(or) If You Would Automatically Bet on Cam, You’re Not Thinking Like a Poker Player
Teaching poker to sixty people in Charlotte, North Carolina, most of whom were novices, was quite a treat. The leadership and vision of Jennifer Basara made this event happen. As the creator of the Queen City Shootout, Jennifer works tirelessly to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
I started my talk by asking the group who they would bet on if I was racing quarterback phenom Cam Newton in the 100-yard dash. “Cam,” they all shouted. Right away I knew the group was thinking: what in the world has this got to do with poker?
I rattled off a bunch of scenarios for this race and then told them that the answer to this question is the same as the answer to every question in poker:
Poker is about thinking and decision-making and I wanted to get them using those muscles. “What if I started 80 yards ahead?” I asked. That took us to our first lesson in poker: start with good cards. If every hand is a race, the best thing you can do is start by leading. But if you don’t know what’s coming on the flop, how do you know if you’re leading? That line of thinking has led many Texas Hold’em players to say, “Any two will do.”
I agree that unless you’re clairvoyant, you don’t know what cards are coming—just like you don’t know what horse or runner is going to win the race. But when you have a head start—which in poker means starting with good cards—you give yourself an advantage. Any two won’t do. For beginners, a good rule of thumb is to have a pair or two face cards before investing any money in the pot. Does that mean to always have a pair or two face cards?
If you’re not leading or you’re not the fastest/best runner/player, you need a big incentive to chase. In other words, if you don’t have a great hand, you need to be getting the right odds to invest money. If you were getting 100 to 1 odds, you might bet on me to beat Cam. The return justifies the risk because there’s some chance he could trip or pull a hamstring. In poker, you can play 7-8 suited even if you know your opponent has a pair of aces if you stand to win $50 and it only costs $5 to play.
Just when these aspiring rounders seemed to be catching on, I threw them another curveball. “The players who win the most pots in poker lose the most money,” I said. Poker is about maximizing wins and minimizing losses. Those who win the most pots play the most hands and have no concern for minimizing losses—so they lose. Poker, unlike craps, blackjack or day-trading, is not a game of action. It’s a game of patience and the ability to fold hands and only play when you have an edge is paramount to success.
Then I hit them with an expert tip. When the flop comes, instead of watching the cards (they’re not going anywhere), watch the other players for their immediate reaction. If their first instinct is to look down at their chips, it probably means they have a good hand. Of course no poker lesson would be complete without Mike Caro’s first rule of tells: “strong is weak and weak is strong.” I explained that a player staring you down and trying to intimidate you is probably over-compensating for a weak hand and bluffing. The player looking away, acting “weak,” is likely trying to suck you in. Is that always the case?
- Use an “It Depends” approach for every decision.
- Start the race with a lead. Be patient and only play good cards.
- Only chase if you are getting a big incentive.
- When the flop comes, “fit or fold.” Only continue playing if your cards connect with the community cards.
- Be tight and aggressive. When in doubt, pump it (raise) or dump it (fold).
- Understand position and play more aggressively when you are last to act.
- Walk in your opponents’ shoes and think about what they have.
These guidelines are only a start. Add the desire to continually learn and work on your game, and you may be on your way to becoming a poker champion. Are these seven bits of wisdom enough to make you the winner of this year’s Queen City Shootout?