Beginner Poker Concepts

There are entire books on poker dedicated to a single style of play. This article is not one of them. Rather, it is a glimpse into the fundamentals of poker play that will help kick-start your learning (or career) in the poker realm.

For serious poker playing, I don’t feel any particular concept to be more important than another. All concepts are as important as each other, and one must become familiar with each so as to know when and how to react to different scenarios. Before you learn about pot odds, passive/aggressive playing strategies, and bluffing, etc, there are some fundamental concepts you must get into that habit of knowing. The following points are an introduction to that.

Emotion/patience. Poker is great fun and should be enjoyed as such. But if you’re playing to win, and want to generate an income from playing poker, then emotion has no place at the table. A career poker player probably plays around  20% of his hands. That means watching at the very least 4 out of every 5 pots go to somebody else. What’s even more annoying is seeing that the cards you just folded would have won the current pot. But don’t let that effect your future decisions to logically fold the same hand. Play the statistics. If you can’t seem to shake those urges to continue calling or betting when not appropriate, then I would suggest sticking to fun, or low blind games, because you will lose less money that way.

Part of your initial learning will be to determine what actually is a strong starting hand, and develop an understanding of what and when it is OK to bet or raise. As with most things, it’s easier to learn good poker technique then it is to unlearn bad technique. So once you’ve become familiar with a typical game of poker, refer to our article on Betting Starting Hands for the next stage of your development.

Picking a suitable poker table. We’ve touched on this point briefly in our article Choosing a Poker Table, but I wanted to reiterate it, so it’s not seen as being separate from having a sound understanding of poker concepts. There will always be tables out of your league where you will be taken advantage of. In this instance other players at the table would refer to you as the ‘fish’, and will take full advantage of the apparent lack of expertise. At this stage of your progression, you basically want to find a table within your budget, where you are not the fish, so you can build up a poker-hand knowledge base without going on ’tilt’. The beauty about online poker rooms is that there are hundreds… even thousands of them. If you don’t feel comfortable at one, pick another table.

Playing aggressively. I mentioned that a lot of professionals only play 1/5th of their hands. Well, when you’ve finally been dealt a decent hand, a high pair perhaps, you need to bet. Betting achieves 2 things straight out. It increases the pot size, and hopefully your winnings. And it also reduces the number of players included in the pot who would have otherwise just ‘limped in’ if a minimal bet were made. This latter point may sound contradictory to the first, but it’s actually statistically healthy. By betting, you limit the amount of miracle hands that others, not willing to call with their 2 hole cards, could possibly make on the flop, or thereafter. Pocket pairs (your first 2 private cards having the same value) start out as a strong hand, but decrease in strength as the community cards are dealt.

There are of course exceptions and variations to this. It’s part of what makes poker so attractive to so many people. Many of these scenarios and possible approaches to them will be covered individually in other articles, so once you’ve become familiar with the basics, come back and explore some of them.

Luck. There is a never ending debate among poker circles about how much of poker really is luck. It doesn’t really matter how large or small that percentage is, as long as you realize that it exists. This in no way means poker can’t be studied as a science. Thousands of people do and they make huge amounts of money from playing poker as such. My main point here is that no matter how well you play, there will be times where you lose. Every poker player experiences slumps in their career. It’s pretty much a certainty for anyone who plays long enough. The important thing is how you deal with it. Detachment and logic need to form a strong foundation of your poker. Swings happen, but it’s the long term statistics that matter. For this reason it is important to keep track of your records. Winning $300 one night doesn’t mean much if you lost $400 the night before.

Bankroll. Swings also happen within a single game. This is why it’s important to have at very least 20 times the minimum bet amount in your stack. 100 times would be more ideal. It will allow you to ride a bad run of cards early on so your betting style doesn’t become dictated by the amount of chips you have.

Know when to fold ‘em. Cliche and country pop aside, knowing when to quit for the day is important. I have referred to the term ’tilt’ a few times already in this article, so let’s actually define it. Going on tilt is an emotionally charged and frustrated reaction usually caused by one or more unlucky or ‘unfair’ loses, and often is followed by unsound betting. If you’re feeling fatigued, or frustrated, you’re likely to start forgetting the first concept we mentioned here, and so is probably a good time to call it a day.


So far we have covered 5 or 6 important poker concepts to help you get going. Most may sound like common sense, but you will be surprised how often you will need to re-visit them. I suggest practicing on some free or low limit at 888Poker for a few days, or a week, and then come back here and continue on some of the other poker concepts and strategies.


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