Most people new to hold ‘em are eager to roll up their sleeves and get playing. While I admire their enthusiasm, I can pretty much guarantee that these newcomers will get crushed. Am I psychic? Maybe, but most players starting out, especially in no limit hold em (the most exciting and therefore riskiest game in my opinion) make one crucial error that essentially dooms them to failure.
Imagine for a minute a football coach whose only instruction to his offense is “score some points.” He doesn’t call a play, and his team is left milling about aimlessly. Will this team win a lot of games? Probably not. The coach’s message was vague, and he didn’t have a plan set up to achieve his goals. His players couldn’t win by simply ‘winging it.’
Poker is the same way. Everyone’s goal is to win (if it isn’t you might want to try a less expensive hobby), but few people have a plan for achieving victory. While the hold em books out there are helpful, it’s necessary to form your own set of hands you’ll play. Note that I am NOT advocating the creation of a set-in-stone group of hands that should be played, just a general idea of what’s good and bad. For veteran players, this knowledge should be a sixth sense, but when an experienced player goes into a prolonged losing streak, it’s usually because he’s strayed from his set of playable hands.
As stated before, your set shouldn’t be concrete in any way. A lot of things should be taken into consideration, including position, your opponents, and the amount of money at stake. Sticking with your set, though, is a good way for beginners especially to learn patience (one of the most important aspects of hold em). If you don’t see results initially, have faith.
While observing a game last week, someone remarked that poker seemed to be all about luck. In his opinion, winning involved no skill at all. While luck plays a part in a person’s success at the tables, if he isn’t smart he’s not going to win in the long run. If you need proof of this, go to a table and go all-in each hand. At the end of the night you’ll wind up down a considerable amount.
Another bad tendency concerning what hands beginners will play is letting what might have been affect their play. A friend of mine recently lamented the fact that he would have had a full house had he played Q,3 offsuit. For most people, seeing how great a poor hand like that can become persuades them to start playing it. Playing a bad hand just because it had a fluke win once is one of the surest ways to lose money. I used to have a strange fixation with K,5. After seeing it get beat constantly, I wised up.
To sum things up, the reality for most beginners is that they’re going to lose money at first. There’s no substitute for experience in a game like hold em that relies a lot on getting a feel for the flow of the action. The best way to limit your losses initially is to limit the number of hands you play.