New at poker. How did you all learn the basics of the game?

I noticed there are a lot of poker players on WSO.

I'm starting to get an interest in the game but still don't understand some basics in the game. I get confused with things such as when to call and check, as some of the tutorial courses I take (like poker fighter) don't really elaborate on why doing either is a bad move. I tried to play online a couple times (to test the waters) and didn't do so hot.

Where did you all learn the game? Also, any advice for a novice player like me? I'm looking for resources to learn and to eventually play online again.

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Comments (53)

Mar 8, 2017 - 11:22am

Tutorial courses are good, but I learned the most from playing / grinding. The actual experience is the way to go IMO.. Maybe focus on a 1/2 game and really focus on studying up on the scenarios you encounter. (write down each action / cycle for your hands and review)

However, if you don't know the basics I'd recommend learning WITHOUT risking any bankroll. So you can follow some vlog poker players. Personal favorite : Andrew Neeme. He's got a great vlog and explains the hand situations fairly well. There's also Doug Polk who makes great videos where you can pick up some things.

Mar 8, 2017 - 11:34am

Lots of great books out there, but for beginners I'd definitely start with Harrington on Hold'Em (vol.1 and 2). Some of the strategy in there is a bit dated for today's hyper-aggro games but he definitely sets you up with a good system for thinking about odds/implied odds and how to think about the value of position. Position is the single most important thing if you want to be a winning player at low stakes imo.

Beyond that, has a ton of resources. I enjoy their podcast as well although it's gotten a bit away from strategy and more toward poker economy/gossip of late. Jason Sommerville streams (jcarverpoker) on Twitch are also super entertaining and he'll throw out a pearl of wisdom here and there.

You playing mostly cash or tourneys at this point?

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Mar 8, 2017 - 1:18pm

Playing a lot of live hands is definitely the best way to get your poker chops. Unfortunately, it can be an expensive way to learn, since you can't play the game for real without at least some money on the line.

If you are a book learner, I highly recommend Doyle Brunson's Super System. Some of it is dated at this point, but you won't find a better all-around, comprehensive look into all the major poker variants (hold'em, stud poker, draw, etc). Once you've gotten a feel for the game, I recommend checking Mike Caro's Book of Poker Tells. Mike Caro was considered the greatest draw poker player in history and was nearly unreadable at the table (meaning he didn't have any "tells" that gave away his hand). He was the foremost expert on poker psychology, odds, and reading opponents.

The most important thing, however, is to just play hands and play a lot of them. There's a reason the pros put in marathon sessions at the table. You get better the more you play and the more you are around the game. My first few years of college I played pretty much every night (both in dorms and at card rooms), and my game became much better for it.

Mar 8, 2017 - 1:23pm

Phil Gordon's Little Green Book - My buddy timofey kuznetsoz who is a high roller reg is one who recommended this book and i havent found a book that provides such easy-to-read and concise info to begin learning the game

Mar 8, 2017 - 1:31pm

I taught myself through playing online and reading. I recommended specializing in either cash games, SNGs, or tournaments as each kind has different strategies. For instance I, only play SNGs online. The book that made everything start to click for me was Colin Moshman's SNG Strategy.

Mar 8, 2017 - 1:35pm

Doyle Brunson's Super System is a must read.

If you expand beyond Hold 'Em and start playing 2-7 then Negreanu's chapter on 2-7 is a must read also.

Oh and for 7 Stud anything Ted Forrest is a go to.

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
Mar 8, 2017 - 3:28pm

put like $50-$100 on america's card room and play little amounts.

I got so deep into poker for about a yr (end of 2015 to aug 2016), then realized I need to save more money before I start playing serious. forums are pretty good

are you looking to play tournaments or cash games? ed miller's book the course is good. dan harrington's books are good.

once you get more skilled my favorite poker book I have ever read is Easy Game. I did some coaching with a pro in the LA area and this was required reading. book is awesome and worth the price IMO.

someday I will go back to poker when the bankroll and savings are better...

