December 27, 2010

The Theory of Poker

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As previously noted, I don’t have a good track record with online poker. I resolved that before playing again (since I still have a little money online) I would read David Sklansky’s The Theory of Poker (published by 2+2) through twice, take notes and write a review. Hopefully somewhere in that process some poker knowledge has seeped into my cerebrum.

The Theory of Poker was first published in 1987, long before the domination of No Limit Texas Hold’em in televised poker and the subsequent poker boom. Thus it doesn’t focus on any particular form of poker, instead providing examples from various types of the game. Having said that, in my reading I concentrated on advice applicable to online Hold’em, as that is what I play.

This book tackles poker from a very logical point of view informed by maths (basic arithmetic – nothing too hard). There is reams of good advice (I ended up with 8 pages of notes), all explained simply but precisely. Much of the advice has caveats or exceptions, but this is because poker is a complex and highly situational game. I felt I learnt a lot reading this book, but the test will be if I play better now. Below are my condensed notes – little reminders I will look over before playing my next few games.

  • Poker is about winning money, not pots. Try to maximise your winning pots and minimise the losing ones. If you are playing with positive Expected Value and lose, don’t be concerned – it should even out over time.
  • Know the Pot odds you are betting as this often determines whether a call is worthwhile. Knowing what odds your opponent is getting affects what your bet size should be. Remember that pot odds can be decreased by more bets to come (effective odds) and by larger winnings if your bet pays off (implied odds).
  • You normally want to win the big pots straight away.
  • You must have a strong hand to slowplay.
  • If you have a hand worth calling, then it is probably worth a bet (if you think you have the best hand then it is often best to bet). Remember it is better to make a mistake on a bet than lose a pot.
  • When deciding whether to bet, what are the odds you have the best hand if called. Some hands will be folded.
  • Semi-bluffing is a useful technique – the best defence against it is often to raise or fold.
  • Drawing hands are better in loose games or those where the pot increases greatly between rounds (implied odds) – as they are more likely to pay off.
  • Most people bluff too much. Normally best to bluff only after all cards dealt. Try to bluff in a game theory correct manner.
  • Adjust your game to fit your opponents and the structure of the game.
  • Consider the range of hands your opponent may have and eliminate based on events. Use general categories (bad, mediocre, good or great) rather than actual hands. Choose action that wins most and loses least.
  • Against weaker players just play solid and straightforward.

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