Like a house, poker requires a foundation. Only when that foundation is solidly in place can you proceed to build on it. When all the structural elements are in place, you can then add flourishes and decorative touches. But you can't begin embellishing it until the foundation has been poured, the building framed, and all the other elements that come before it are in place. That's the purpose here: to put first things first — to give you a basic understanding of what you need before you begin to play.
Planning and discipline
Some poker players, and it's no more than a handful, really do have a genius for the game — an inexplicable, Picasso-like talent that isn't easily defined and usually has to be seen to be believed. But even in the absence of genius — and most winning players certainly are not poker savants — poker is an eminently learnable skill. Inherent ability helps, and while you need some talent, you really don't need all that much. After all, you don't have to be Van Cliburn to play the piano, Picasso to paint, or Michael Jordan to play basketball. What you do need to become a winning player are discipline and a solid plan to learn the game.
- Plotting a strategy: If you aspire to play winning poker, then you need a plan to learn the game. While the school of hard knocks may have sufficed as the educational institution of choice 20 or 30 years ago, most of today's better poker players have added a solid grounding in poker theory to their over-the-table experiences. You can find a slew of information to help you learn the game — in books, magazines, and online.
- Discipline: All the strategic knowledge in the world does not guarantee success to any poker player. Personal characteristics are equally important. Success demands a certain quality of character in addition to strategic know-how. Players lacking self-discipline, for example, have a hard time ever winning consistently regardless of how strategically sophisticated they may be. If one lacks the discipline to throw away poor starting hands, then all the knowledge in the world can't overcome this flaw.
- Knowledge without discipline is merely unrealized potential. Playing with discipline is a key to avoiding losing your shirt — or your shorts.
If you can learn to play poker at a level akin to that of a journeyman musician, a work-a-day commercial artist, you will be good enough to win consistently. You don't have to be a world champion like Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, or Tom McEvoy to earn money playing poker. The skills of a good journeyman poker player enable you to supplement your income, or — better yet — earn your entire livelihood at the game. If you go on to become the very best poker player you can be, that should be more than enough to ensure that you will be a lifelong winning player.
The object of the game
The objective of poker is to win money by capturing the pot, which contains bets made by various players during the hand. A player wagers a bet in hopes that he has the best hand, or to give the impression that he holds a strong hand and thus convince his opponents to fold (abandon) their hands. Because money saved is just as valuable as money won, knowing when to release a hand that appears to be beaten is just as important as knowing when to bet. In most poker games, the top combination of five cards is the best hand.
Number of players
Any number of players, typically from two to ten, can play, depending on the game. Most casino games are set up with eight players for a seven-card game like Stud poker or Razz, and nine or ten players for Texas Hold'em.
Most forms of poker involve a standard 52-card deck. For Draw poker and Lowball, a joker, or "bug," is sometimes added to the deck. It's not a wild card per se, but it can be used in Draw poker as an additional ace, or to complete a straight or flush. In Lowball, the joker is used as the lowest card that does not pair your hand. For example, if you held 7-6-2-A-Joker, it would be the same as if you held 7-6-3-2-A.
Whether you use pennies or peanuts to bet with at home, nothing beats the feel of real poker chips. Originally made of clay, chips now come in a durable composite or plastic.
The plastic ones are a bit more slippery than the composite and, thus, are more difficult to handle.
Chips are available in a wide range of colors and patterns. The designs and "edge spots" you see on casino chips vary because of security reasons, but the colors generally follow a set of traditional dollar values:
Purple or Lavender
If you want to add a dose of Vegas-style playing to your home game, then try using real chips. Following is a list of the number of chips you'll need:
3 to 4 players
5 to 6 players
7 to 8 players
Large games or multiple games