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HomePokerEdge.com features original articles and reviews on a variety of poker topics, poker books and products.


12 Ideas for Improving Your Poker Play


It takes time to learn and develop the skills needed to become a consistent winning playing poker. Here are 12 ideas intended to shorten the learning curve.

1. Read. It seems that few players actually take the time and effort to read any books or articles about poker. Reading is an important method of improving your play, especially for a beginning player. First focus on general poker information like the rules of play, hand ranking, probabilities, pot odds. Next should come learning about tactics and strategies and when and how to apply them. Finally, focus on specific poker game variations at a more advanced level. Yes, it will cost money to buy some books, but playing losing poker will cost money, too.

2. Observe. Observe the players in your game and learn from them. Observe the bad players as well as the good ones. The better players will teach you what to do right. The bad players will show you what not to do. This is especially important if you play in a home game with the same players session after session. You must develop a sense of their typical play in specific situations. Careful observation over time is the only way to accomplish that.

3. Learn the tendencies of the others. When you play with the same group of players it is very important to learn their tendencies. An important example is to learn what each player will consider a playable hand in each of the games you play. That will give you an idea of what kind of hand you will need to beat them. If Joe will only show down a 7-low or better you will know not to play an 8-low against him.

4. Develop your own standards. The first decision to make in any poker game is deciding if your starting hand should be played or folded. That important decision should not be made on whims and hunches. It should be based on objective criteria that you have set for each game. For the mainstream games like hold’em and stud you can find criteria for starting hands in books and articles. For the numerous odd poker variations you may encounter in home games you have to develop your own standards based on your observations and analysis (as well as our many playing tips) of each game. As much as possible try to select starting hands that give yourself multiple ways to win, especially in high-low split games. Use the technique described in the section on practice to help you.

5. Think. Think about the games you play for a few minutes prior to each session, perhaps during the drive. Imagine scenarios in your mind and then consider the different things you might do if these situations arose. Analyze the options you have identified and determine which might be the best and under what circumstances. This is sort of like creating contingency plans. It is a lot easier to make the correct decision during the game if you’ve thought about it beforehand. After the game think some more about what happened, both good and bad.

6. Discuss. Success in poker requires the development of critical thinking skills. Critical thinking skills involve assessing situations, identifying a goal, formulating a plan of action, implementing the plan and analyzing results. These skills are difficult to develop by yourself. They are more readily developed by discussing poker with other players and getting their feedback and point of view. You and your discussion partner should focus on prodding one another to explain not only what you did, but, more importantly, to explain in detail why or how you arrived at the decision to do it.


7. Practice. Try this for a short while every so often. Deal yourself a starting hand. Look at it and think about it. What would be the best hand you could make with it? What are the chances of that happening? What’s the most likely hand you’ll end up with? Would it be good enough to win? Should you toss it away or play it? Do this several times so that you can more easily recognize what a great, good, average and poor hand looks like. Then deal out the rest of the hand and see what happens. Did things happen the way you thought?

8. Learn 5 card draw. While it is no longer one of the more popular poker variations, understanding 5 card draw can help a lot in other poker games. Since there are no exposed cards you must make all your judgments based upon your hand and the actions of the other players. It is an excellent learning tool for matching drawing probabilities with pot odds, estimating the type and strength other players hands simply from their actions, recognizing how strong your hand has to be to win, as well as many other poker concepts. Take the time to memorize the common drawing probabilities. It will help in estimating your chances for improvement in many other poker games.

9. Play. This is the best way to learn and improve as well as the most enjoyable. Seek to apply the lessons you learned elsewhere to actual game situations as best you can. After the game think about what went well and what didn’t. Try to be objective and analyze it. Just because you won does not mean you made good decisions. Just because you lost does not mean you made poor ones.

10. Learn from mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes in all the things they do. It is part of life. The redeeming feature of mistakes is that we learn from them, if we take the time to objectively reflect upon them. Do this with your poker experiences. Do not overlook the opportunity learn from other peoples mistakes as well. Watch the other players and try to recognize when they have made an error and why their action was incorrect in that particular situation. Learning from your own mistakes costs money. Learning from others is free.

11. Keep records. Keep a record of each time you play and how much you win or lose. This gives you an objective measure of your progress and improvement over time.

12. Keep secrets. If you tell the other players that you are reading, thinking and preparing for playing poker against them you are doing yourself a disservice. Don’t do it. If you want to win money from them you do not want them to know or think you are an improving player or might be getting better than they are. They might copy your example and start playing better.

The 3 Most Important Poker Decisions


In poker you have to make decisions repeatedly. To be successful, you have to make the correct decisions a high percentage of the time. Here are what many believe to be 3 of the most important decisions in poker.

1. Deciding who to play against. Poker is a game of skill. If you consistently play against players who are better than you it will be difficult to win. Ideally, you want to try to play against players who are no better than you. If you are playing in home games that draw from a relatively large player pool you can accomplish this by trying to avoid games where most of the players have superior skills compared to you and accept the invitations to play in games where you are more evenly matched.

