Poker (Texas Hold'Em)
I've been playing Texas Hold'Em pretty seriously for the past several months. I've played Limit
Hold'Em in casinos and online. I play a regular tournament-style no-limit game with friends, and
I've played in tournaments at casinos and online. Limit Hold'Em is easier to analyze and study,
while No Limit Hold'em is a lot more fun and interesting to play.
Some thoughts on Poker (and Texas Hold'Em in particular). Poker is a
very interesting game, both mathematically and to play. The analysis of
poker involves a lot of probability, Bayesian estimation, opponent modeling,
game theory, and the study of hidden or partial information. Playing
poker involves more gut feelings, instincts, tells and reading and manipulation.
One of the great things about poker is that in the long run it is a true game of
skill - better players will make money over time - but in the short term, it's
dominated by variance. That is, any one day that you play poker, your chance of
winning or losing is almost totally random, but over time skill dominates. This
means that playing poker is basically free (or even profitable) for a decent player,
but a poor player is not totally dominated. That's why poor players will play for
money against pros. An average joe is not going to play chess with Gary Kasparov for
$10,000 a game, but people do it all the time with poker pros. What's more, that
average joe will beat the poker pro once in a while. The stupid joe (a "fish") thinks
that win means that poker is all luck (or worse, that he's a good player), but the pro
just smiles and silently knows that it's just the variance, and he'll take all the fish's
money in time.
A lot of the mathematical analysis I do is not really something that I advise doing
at the table. It's more of an attempt to figure out the theory of poker, and determine
optimal moves. Human brains are very good at pattern matching and interpolation, so if
you can figure out the optimal move in situations A,B,C,D, then you can often look at
some other situation E and make a pretty good estimation of the optimal move. Also, all
the analysis doesn't account of the reads and tells that are very important in real poker.
If you *know* someone is bluffing, the obviously you ignore the analysis that says they
beat you 60% of the time.
Addendum : this page is pretty old ; I wrote it mostly before I became good at poker, so take it with a
grain of salt.
- Beginners introduction and guide to playing Texas Hold'Em.
- Analysis some analysis of Texas Hold'Em
- One Pair : tips on playing One Pair hands in NLHE
- Book on Mathematical Poker Play posted June 2005
- GoldBullion Poker Bot ; full source code for a poker AI program.
- Books. If you're serious about Poker, you need to read a lot of books. Read all the Sklasnky/Malmuth
books. Buy "Hold'Em Poker for Advanced Players" (HPFAP), but try to get the rest at the library; they're very redundant,
packed full of spacers, and generally a rip-off to buy. Read "Super System", mainly the bit by Doyle Brunson on
No Limit Hold'Em. Definitely read "Hold'Em Poker" by Gary Carson, an excellent book, probably the first you should
- Play. You need practice. Playing online for free money is kind of strange practice. The play is
very unlike ordinary hold'em play. That makes it a good way to practice adapting to different table conditions.
However, that makes it a very bad way to learn patterns and habits, which is what beginners do. For realistic
practice, you're better off playing against the computer AI with something like Turbo Texas Hold'Em. You're going
to have to pay to learn. What I mean by that, is you're going to have to play some real games with real money to
get good experience, and that's going to cost you. You are going to be a loser for a while when you start, and you
just have to consider that the cost of your education. It cost me about $300 to become a break-even player.
- Know your goal. If you just want to have fun, don't play for a lot of money, and don't play in casinos -
play medium stakes with friends. Playing for profit in casinos really isn't that much fun. Proper Limit Hold'Em
can be very mechanical and boring.
- Remember variance! Just because you win one day doesn't mean you played well. Just because you lose doesn't
mean you played badly. The variance of poker is very high. Anybody who gets full house is going to win the pot. Just
because you win the pot doesn't mean you played well, that primarily comes from the cards. The difference between a good
player and a bad one is how *big* that pot is. As a good player, you make your edge very slowly over time. For example,
a good and mediocre player square off in a no-limit tournament-style heads-up freeze-out. That's a winner-take-all
one-on-one poker duel. The better player might win 55% of the time. If they play over and over, the better player will
show a huge profit. But if they just play once a say, the chance of either player winning is very close to 50/50. Beware
putting too much meaning in your short-term results!! Malmuth and others do some thorough analysis of variance.
Charles Bloom / cb at my domain
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