Texas Hold'em For Dummies
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Everybody makes mistakes as they play cards. The wise learn and get better. The rest pull out another bill and feed everyone else at the table.

Playing too many starting hands

This is, by far, the biggest mistake that beginning and intermediate Hold'em players make. Sometimes there's a sense of passion behind it: like being on a losing streak so you start steaming and play more hands; or maybe you're on a winning streak and just want to rack up even more chips. There may even be a vendetta involved — you hate that idiot at the end of the table, so you start playing whenever you can to beat him.

Whatever the reason, the more hands you play, the more money you're putting on the table. And this ultimately means that you need to win more (or bigger) hands. The law of averages will tell you that you will hit your limit of how much you should expect to win way before you play a huge number of starting hands.

If you start getting desperate, don't play so many hands. Instead, concentrate on putting more firepower behind the hands that are legitimately good.

Playing tired

Don't underestimate the raw toll that fatigue takes on your game. Poker can put you in a zombielike state where you play for hours on end. If you find that you're having trouble thinking, stop and play later.

Ignoring what you know about players at your table

You should be keeping a close eye on all your opponents and as you do, you'll pick up tricks, hints, and characteristics about them.

If you know something about an opponent that's warning you that the hand you have is a loser, you should fold. Make sure to consider any or all of the following:

  • The way your opponent is betting in a given situation
  • The types of cards she tends to play at his current table position
  • The way the board will interact with the cards he tends to play

Yes, it's hard to drop a good hand, but it's much harder watching your money walk over and sit in front of someone else.

Becoming impatient

In Limit games when you go card dead, you may sit for several orbits before playing a hand. This makes the little demon on your shoulder say something like, "Hey man, you're here to play poker not to watch everyone else play," and the next thing you know you're in a hand that you shouldn't be playing.

There's an added impatience problem these days, too, and that is that a lot of players learn and play on the Internet where games are extremely fast. When they fall into the brick-and-mortar world, it feels like playing in a swimming pool filled with molasses to them. Action, action, action is what they want, want, want.

Don't always try to make the big plays happen. Let the cards come to you first.

Staying too long in a tough game

You are not the best poker player in the world and you probably never will be. When you buy that, it shouldn't take you too long to agree that some of the better players in the world may be sitting at your very poker table.

If you're up against a hard table, or a particularly bad combination of players, find a better game. In a professional card room, you can always ask for a table change (it won't weird them out — people do this all the time); online you can always just click on another table (or go to another site). If you're playing at a single-table joint, just pack it in for the day.

Losses are hard on your bankroll as well as your poker playing self-esteem. Don't torture yourself.

Letting your emotions get the best of you

Q: How can you make a bad beat even worse?

A: By letting it get the best of you psychologically, going on tilt, and destroying your bankroll hand after hand.

Yes, you will lose poker hands by someone drawing their highly unlikely outs. Yes, someone will call with some hand he should have dropped and flop some monster five-card hand. It can, does, and will happen. (And no, it doesn't mean the online poker site you're playing at is rigged.)

When you hit a big loser like that, you have to psychologically let it go. A bad beat is hard enough on your bankroll for that single hand; don't let it carry you through the rest of a session.

If you don't have the personality that will let you just shrug it off and play the next hand, just take a quick walk around the card room. It'll help you adjust and deal with what's happened, and then you can sit back down, settle back down, and play your best game.

Treating your Internet money like it's fake

When you buy in online, you lose the association you have with your money. It's very different from a brick-and-mortar card room where you pull out a roll of greenbacks and hand 'em over. In the online world, you fill out a couple of electronic forms, type in a couple of passwords and you're off and running.

Lose a little here? No problem. Buy in again over there? "Sure, why not, I already transferred the money from my bank account anyway."


That money you're playing is real, honest-to-goodness cash that could be going to taking your sweetheart out to dinner, buying that jacket you want, or investing for the down payment on a house. The moment you get cavalier about the cash you spend online is the very point that you're in danger.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Mark “The Red” Harlan was born in Rawlins, Wyoming, and has lived exactly the life you’d expect as a result. Armed with a degree in Applied Mathematics (from a university he loathes so much that he refuses to even utter the name), he fell headlong into a 20-year stint in the Silicon Valley’s computer industry.
Red’s professional experience includes human-interface work at Apple Computer, development of the bidding schema used by eBay, overseeing application development at Danger (makers of the T-Mobile Sidekick), as well as co-founding CyberArts Licensing (suppliers of the poker software seen on the MANSION and GamesGrid sites).
At the tender age of 8, he won a pinewood derby competition in the Cub Scouts, giving him his first heavy swig of victory that would forever warp his oh-so-soft-and-pliable mind. Under the influence of this experience, he started playing poker that same year (“might as well win money if you’re going to win”) and became good enough by 2005 to be a net money winner in that year’s World Series of Poker.
Red is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and has an extensive writing background ranging from penning InfoWorld’s Notes from the Fringe during the heyday of the Internet, to being lead author of the book he thinks everyone should own (his mom does): Winning at Internet Poker For Dummies (Wiley).
Red maintains a Web site of poker articles at www.redsdeal.com and welcomes non-spam e-mail at [email protected] (be sure to include the +).

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