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How Poker Strategy for Beginners Has Changed

| June 2, 2022 8:39 am PDT
People sitting around a poker table, "Not Your Grandpa's Poker Game" centered

In the beginning, there was no poker strategy for beginners. Unless you call repeatedly losing at the game “a strategy.” I guess that is a strategy, but not a strategy anyone would want to employ for any length of time.

Seriously speaking, playing poker, even at a moderate level, requires skills and abilities that take years and a lot of hard work to master.

But even that isn’t enough. A poker strategy that made perfect sense ten years ago might cost you in today’s world of poker.

In terms of what’s in and what’s out, this blog is our attempt to acquaint the beginning player with what once worked, what works now—and what they might experience in the future.

So, your beginner poker strategy will have to change from what you learned at your daddy’s knee. Before you head on over to the best online casinos let’s look at how that strategy has changed in just the past few decades.

In the Beginning

Family playing poker

Okay, maybe not that far back, mostly because I doubt Adam and Eve were playing much five-card draw while they munched on apples. True, that argument between Cain and Abel might have been over an ace that may or may not have been dealt from the bottom of the deck, but still….

As recently as 40 years ago, we all learned poker the old-fashioned way: Playing with relatives and friends in nickel-dime-quarter games where the deal rotated from chair to chair, and the game was “dealer’s choice.”

You might play as many as 50 hands on a single Saturday night! And if you were lucky, one of your relatives might point out that you shouldn’t draw to an inside straight. Good to know, right?

That’s quite different from today’s world of online poker rooms, where you can easily play multiple poker tables at once, playing hundreds of hands in one sitting. Sure, you learn faster because you’re playing more. But you’re also risking more.

My motto is “Never learn so much you no longer have cab fare.”

And the Lord Said: Let There Be Sklansky

Poker books

Way back in 1976, David Sklansky published his book titled Hold’em Poker. This was a complete guide on how to play the game, along with plenty of strategy and tips for the game that was suddenly catching everyone’s attention.

Among other innovations, Sklansky invented the “Sklansky Bucks” concept, a tool that enables us to see the big picture from various hands—something beneficial when your AA gets cracked by AK.

Shortly after Sklansky’s Hold’em Poker hit the bookstores, Doyle Ftwo ye stepped in with his self-published book, How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker (first published in 1978, the book was later released as Super/System).

Sklansky and Brunson became synonymous with poker and poker strategy, and their works became the bibles for budding bluffers everywhere.

While Sklansky concentrated on hold’em, Brunson’s book included sections covering various poker games, many of which were written by other poker experts of the day, including Mike Caro (“Draw Poker”), Chip Reese (“7-card stud”), and Bobby Baldwin (“Limit Texas Hold’em”).

Even Sklansky wrote a section for Brunson’s Super/System—interestingly enough, it was not about Texas Hold’em, but rather, “Seven-card stud high-low split.”

By the way, Bobby Baldwin was the youngest person ever to win the World Series of Poker Main Event. He was 28 when he won the 1978 WSOP Main Event.

Even as important as Super/System was to the world of poker, it wasn’t on the New York Times Best-Seller list. Sure, it was well-regarded, but it wasn’t on every bookshelf. But for poker fans, the book standardized and codified poker strategy for years to come, and many players claim it is still one of the most useful strategy books in the poker world.

Still, most poker players considered playing “tight and aggressive” the alpha and omega of poker strategy.

Oh, and let’s not forget Dan Harrington, who wrote a series of books about tournament hold’em in the early 2000s. And more importantly, in 2010, he wrote one of the first—and arguably the best—books on online poker play.

One of the strategies Harrington championed was “small-ball” poker, which capitalized on playing weaker hands with a selectively aggressive style. This strategy gained some serious traction among the growing throngs swarming the online poker tables.

More Opponents+Better Skills=Priceless Experience

Annette Obrestad

There was a time when it was a well-known fact that no human being could run a mile in under four minutes. The science, as they say, was settled.

And then, in 1954, a British athlete named Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds.

More importantly, that record stood exactly 46 days before some Australian guy named John Landy bested Bannisters’ time with a mile run in 3 minutes and 57.9 seconds.

My point here is simple: For human beings, it’s often just enough to know that something can be done to accomplish it ourselves. And then to better it.

Here’s an example a tad closer to our subject matter
In 2007, an 18-year-old named Annette Obrestad won a 180-player online sit ‘n go without looking at her hole cards. She admitted later that she did check her hole cards once, in an all-in situation, but otherwise, she played blind.

I doubt many of us would attempt a similar feat, but the fact that Obrestad was able to do it is both daunting and inspiring. Two years after Obrestad’s blind sit ‘n go win, 21-year-old Joe Cada won the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Poker players are getting better. And they are reaching higher levels of expertise much earlier. Easy access to an endless line of mobile poker rooms will do that, I reckon.

Right around the same time Obrestad was winning her blind sit-‘n go tourney and Cada was taking his seat at the WSOP final table, an upstart company called YouTube was creating channels where people could post videos of just about anything.

