Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What is one piece of advice you would give to a beginning player?

I've been using this blog to answer questions that I got during the Mathematical Poker talk I gave last month. In the coming week, I'll answer two or three other questions that I did NOT get. They are sort of standard interview-type questions that I thought I might have to answer during the talk, but they didn't come up. I feel like answering them anyway. The first one I'll address is how what advice I would give to beginning players. I am assuming they will be playing no limit holdem.

If I really had to give only one piece of advice, it would be to play as low stakes as possible and fold almost everything as soon as possible. Most new players play way too many hands, most of which they will have no idea what to do with. Even good players would lose if they played that many hands, and new players will probably lose way more with them.

However, the answer really depends on what you hope to get out of poker. The above advice is good if your goal is to play and lose as little money as possible. However, many players will have other goals. For example, if you have played very little poker and your goal is to:

1. Make money. My advice is: don't play poker. You'll probably lose because your opponents are probably better than you.

2. Get better at poker. First, read a lot. If I can give more than one piece of advice: think about your own hand ranges with each action you take. (If your opponent knew your strategy, would he be able to figure out what you have?) Third, keep track of your results and, if you play online, keep track of your statistics.
Fourth, play lots of hands and raise a lot. (This puts you in the action and gives you lots of experience and you will learn how your opponents react to you. The downside is you will probably lose a lot of money in the meantime.) Fifth, play high stakes. (Again, you'll lose a lot, but this is the fastest way to learn how to win at these stakes.)

3. Get better without losing so much. Same as the previous answer, but skip the fifth point above and moderate the fourth point. I would still advise playing hands that yield slightly -EV because this is a good way to gain experience.

4. Have fun but don't lose too much. Think hard to try to figure out what your opponents have and try to exploit them. If this isn't fun for you, you probably do not like poker. Don't try to trick your opponents too often, because this will lose you money. Play very low stakes, fold a lot, and raise a lot. Folding a lot is not fun, but it is absolutely essential to avoid losing a lot. Make your raises bigger than the size of the pot. If this means putting in more than one quarter of your stack or your opponent's stack, just go all-in. This makes it very hard for better players to take advantage of you.


I didn't get into UPenn Wharton statistics or UMD economics. Those, along with JHU biostat, were probably my only chances at an academic career. I'm still waiting to hear back from three other PhD programs that are less competitive. If it doesn't work out, I always have poker to fall back on! Perhaps I could become a professional blogger. (Or I could try to get a late application in somewhere, like GW econ or UMD Law.)


I signed up for a free Game Theory course offered by Stanford.

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