I’m relatively sure that this post is going to bore the hell out of any potential readers (not that I am sure I have any potential readers, mind you), but I am going to post it anyway.
I have been playing Texas Hold ’em for several months now, with limited success. I have tried to avoid reading any strategy guides for the game since learning it myself, with no preconceived notions, seems so much more enjoyable than it would be if I was thinking back on what someone else told me I should do in a given situation. It is probably a really bad idea to play the game with no instruction, however I have limited my gaming to (mostly) games that are just for fun, as opposed to the games where you use real money (though I have played a few of those as well and I am still in the positive -of course the only money I have wagered on the game so far has been change).
I have learned a great deal about the game while playing with fake money. Honestly, I think I have learned a lot more about myself than the game, but I think that is the biggest part of getting better. It took me a hell of a long time to figure out that some of my decisions were just plain foolish. I am still making some pretty foolish decisions which, more often than not, lead to me losing the hand and smacking myself on the forehead. However, some of the bad decisions work out in my favor and make me think that if I make the same bad decision later it will work out for me again. It never does.
Do you remember that old Kenny Rogers song The Gambler? I approached Texas Hold ’em with that song in mind (poker training through sappy country songs, it is a marvel that it didn’t work out, eh?). That mantra might work for five card draw, but it certainly doesn’t work in Hold ’em. Hold ’em gives you only two cards, while there are another five that belong to everyone at the table. That is a completely different animal. The song was partially right, but, it turns out that in Texas Hold ’em, you don’t need to “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” All you really need to know is when to fold ’em. Which is most of the time.
It took me a damn long time to wrap my mind around Hold ’em. I was used to playing the five card draw games where I knew that whatever I had no one else did. If you get dealt a pair of aces in draw poker there is no way that anyone else can have three (if they aren’t cheating). If you get dealt the pair of aces in Hold ’em it is entirely possible (however unlikely) that someone else as the same hand. Once I finally got my mind wrapped around that, I started playing a hell of a lot better.
The unfortunate part of Hold ’em, at least for me, is that it requires a hell of a lot of patience. I have had times where I folded before the flop more than ten consecutive times; I even folded from the big blind when I had a shit hand (3-8 off suit) when someone raised. I would guess that I have to fold 80% or more of the time because the cards just aren’t likely to fall my way. Even when I have something that could be good, however unlikely, I usually end up folding it. The 2 and 5 of hearts could be a straight flush, maybe a full house, maybe a three of a kind, maybe a flush, maybe a straight, maybe two pair, maybe one pair, but someone else may have a pair of aces and flop the four of a kind (I must confess that I have yet to actually fold before the flop on any hand where I could possibly get a straight flush. Though I usually do fold immediately after the flop, since it has never gone my way.). It gets tedious and boring at times.
Folding on damn near every hand has its advantages though. When I am in a game and fold five or six consecutive hands, people seem to take notice. So when I get a decent hand and call the bet I am taken more seriously than the guy who tries to bluff every hand (not that he is bluffing per se, just that he figures his 2-7 off suit can turn into a full house with the flop). Usually by time I actually get into a hand there will be a couple of good players with most of the chips, while there will be a couple with virtually no chips. I will have very near what I started with, since I am playing to not lose most of the time, playing to win only when I have a really good hand. The other players at the table seem to figure out that if I am in, while not a blind, I have something. Which is basically the only way that you can bluff in this game.
Now the reason I wrote the post:
So it was that I was dealt The Hammer (2-7), after a half a dozen pre-flop folds, and I decided I would try to bluff. I bet 3x the big blind, expecting no takers, but there were two who called. Shit, it was game over. But, and miraculously, the flop brought up 7,7,2. A betting war ensued. I had the boat, albeit a low boat, I figured the hand was mine. Tons of chips later, we were on to the turn. The turn was a Queen, the betting war continued; I went all in. One of the others walked away ran folded. The other buy called. By this point I was a bit nervous, what did the other guy have?
I will tell you what he had. He had a pair of Queens. Thus, he got two pair from the flop. He also got the boat from the turn, but his boat was way better than mine. While it is not possible to see the other player’s cards (at least on the service I use, even on all in), I figured I was still in good shape. I had my 7-2 boat going for ages now, what could he possibly have? Queens, that is what he could, and did, have. I didn’t realize how close I came to losing until well after the river dropped the final seven. My four of a kind beat his full house. But I came dangerously close to losing that hand.
That was when I decided that I really needed to tighten up a bit and assume that whatever the best possible hand was, someone other than me actually had it, and I was betting against him/her. I end up folding the majority of the time, but I don’t lose nearly as much when I fold as I do when I play through with a really shitty hand.
It was a lesson learned.