How quickly can you learn poker?

by admin on November 15, 2010

This is a guest post by Simon Barnett.

Poker seems to be in the news more right now than it has ever been before. There’s complete television coverage of many leading events and the top poker players are becoming household names.

There’s something particularly appealing about the game. We may be attracted by the thought of making big money and having the option to replicate the lifestyles of those leading players. Becoming a professional poker player and being able to travel the world can certainly seem very appealing.

Making money from poker

But can poker be seen as a serious means of generating income? Sure, we can see that people who have been playing the game for years can become good at it and make some money as a result. But is it only a select few who are truly successful?

What about the chances for those of us who have never played poker before? Is there a chance for us to make money within a reasonable time period?

Given that I take a keen interest in all aspects of personal finance, I’ve become interested in the possibility of seeing poker as an investment opportunity. Can we really compare the game to other investments, such as buying stocks and shares?

In order to find out, the first step would be to learn how to play the game.

Learning the game

I started my quest by checking out a few poker websites that explained the basics. The first thing that becomes clear is that poker is full of terminology. This can be incredibly confusing for a beginner.

I spent an entire weekend reading up on the terminology and trying to get some basic hints and tips. I was interested to know about the most common mistakes that amateur players make. That was because I was keen to avoid them.

By the end of the weekend, I could talk with limited confidence about small blinds, flops and top pairs. I was becoming more familiar with some key concepts, but I was also aware that I had absolutely no experience of playing the game. Everything that I had learnt to this point had been purely theoretical.

It was now time to put things into practice!

Playing for the first time

The rise of online poker websites means that the game has become incredibly accessible. If you have a credit card and internet access then you can pretty much find opponents at any hour of the day.

I signed up to one such site. It’s worth pointing out that most of the main poker websites offer a sign-up bonus for new players. You can compare the offers that are available.

In my case, I decided that I’d start out by playing some free games. This had the advantage of allowing me to check out the basics, without risking any money at this point.

I was soon glad that I’d taken this approach. Playing the game for the first time made me realise that it would really take some getting used to.

For starters, you have to get to grips with the interface of your chosen website. This is particularly important when you come to place your bets. You also realise that the game is very fast moving. You’re required to think extremely quickly.

In truth, this all came as something of a shock to me. Since I was working full-time during the days, my poker playing opportunities were largely limited to evenings. I spent the whole of my first week playing free games. I was determined that I should become reasonably good before moving on to play for real money.

By the end of that first week, I was winning more free chips than I was losing. I thought that I had become pretty good. I was confident that I’d now be able to start winning real money. I was wrong!

Playing for real

Although I was winning these free games, it soon become obvious that playing for real money was completely different. The entire style of play was transformed. Opponents simply didn’t risk their chips in the same way. As a result, everything seemed completely unpredictable.

It was also clear that I was now facing players with a far greater degree of experience. I was facing some stiff competition. I was soon losing consistently.

After 10 days of consistently losing money in this way, I realised that I needed to go back to the drawing board. My approach wasn’t working. This wasn’t an investment opportunity. It was a way of handing over my money!

I decided to start looking more closely at poker strategies and I opted to purchase a couple of books.

There are numerous books out there and they all proposed different systems of play.

I’d generally been playing a version of the game called Texas Hold’em. Since I understood the basics of this version of the game, I concentrated my efforts of learning more detailed strategies.

I took that decision one month ago and I’ve been trying to put some new strategies in place. Has it worked? I would say that I’m now breaking even. That’s better than I was doing at the outset, but it’s not going to make me rich any time soon.

It’s clear to me that becoming good and profitable at poker will take many months.

Getting better

With hindsight, I wish that I’d read the strategy books sooner. They might have saved me some money, although it would have been difficult to follow the concepts without any experience of playing the game.

I also think that it would help to play the game in a real life situation. Playing online does mean that you can play a lot of poker. But I think that it would be helpful to learn from an experienced player.

I’m sure that it is possible to make money playing poker. But I’m not sure that I have enough time to become successful!

Simon Barnett writes about consumer and personal finance issues. He had no previous experience of playing poker and carried out his experiment earlier this year.

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