Lesson 2: Mental Preparation and Selecting Your Hand

A quickie but goodie for you today, class.

The game has begun. You’ve received your cards and now it’s time to select your hand. This is the most critical part of your game, since this determines the final outcome.

When making the decision of hand selection, try not to think of the highest overall winning combination. Instead, use your cards to decide your highest-valued hand by considering the most practical winning combination. It’s often that people go for hands that are hard to come by; we think it’s better to stop and take a look around, since there’s usually an easier way.

When it comes to going for the practical winning combination, you can use the poker tools of bluffing and semi-bluffing to keep your opponents off guard. In fact, these tools are necessary when you’re playing at more than just a beginner’s level.

Lesson 1: An Intro to Game and Seat Selection

Good morning, class! Ready for your first lesson? We sure hope so, because it’s an important one. In Lesson 1 we’ll look at a crucial poker concept, one of those strategic moves that many people forget to consider: game and seat selection. Let’s get started.

When entering a poker room, game and seat selection should be at the top of your priority list. When you select a game, go to where you’ve got a handicap. In other words, if you’re ranked #8 on the world’s list of best poker players, it’s not a good idea to sit at a table with players #1 through #7. Then again, if you’re ranked #8 in the world, you probably don’t need poker lessons, do you?

Simply said, if you’re after some money, go sit at a table with inferior competition. Sometimes that includes going to where the limits are lower. Trust us, you’ll be happy you sat at a table of fish when the betting has finished. Even if it takes longer, even if it’s boring, you simply stand a better chance of making money when you play with others who are worse than you. Although it’s sometimes tempting to try your luck at a tough, high-limit table, it’s not usually a guaranteed payoff. It’s often the opposite.

Once you’ve chosen your game and table, you’ll have to choose a seat at that table that earns you the most value for your money. How? Well, since poker is played in a clockwise direction, the money usually flows the same way. Therefore, try to identify players with big bankrolls and loose attitudes. (You’ll get better at this in time.) Once you’ve identified the high rollers, try to sit to their immediate left. That way, most of the betting and raising will be completed by the time the action reaches you. Sneaky, yes—but necessary for survival when you’re just starting out.

Good luck and have fun.

The History of Poker

One of the interesting things about poker is that the game seems to have no commonly agreed birthplace or origin. The history of poker is widely disputed, and it seems to have drawn elements from a variety of earlier games.

One popular belief is that poker was invented by the Chinese around 900 A.D., as a derivation of Chinese dominoes. It’s reported that on New Year’s Eve, 969, the emperor Mu-tsung played “domino cards” with his wife. Whether this early hybrid between dominoes and cards can be identified as a form of poker is, of course, very debatable.

Less debatable is the fact that poker has closer ties with a French game called, similarly, “poque.” The French who settled New Orleans around 1480 played poque, which was a card game involving betting and bluffing. Poque was incidentally also the first game on record to use a deck consisting of spades, diamonds, clubs and hearts.

Later, in the 17th century, we can see a game similar to poker developing in a different part of the world. The Persian game “as nas” was a five-player game using a special deck of 25 cards with five suits, and many people credit “as nas” with being one of the true predecessors of modern-day poker.

As for documented early references to poker, the English actor Joseph Cromwell described a card game being played in New Orleans in 1829, while Jonathan H. Green wrote a book called An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling. In the book, Green refers to what he calls “the cheating game,” which was then being played on Mississippi riverboats. Green is credited with first calling this “cheating game” poker.

Whatever your theory about the origin of poker, the game becomes much easier to follow once we look at more modern American history. Poker traveled from New Orleans by steamboat up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, and ultimately spread further by wagon and train. Variations such as stud poker, the draw and the straight became popular during the Civil War, and the last major European influence on the game was the introduction of the joker as a wild card around 1875.

In 1910, Nevada made it a felony to run a betting game. But the Attorney General of California declared that draw poker was based on skill and, therefore, that anti-gambling laws could not stop it. While stud poker remained illegal, draw poker became legal and quickly developed. This caused Nevada to reverse itself in 1931 and legalize casino gambling.

What really jumpstarted interest in modern tournament play was the beginning of the World Series of Poker in 1970. The first WSOP, which attracted a whopping total of seven players, was promoted heavily by Las Vegas casino owner and poker player Benny Binion, and took place at Binion’s Horseshoe casino. Now the WSOP is merely the culmination of a nationwide series of poker tournaments organized by Harrah’s Entertainment. Each year, the WSOP attracts more players and, as a result, bigger cash prizes.

In 2004, $25 million was distributed to winners of the WSOP, including a record-breaking $5 million for first place. ESPN and The Travel Channel routinely televise the tournament, further generating interest in poker.