I love poker, a lot of aspects of poker are similar to trading in the market...

PLO is also a great game..

twitter: @StoicTrader1 instagram: @StoicTrader1
  • 3
Mar 8, 2017 - 6:13pm

By losing and ending up broke and alone.

β€œElections are a futures market for stolen property”
  • 2
Mar 9, 2017 - 6:48am

The content is really good but tricky to follow at times without the software to back it up, I really enjoyed it though.

However it's also very easy to get bogged down in it, like I did, and you end up getting nowhere.

If I revisit the game, I'll make sure I have played a few more hands and keep playing alongside the MIT course, rather than diving straight in to it as a primary resource.

  • 1
Mar 8, 2017 - 10:32pm

Download zynga poker onto your phone, you can play against other people for free. Doyle Brunson's book is really good. The Full Tilt Strategy guide has poker philosophy sections from a number of notable players.

"He was an idiot! He was a bouncer who got his Series 7" - Josh Brown
Mar 9, 2017 - 8:15am

Putin has a good point about the play money v real money. If you use play money and act like it's play money (i.e. have a much riskier play style than you would with real money), then it will definitely be counterproductive.

"He was an idiot! He was a bouncer who got his Series 7" - Josh Brown
Mar 9, 2017 - 12:36am

You can learn all the basics from so many books, sites, videos, etc. Unfortunately though, once you understand all the basics like pot odds, bet sizing, what to do in various hand situations, etc...then it all comes down to reading the other players, which is infinitely harder to do consistently in real life than what's in any Harrington book

Best Response
Mar 9, 2017 - 12:58pm

The game is very addictive and hard to win any serious money at. I would advise you to stay away if you have an at all addictive personality.

I've played a lot of cards and supported myself on it before. I would recommend playing microstakes online tournaments. Post hands about which you have questions to the two plus two forums. There are some good training sites like upswing, deuces cracked, or pokersavvy if that's still around.

If you play online, don't play too many tables at once. You'll make more money playing your B game at a dozen tables than your A game at a few but you won't really improve that way. Stick to ~4 tables so you can really focus on the action. As a beginner even 4 tables is probably a lot so start with just one.

Don't focus on the psychology so much. Beginners get way too obsessed with trying to read people or use other psychological/mind games to make their decisions when in reality for 90%+ of decisions there is a math/technical reason to make a certain play that overwhelms any psychological factor. Example:
The board goes 2d 7d Th Ks Qd

We hold Ad Kc and he makes a big bet on the river. Do we call?
What goes through an amateur's mind:
What does he have? What does he think I have? Does he think I'm weak? Does he think that I think he's weak? He saw me bluff two hands ago and he bluffed three hands ago and bla bla bla

What goes through a pro's mind:
I have the Ace of diamonds so it's that much less likely he has a flush, or AJ for a straight. This is called a "blocker", the card in our hand that eliminates/reduces the chances of certain hands our opponent can have. A good player might bet KJ here thinking a turned king is a disguised hand, so I can even beat some of his value bets. This is a call. If we had a hand like Ad 7c we could even bluff raise, since we block 77 set, nut flush, and nut straight.

In other words having the ace of diamonds is critical to playing this hand. Not so much because it gives us a big kicker on our pair, although that does matter, but because it tells us a lot about what our opponent can have. This is how a good player thinks.

Good luck at the tables.

Mar 10, 2017 - 11:03am

A pro would also be making his decision based off what happened on every street leading up to the river. And if this is live, trying to read the opponent. Also be paying attention to bet size on river, etc. depends on opponent as well and the situation, but pretty good example of experienced thinking

twitter: @StoicTrader1 instagram: @StoicTrader1
  • 2
Mar 11, 2017 - 10:51am
A pro would also be making his decision based off what happened on every street leading up to the river.

