A Beginner's Guide To Losing At Poker

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Here I am, sat cross-legged, eyebrows furrowed, staring at an untidy pile of poker chips and I find myself in and I’m wondering whether pocket Queens are worth the imaginary money that i’m betting. It’s a Sunday evening and I’m been playing my first ever game of poker. I’m surrounded by a small selection of a student poker society, various empty cans of Carlsberg and a mountain of Maoam wrappers. It’s my turn to bet or fold. Jake, the player to the right of me picks up his cards checks them for the third time since he raised his bet. I think he’s bluffing. It’s now the turn of my recently appointed poker tutor, Ellie. She looks at me then trains her eyes on Jake. He checks his facedown cards again. Ellie folds. I’m starting to get a little nervous now but I’m still sure that he’s bluffing. I open another Maoam and stare at my cards. “Call.” Jake picks up his cards and throws them down triumphantly. The ten of hearts and the King of hearts. A royal flush. I look to Ellie for sympathy but she just laughs. “I told you! You can’t trust him!”

Before today this all I knew about poker came from the BBC tv show Hustle.

Two hours previously…

I’m seeing a brand new side to my friend Ellie as she deals out the cards to myself and her boyfriend (who was dragged along to my first poker lesson against his will). She explains briefly about the rules of Texas Hold’em but when she still sees my much-confused expression she just shrugs. “You’ll pick it up as you go along.”

“I was about 11/12 when I first got into poker, with my Dad. He taught me how to play. We used to play with er… y’know, pretzels until I was about 15 years old.” She said this as she handed me a pile of various different coloured chips. I clearly wasn’t even trusted with pretzels. I asked Ellie what it was like when she was a beginner.

“With my Dad, he treated me like a beginner all the time. He was quite soft on me. But when I got to university it was different. They treat you like a beginner for the first few weeks when you join the society but after that you’re pushed straight into the deep end. You find that you’ve really got to watch what you’re doing. Whereas, if I was accidentally not to call the right hand before, my Dad would let me off.”

She turned her attention back to the cards. I looked at the two cards that she had dealt me. The two of spades and the seven of diamonds. Now, I don’t know much about poker but I know that that can’t be good. Ellie’s boyfriend Nik also looked at his cards and in spite of not wanting to play in the first place he smiled. “Great!” I thought. Knowing my luck he has two aces. Ellie looked at her cards with no expression what so ever. I start to realize that I’m going to have to rely on more than beginner’s luck on my road to learning poker.
Ellie’s tips on how to spot a bluff.

“Basically, you’ve got to keep an eye on the players. See if there’s any patterns. Watch for if they do anything unusual.”

A few things to look out for:
• Betting very high
• Physical things, like tapping fingers
• Taking a sip of a drink
• Placing their cards down differently

“Alright, now this is the flop. You burn one card (she placed one card face down in the centre of the playing area) and then you place three cards face up.”

With the only slightly faux air of an experienced dealer, Ellie dealt the flop. There was the Jack of hearts, the four of diamonds and the ace of spades. From what Ellie had already told me I knew that the best hand I could go for was “Ace high” so do I risk it or do I fold? Or do I just giggle at the word “flop” and hum the Mötorhead song Ace of Spades to myself?

Ellie noticed my baffled expression. “Er… you should probably fold,” she whispered into my ear. I folded. Maybe there’s no such thing as beginner’s luck.

After we put the cards away, Ellie told me proudly how she’d beaten the president of the SU twice. “The first time was in Fresher’s Week and he was like ‘yeah, I will see you at Poker Society cause I’m gonna beat you’ and the second time we were both going for a straight and I had the high straight so I got him out!”

One week later…

I am once again surrounded by alcohol, sweeties and poker players but this time I’m prepared. This time I have more than just pocket Queens. This time the flop makes my hand up to a full house. “All in!”

Jake shows his cards. “Another royal flush!”

“What the f...!?”

A few things I found to help myself learn the basics...

Poker Hand Rankings

Standard Poker Hands


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