Thursday, October 25, 2007

Learning the game

Let's take a hypothetical case of a businessman who wanted to learn more about poker. Funding a session of poker is no problem but he wants to improve his game. What do you think is the best way to do that?

Personally I think reading books is a good way to get the basics: rules, hand ranking, starting hand selection, basic strategy. I also think playing online is a good way to cram in experience as long as there is the understanding that there is probably more d0nk play online on average. It depends somewhat on stakes of course but I think you will on average find more players just doing stupid stuff than in a home game or casino.

But once you have the basics concepts and math down, I think that to get to the "next level" requires feedback on specific hands. For me, the WNP/TuNP crew is the best way for me to continue learning when we discuss hands in person, email, or blog. I think that everyone here brings different perspectives on how a hand should be played. Marsh will tell you what aggression will buy you. Ryan can be counted on saying what the numbers tell you. Jason will tell you...the unorthodox play. And taken together I think that that all adds up to even having a single dedicated coach because seeing the different approaches gives you more options.

That's the best way I've found to keep improving my game at least.


jsola said...

Practice, practice, practice. Play online, play small stakes at casinos, play your friends, play in random cash games.

It's the only way you'll learn some crucial concepts like how to read your opponents and knowing where you stand with your hands. Being able to ask yourself questions like "is my two pair good here?" is a valuable skill that you only learn by putting yourself in as many pots as you can.

Books can only teach you so much, and unless you go out there and start applying it you'll never get beyond the basics.

Ryan said...

It's true, the best thing our hypothetical businessman can do is play.

But, I would say that the fundamentals *can* be taught, and should be learned. To that end, I really like Phil Gordon's Little Green Book.

It makes a great bathroom reader for the beginning player, by touching on important no-limit fundamentals in little two-page chunks.

If I were in a job where I had Valued Clients, and one of my Valued Clients had demonstrated an interest in poker to me, but was a beginner, I would probably buy them a copy of Phil Gordon's Little Green Book and expense it. It would be a nice, thoughtful, personal touch.

As for me, I just stole Joe's copy.

Marshall said...

I am going to say that discussing after playing is as critical as the play itself. I have easily learned the most from the hours of discussion with Jeh, Uncle Marty, and Ryan (and of course others) than from all the books and even play. Things become much more clear when you talk about it a lot.

One problem is that you have to be really passionate about it. If you aren't, you aren't going anywhere in poker anyhow I suppose.

Austin said...

I'm with Marsh on this one. My game has increased an incredible amount since I've started playing with you guys and I attribute it to learning the theory behind a lot of poker (by reading books) and talking about hands after the fact on this blog or in person.

Bob Loblaw said...

What's becoming increasingly frustrating for me is my fear of being left behind, because I don't have nearly as much time to devote to online play and weekly games as the rest of you. I want to learn, and want to play as often, but my active social life keeps me from it. And that's why I'm so glad that the blog is here. I've never read a single poker book, and never took an active role in the way I play until I started playing with the Surreal crowd and reading the blog. It's improved my knowledge of the game and helped me understand the nuances.

What I've never been able to wrap my head around, though, is doing the quick math on the pot odds of a given hand. I've never been able to fully understand how to calculate the odds quickly. I do trust my gut quite a bit when it comes to making or not making a call (weighing my call amount against the amount in the pot), and that's treated me very well over time as I'm up, life time. But in the same turn I think I fold a lot more often than I probably should (based on the odds). Any quick tips on how to quickly calculate odds would be greatly appreciated.

Ryan said...

Quick pot-odds calculation typically starts with quick out counting, followed by the application of the "rule of two:” multiply the number of outs you have by 2 for each card to come.

So, if you have a flush draw on the flop, you have 9 outs to it, or *roughly* (4 x 9) a 36% chance of hitting your flush by the river.

This is not exact, and is frequently a few percentage points off (especially as the out count increases), but for the purposes of quickly getting a rough idea of where you are at, it’s great.

Usually there are so many other factors involved that a couple % margin of error is not as important as all the extra factors like implied odds, expected bets, the chance that another player in the pot is on the same draw, or other invalidated outs.

To calculate your pot odds from your % chance of winning, you compare a couple of ratios: (% chance to win:% chance to lose) against (amount of the call:amount in the pot).

So, in this flush example, your opponent that you put exactly on an overpair moves all in for $36 into a pot of $28. There is $64 in the pot, and it's $36 to call.

Your win odds:
36%:64%, or 1:1.78

Your pot odds:
$36:$64, or 1:1.78

They are both identical ratios, and therefore it is an exactly even proposition. There is no correct decision, you could make a random decision each time to call or fold, and in the long run you would net $0.

If there is even one more dollar in the pot, you get a pot ratio of $36:$65, or 1:1.81. 1.81 is higher than 1.78, so it’s a call.

When the pot ratio creates a number higher than your “odds of winning to losing” ratio, it’s a call. When it’s less, it’s a fold.

Don’t be intimidated by me calculating these examples down to the .01 or whatever. The point is that you are roughly comparing your chance of winning against your chance of losing, and seeing how it measures up to what you have to call against how much there is to be won.

I’ll post later on some of the complications to such estimates, like implied odds, anticipated turn bets, and “unclean” outs…cards that may or may not be outs depending on your opponent’s hand.

Ryan said...

Two comments I've been meaning to reply to in this thread...

“I want to learn, and want to play as often, but my active social life keeps me from it.” -Bob Loblaw
Hey, fuck you, I have an active social life too, it’s just that all my friends play poker! I hate this game, really, but if I want to socialize at all, I have to suck it up and play.

“Marsh will tell you what aggression will buy you. Ryan can be counted on saying what the numbers tell you.” - sushicowboy
I’d like to think I can be counted on to say that the numbers tell you to be aggressive. :)