This is a great tip. Assuming he's not a beginner playing randomly, one of the best ways to narrow down an opponent's hand range is to determine what cards he can hold that are consistent with ALL of his actions, including pre-flop and accounting for his stack size, playing style, etc. If an action card drops on the river and there is a huge bet from a loose aggressive player who didn't raise on previous streets, it could easily be a bluff

May 8, 2017 - 6:15pm

Without further information about how the hand was played, stacks, size, position, opponent's hand history, it makes absolutely no sense to make a decision/discuss if you have to call/raise/fold here.

Mar 9, 2017 - 2:58pm

A couple of good drills (do these at very low stakes where you can afford it):

Never call: Only check, bet, raise, and fold, even pre-flop. This will teach you to be more decisive and aggressive. If you like your hand or think a bluff/semibluff will get through raise it up. If you're hesitant just fold. Try it in a cash game.

Play blind: Cover your hole cards with a sticky note. The key to this drill is playing in position. Only play on the button (dealer) or 1-2 spots to the right of the button. Works well in tournaments. This will teach you good flop dynamics and what boards/turn cards are good to bet at. Also some tournament dynamics are involved like pressuring the bubble, steal/re-steal with certain stack sizes, etc.

The biggest thing you will learn from both of these drills is the power of position. You can only win (or minimize losses) playing this way if you abuse position relentlessly.

Mar 10, 2017 - 1:17pm

Kill Everyone is another more recent book on NLH that covers a good bit of high level strategy and also math / theory. IMO that is the book I wish I had started with. I also second Sit and Go Strategy by Moshman because sit and go's are really good to learn with if you have a limited bank roll (with under $40 play as many micro stake SNGs as you can for now) and limited skill. Once you feel familiar with the concepts in SNGs and build the BR somewhat you can go play other games / stakes at your own risk tolerance.

"What we learn from history is that people don't learn from history."
  • 1
Mar 11, 2017 - 10:56am

I learned more about poker during my freshmen year playing 80-100 dollar tourneys multiple times a week with 8-10 guys on my floor at college than I think any book or video could ever teach me. Poker is definitely a game learned through experience and then augmenting that with studying & understanding probabilities, pot sizes and things such as that is good.

As my username suggests...also doesn't hurt to have a little luck;)

Mar 11, 2017 - 6:30pm

Matt Janda's Applications of NLHE is the bible.

ETA: Unless you're a really excellent player, the money is in live poker. Online is just more and better players competing for less money.

I come from down in the valley, where mister when you're young, they bring you up to do like your daddy done

Mar 12, 2017 - 12:02pm

Love Andrew Neeme. I learned all of my basics from watching his videos. Besides that, learning about ranges, pot odds, and implied odds and thinking about your range and your opponent's range is a good first step. This changes the game from "I think he's winning in the hand right now so I'm going to fold", to "I'm getting 3/1 in this spot and I'm beating a little over a quarter of his range, he could also definitely be bluffing a quarter of the time here so it's a call in the long run."

May 8, 2017 - 5:42pm

You are coming 5-10 years late, pal. Money has already being made and the game has saturated.

However, if you really wanna learn, the best way to start is to study, study and study on forums(Integrate that with some play money games at the beginning or low-stakes) Read about poker hands and strategy. A great forum used to be 2+2, I know it has slowed down quite a bit, but used to be the best source back 5-6 years ago. Otherwise, sign-up for those online poker classes ( Phil Galfond, a top-tier PLO player, started one, if I remember correctly).
Once you have mastered the basic skills, you gotta start buying softwares (Holdem Manager/PokerTracker, SharkScope, TableNinja) that will give you an edge over other opponents. At that point, you gotta study a lot on your own, review the hands you played and run some numbers. If you wanna bring your game to the next game, I suggest you to get coached by better players or exchange thought processes.

Books are generally outdated. There are some good books out there, but you can find the same content online on forums. Definitely DO NOT read Slanskii's book (The game has evolved exponentially throughout the years). My first two books were Harrington's on Holdem 1-2. Definitely worth it back at the time (2008-2009), but now you can learn much quicker on forums.
Best book available 5-6 years ago was SnG Strategy by Collin Moshman. Haven't been in the industry for about 5 years at this point, but it was by far the best poker book I've read.

