make much more money by taking far fewer risks and just sitting back and playing almost entirely just with good hands, with only occasional exceptions.
  You'll be playing a fairly standard, old-fashioned, tight and conservative game, with just the occasional stab or minor bluff to throw people off the scent a bit.
  Such a playing style and strategy may be unfashionable - but, in many circumstances, it still works perfectly well and may indeed be far more profitable than the fashionable 'aggressive' tactics commonly used in the modern game.
  In most cases, your opponents won't realise you're only betting with good cards - because, sometimes, you won't get called and people may well assume you were bluffing, even when you weren't. People are suspicious - they can't help it! They'll happily convince themselves you were bluffing whenever they don't know for sure that you weren't.
  Against good players, you may use aggressive play to confuse them. Against poor players, a single bluff can maintain an air of mystery about your play for weeks at a stretch.
  Poker pros, poker books and poker magazines, with their constant insistence that you must play aggressively, are urging you to adopt a strategy that might be marginally profitable against good players (and, even then, only if you play well).
  I've got a much better strategy for you: Don't play against good players! Why scrabble for scraps amongst other good players when you can make a killing off players who don't know their arses from their elbows?
  To make an aggressive strategy work, you usually have to have considerable skill and you have to play well. You've got to know when to stop betting and when to fold to that re-raise, even though you've already put quite a bit into the pot. And that's not something a lot of players find it easy to do. Even when you play it well, it might not be the most profitable strategy anyway.
  Why bother when, in most games, all you have to do is wait for some decent cards, let the idiots bet and call your re-raises and then you can watch the chips gravitate inexorably to your side of the table?
  It's worth emphasising this point again: If you play regularly against highly-skilled players, playing aggressively might be a good strategy - but why the bloody-hell would you want to play against highly-skilled players? You want to play against idiots - and, in all probability, you do!
  Playing hyper-aggressively against the average home game poker player is often either unnecessary or totally counterproductive. Often, aggressive play will simply mean you are taking unnecessary risks when, given a little patience, the money is there to be had for almost no risk at all.
  Poker is not like other games and sports. In other games and sports, players want to test themselves by playing against the best. In poker, picking out weak players, identifying the mark - that's all part of the skill of the game. A poker player who deliberately matches himself up against top-class players - well, they're kind of missing the point of the game! Their ego is getting the better of them - and good poker players don't let that happen.
It's also important to note that some of the poor advice about betting aggressively comes from online poker rooms, the poker magazines they support and the poker pros they have on their payrolls.
  Ask yourself why online poker sites encourage players to bet aggressively. Poker sites often take a 'rake' from each hand - often 5% of the value of the pot. Players betting aggressively against each other allows big pots to develop over even just moderately good cards and thus helps maximise the amount of rake money the house takes from each hand. Is it coincidence that the poker industry encourages so much aggressive betting? I think not!
  Good online players could just sit back and wait to take easy money off the money-laden amateurs who play for fun and expect to lose - but this fashion for being aggressive means even the better players are frantically betting aggressively against each other. This creates big pots more frequently and means that more of the money brought to the table by the amateurs ends up being paid in rake to the house rather than ending up, as it should do, in the bank accounts of the more highly-skilled players at the table.
  The house gets a much bigger profit from the 'aggressive' table than they do from the passive table where the good players sit and wait patiently for the amateurs to give up their stacks.
  When a rake is involved, the main effect of aggressive play is not that the good players will end up with the money of the worst players (These unskilled players were going to lose their money anyway!). The main effect is that much of the money that should have ended up in the hands of the best players, actually ends up being paid to the house in rake - and unnecessarily so!
  The aggressive tactics of modern poker are fashionable, but they are rarely essential and, in your typical home game, in low-stakes online games or in any game where there is a rake, can often be counterproductive.
  I love mixing it up in an aggressive game. I've played a lot of heads-up poker, so I know the benefits of aggressive play as well as anyone, but aggressive play is not the best answer to every poker situation. You don't have to bully the whole table every time you play. On many occasions, you can make more profit by adopting a much quieter, more traditional, less aggressive approach.

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I hope you enjoyed reading it and would like to read more!

'The Education of a Poker Player' is available in both ebook and paperback versions from, and Amazon sites around the world.

It is also available in Apple's iBookstore, in the Kobo and Nook stores, from Google Play Books and at Scribd.

Many thanks to the fantastic Brendan Smith for creating the cover art!