As it happens, some of the most popular videos covered various aspects of poker play, from recognizing tells to understanding exactly why differing your play according to your proximity to the dealer was so important.

Poker Is Not for the Faint of Heart

A multitude of poker pulpits arose to minister to the growing crowds of new poker players, all yearning for miracles. And the sermon most popular was surprising, a modern trait man has spent centuries beating out of itself: Aggression.

Before the internet built up a full head of steam, the prevailing philosophy in poker was aggression.

The 1998 film Rounders (which many consider one of the all-time best movies about hold’em) has Matt Damon’s character explaining his poker play like this: If it’s good enough to call, you gotta be in there raising, all right? I mean tight but aggressive, and I do mean aggressive. That’s your style, Professor. I mean you gotta… you gotta think of it as a war.”

That strategy worked well then. And it works well enough now, particularly in beginner-level games. But as more people studied that style of play, the world learned of various counter-strategies.

One of those counter-strategies—Harrington’s small-ball loose-aggressive play—was gaining ground against the TAG player. The loose-aggressive player was preyed upon by three-betting opportunists and continuation betting.

A good poker player has the tools (or will acquire them at their earliest convenience) necessary to battle any type of player using any type of strategy.

The golden age of poker playing is right now.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math

Everybody knows there are 52 cards in the standard deck of playing cards. And everybody with an older brother knows how the game “52-card pick-up” is played. But beyond that, how much math do we employ while playing poker?

Back in the day, you had to know your outs—the number of cards theoretically available to improve your hand enough to win.

But what about implied odds? Pot odds? Reverse implied odds? Sklansky Bucks?

Anyone? Bueller?

While reverse implied odds aren’t necessarily something you need to concern yourself with while learning strategy for first-time poker players, the ability to calculate them is a solid skill that you will want to understand because, depending on your ambition, you will want it in your poker toolbox.

Incidentally, if you want to start that part of your poker education now, you can find the answers to most of those questions with how to how to win at poker games.

Sure, an intimate knowledge of these formulas goes beyond what anyone should reasonably expect while beginning to play poker. But the need for skill and facility with formulas will come into play soon in your poker career—perhaps much sooner than you think.

Get used to doing the math while still playing the cheap tables. Your later self—the one at the final tables in the tourney—will be eternally grateful.

All About the HUD

Poker tracker HUD

Not particularly useful in real life play (for reasons that will become obvious), the Heads-Up Display (HUD) is a vastly important tool that only came into being (in the poker world, anyway) when the online poker rooms began springing up all over the imaginary world of the world wide web.

A poker HUD is a stand-alone program or app on whatever device you’re using to play online poker. A couple of the more popular poker analysis programs are Poker Tracker and Holdem Manager.

These programs can track virtually every statistic possible, including everything about your own play and your opponents. They also display information on your screen, said info superimposed over the actual hands being played.

The programs maintain a history of not only your statistics and play but that of your opponents, as well.

Should you use a poker analysis tool? Well, odds are your opponents are using one. The only people at a disadvantage here are those who don’t have a good poker analysis app running.

With the widespread understanding that poker is a game of attrition vs. gains, people have learned that keeping track of historical play information is more important than just knowing your hand had three outs for the nuts.

Spoiler Alert: The Secret Word is “Online”

Global interconnectivity

Almost every major change in beginning poker strategy in the past thirty years can be laid at the feet of the Internet. To the poker world, it was the Guttenberg printing press meeting medieval scribes. It was the internal combustion engine vs. horses.

Like many other fields of endeavor, the internet changed poker forever.

Today, hundreds of millions of people had access to how-to information unavailable a few decades ago. They have access to formulae that are simple to learn and are also time-tested to consistently provide helpful information to the poker player.

And in a game based on how well you do with limited information, anything that improves that is a plus.

One of the fastest ways to become cognizant of the many, many tools you can use in perfecting your poker play is to check out what others are saying about it below.

Reddit Poker Tips That Can Transform How You Play

I recently browsed through some of the best poker tips Reddit users have provided over the years. Surprisingly, I got pulled in by some of them. Although there were a lot of predictable cliches and regurgitated tropes to swim through, a little digging found...

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What Does This Mean for the Beginning Poker Player?

Room full of poker players

We all start in the same place at the poker table. We all have to go through the various stages of knowledge until we reach the level where we feel confident that we can hold our own in a neighborhood game.

But with legions of poker players out there waiting, all with the total resources of the world’s largest lending library, the beginner will need to step up their own game. And that can seem daunting when you’re first setting out on your personal poker quest.

But hey—if an 18-year-old girl from Norway (is that even a country?) can win a poker tournament without looking at her hole cards, and a kid barely old enough to buy liquor can win the World Series of Poker Main Event—well, you know it can be done.

So, get out there and do it.

When you’re ready, try out one of our best poker sites for beginners.

J.W. Paine
J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at GamblingSites.com. He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with thoroughbred horseracing, poker, blackjack, and slots.

More Posts by J.W. Contact J.W.



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