You can also do this to a degree when playing on-line or in a casino. As you would expect, in general, the higher the stakes, the higher the skill levels of the players. You therefore try to find the stakes level where your skills are equal to or better than the average player. You can also change tables if you feel uncomfortable with the other players.

2. Deciding to enter each hand. The first decision you make at the start of every hand is whether you will fold it or play it. Thus, your starting hand selection is very important. Obviously, there are many things to consider in making this decision and it can be very complicated. Your objective at the start of every hand is to determine if you are likely to have either the best hand right then, or have a reasonable draw to a hand that, if you make it, is likely to win.

3. Deciding to fold. Folding your hand can be a very difficult decision and it is one that players are often reluctant to make. It is much easier (and much more fun) to continue playing. After all, that’s what you joined the game to do. But, consider the mathematics. If you are in an 8 player game you would expect, on average and over the long term, to win 1 hand out of every 8 played. Thus, it would be reasonable to think that in order to be a winner you must win more money in the 1 hand you win than you lose in the 7 hands you don’t win, right? Yes and no. Try not to think of it in terms of winning more. Rather, think of it in terms of losing less in the hands you don’t win. After all, you are not going to win 7 times out of 8, so the folding decisions will come up much more frequently. You lose less by folding when you are likely to be beaten instead of chasing and losing more money.

Book Review


Friendly Poker - How to Host, Play and Love the Classic American Poker game. Mark A. Cochran. Gatekeeper Press. 2016

Have you ever thought about all the things it takes to achieve a truly exceptional home poker game? Mark Cochran has. A lot. In his new book Friendly Poker, Cochran takes a thoughtful, detailed and interesting look at the game enjoyed by millions from a viewpoint he describes as "friendly poker". Friendly poker is all about having fun, competing and showing off as well as creating and participating in an exceptional and enjoyable experience.

The book is written in an easy to read, conversational style. It is as if the author were chatting with the reader, sharing the knowledge acquired in 40+ years of playing and hosting poker games. His devotion to poker is quite evident. It is clear he has considered at great length the myriad of factors that make a great dealer's choice home poker game. Additionally, he articulates things that the vast number of poker players either take for granted or have never thought about.

Friendly Poker explores topics such as the atmosphere of the game, including the "friendliness dilemma", a balance between maintaining positive personal relationships while engaging one another in cut-throat competition. It examines the critical choice of selecting compatible players, balancing skill levels and player reliability. Cochran describes at length key environmental factors that impact player enjoyment, and proposes what he feels are the best house rules for friendly poker. Cochran outlines essential skills and strategies that players should possess. Lastly, he describes and comments on numerous poker game variations that he feels contribute to the fun of playing in a friendly dealer's choice poker game.

Significant emphasis is placed on creating the proper physical environment. He sees an important goal for any poker host being the creation of an atmosphere that enables players to be comfortable and truly enjoy themselves. Having fun becomes a function of the experience, not the winning or losing of money. Cochran insists that one can win money without enjoyment and, so long as the experience is right, be thrilled even if losing. Details such as having the right set of chips, cards, comfortable table and chairs, and the right music and food take on great importance.

Cochran offers what he considers to be the best house rules stressing that the "best rules" are those that support the objectives of having fun, competing, and showing off. He also examines rules in relation to five key principles: re-enforcing friendly competition, emphasizing skill over luck, emphasizing simple over complex, maintaining consistency and prompting speed of play. He describes and recommends adoption of an interesting alternative to traditional high-low declarations in split pot games, while admitting that it takes a bit of learning.

One theme of Friendly Poker is protecting players from uncomfortably high losses. Cochran's reasoning is that excessive money loss leads to players leaving early or causes them to drop out of playing altogether. Rather than reducing the stakes, his remedy is to recommend the institution of a loss limit system. The system is intriguing and would seem to achieve the stated objective, but seems a bit complicated, particularly until a group becomes accustomed to it.

The chapter on skills and strategy is similar to other "how to play poker" books. What is significantly different is that he encourages players to engage in post-hand discussions and share the reasoning behind their playing decisions. This, of course, is contrary to the conventional wisdom of holding one's poker knowledge close to the vest and revealing as little as possible. But, Cochran considers this an opportunity for players to learn with the ultimate long term goal being that all the players are equally matched and skillful, further contributing to optimum conditions for his friendly poker game.

There are 100's of books that teach casino-style poker. Not so for the home poker game. Virtually all our understanding and knowledge for a home poker game has traditionally passed, with seemingly infinite variations, from one player to another. New players learn games, rules and customs simply based upon what they have been exposed to. Experienced players are often unwittingly mired in a "that's the way we've always played" mentality. Typically, neither has considered if there are alternative ways. Cochran analyzes and dissects the home poker game, then re-assembles it into a carefully constructed experience. He puts forth an abundance of ideas, provides detailed and logical explanations for them, and then encourages us to test them for ourselves. Friendly Poker is a worthy roadmap to enhancing our own friendly home poker game experience.