May 8, 2017 - 8:31pm

I never saw the allure of poker. Who you play with matters.

Blackjack is far superior. You could be playing with blind grandmothers - wouldn't affect a thing.
All that matters is statistics, memorization, and self-discipline.

May 8, 2017 - 11:21pm

In BlackJack you cannot make money unless you count cards. Even if u count, you only have a 51-52% equity. In other words, you cannot make money and even if you do, you will get kicked out of the casino once they catch you.
As a rule of thumb, you cannot make money when you play against the casino (there are exceptions, such as edge-sorting, etc.). On the other hand, poker is a zero-sum game. If you are better than your opponent, you will make money and he will lose money.

May 9, 2017 - 3:20am

You will lose playing online. Seriously - any money you put into an online account, you will lose.
Yes, there is a one in a million chance you're the next Durrrr or something,'re not.
(There is, however, a place for online poker in your arsenal, more on that later)

If you like losing money and can afford to do so, then I suppose there's no harm - almost all hobbies cost money in some way or another.

But live poker - ah, here's a hobby that can be enjoyable if you're at a good, lively table and you can actually make a bit of coffee money from it! In fact, at the low-stakes ($1/2 or $2/5) it's not even that hard as long as you play reasonably disciplined. Anyone good enough to play poker for a living won't be playing low-stakes live: it's pretty much impossible to make a living at that stakes level because of the rake, or the really good players will be sick/bored of only playing 25-30 hands an hour live when they can get in some massive multiple of that amount multi-tabling online.

If you are in a location with a couple of decent venues offering low-stakes live poker, that's where you should be - it absolutely is possible to earn a bit of pocket money at a hobby that can be quite fun. One of the few ways to gamble with the edge in your favor (if you know what you're doing) because you're not playing against the house (other than the rake) you're playing against the other people at the table. Find the right table and the odds might be hugely in your favor (flip side: after 30 minutes, if you don't know who the sucker is at the table, leave immediately because it's you).

The downside to live poker is that it is slower than online, and to play winning live low-stakes poker requires some discipline. It's not unlike personal investing, in a way - slow 'n' steady wins out in the end over the 'get rich quick' strategies.

Now: in terms of actually learning the game: Just about every competitive endeavor you can think of - tennis, bowling, poker, chess - at the low / amateur stakes, games are not won, they are lost by the person making the most mistakes. In recreational tennis, you don't win by hitting winners, you win by making fewer unforced errors. Poker is the same way. For beginners the only two things you should be thinking about are position and hand selection.

Position means you should be looking for any and all excuses to NOT play hands out of position (meaning one of the first players to act each round). Position is king, it's even more important than your starting hand. I'd rather play crappy cards from late position than better cards from early position. Playing more hands in position makes it easier to control the hand, which means easier to control the size of the pot (want to know who the good players are? watch to see which players always seem to pull in big pots with their big hands).

Can this be boring? Yes, if you're not paying attention. 99% of the players I see end up losing money even with solid fundamentals because they get bored and decide to play a crap hand from the blinds just for a 'change of pace', and next thing you know they're reloading. When I was first starting out, however, I focused on watching hands I wasn't involved in. Little things can make a difference - 'hmm, that player tends to call too much, that player plays draws really passively' etc etc. There's plenty to do at the table even when not in a hand so there's no excuse for playing crap hands just because 'you're bored'.

Hand selection means ensuring that when you're in a hand, you should (generally) have a better starting hand then your opponents, who probably aren't as disciplined as you are. Early on this will give you a HUGE edge. As noted above: this requires discipline and paying attention to what kinds of cards others around you are playing, but playing better hands in position and you can basically print money at the live low-level stakes. Not a ton of money, mind you...but what other hobby is there that you can walk away with more money than you started?

Once you have a handle of the basics, deposit $10 on the online poker site of your choice and play a few tables of of the lowest stakes available. You're not trying to make money, you're getting in reps. It's the equivalent of practicing free throws or something: when you're just starting out, it's helpful to get in as many hands as possible as cheaply as possible, and playing ultra-low stakes online means you can get in several hundred hands per hour multi-tabling vs the 25-30 or so (max) playing live.

Second, go sign up at It's the best (and possibly the only?) site for live poker training that I'm aware of. It's fairly cheap, and in fact the subscription will probably pay for itself within a month or two.

There are tons of other things to learn - bet sizing, hand reading, understanding board texture, calculating pot odds, understanding how to play draws, etc etc etc - but focus on hand selection and position and you're well ahead of the game.

Poker is great - involves a lot of math, an understanding of psychology and human nature, fear vs greed - yes, it's fair to say that poker does have a lot of overlap with finance and investing LOL.

The example above with the hand history and 'this is a call because we have blockers' etc - no offense to the poster, but a hand history that tells us nothing of position, stack sizes, bet sizing, action and bet sizes on previous streets, action of other players in the hand earlier etc is beyond worthless. You simply cannot make any decision on the river in isolation, you have to go back to the start of the hand. Does the opponent's story make sense? What kind of story have you been telling? Is your action consistent? People constantly get burned early on trying to bluff in silly spots, not realizing that a bluff often won't make sense based on your earlier action.

- If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you've hired an amateur
  • 7
Aug 9, 2017 - 4:53pm

Read a couple of books and then play a few thousand hands online. I think its better to learn online before the real world. It puts the focus on applying, from an odds perspective, when and why to play certain hands in addition to tracking your opponents. Play a hand at a time so that you can remember how your opponents bet and try to guess what there cards were based on betting patterns.

In person, you can get a little wilder by transitioning from loose to tight etc to intimidate opponents and try to read responses under stress. But I think its easier to learn how to do so without the faces in the room.

Aug 9, 2017 - 5:13pm

If you're still in school then I'd advise just playing the casual game with friends. Playing online will suck you in and will absolutely destroy you. I remember spending hours watching Durrrr play and it's incredible how much time goes away.

Not only is it an expensive habit, it's one that gets you in deeper and deeper. Seriously, consider only playing cash games with friends and just casually. The best way to play is to go for really small buy-ins with friends, ($5 - $20) and you'll watch yourself get better.

Aug 9, 2017 - 10:34pm

You know, I advised playing online to learn, and I still think that's the best way, but I should have made it clear that doing so will cost you a lot of money. Even in nickle games. You have to get your reps in poker just like anything else. So at low money games its going to cost hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands, in losing hands before you start to be able to work the table.

Aug 10, 2017 - 1:35am

I really love playing poker but I really couldn't see myself playing for anything other than pleasure. To me, as soon as you decide to play to win large sums of money, things become disastrous. Playing casual games with friends has been pretty fun but I would seriously advise against playing seriously. Most of my friends who took to playing seriously got wiped out and had to literally restart their lives to see where everything went wrong.

Besides, I think playing in person is best when playing with friends because more often than not, your friends are just as good as you and you can understand how they play.

I completely agree with your assessment though.

Nov 21, 2021 - 1:50pm

You can play for free - Pokerstars and FullTilt have free games for no money. That's how I learned for six months in 2014. Then in 2015 started playing for money.Β 

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Aug 10, 2017 - 9:50am

Son, I've made a life out of readin' people's faces,knowin' what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.
So if you don't mind me sayin', I can see you're out of aces. For a taste of your whiskey, I'll give you some advice.
You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

Dec 26, 2017 - 5:34pm

Have you read "The Theory of Poker" by David Sklansky? I've recently been recommended to read it. I play slots at, but I'm pretty new to poker and I'm also looking for the good sources that can help me to improve my skills. I've found several good suggestions here. So, thanks for sharing!

Dec 27, 2017 - 4:04am

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"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Nov 21, 2021 - 1:34pm

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"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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