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30/09/2005 No.17
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday September 30, 2005
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How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Here is the first tip for modern British poker players: don't try to play like the people on TV. The rise of televised poker is excellent news, as it has taught newcomers a very lucrative range of habits. Lucrative for the rest of us, that is.

On television, people stick all their chips in the pot with bad hands. They bluff a great deal, either from short-stacked desperation or a simple attempt to look cool on screen. They call too many bets from other people, for fear of being bluffed themselves in front of an audience. They think for ages about each decision, mainly in the hope of hogging more screen time.

In real life, if you play with bad hands, you will lose. If you bluff a lot, you will get caught. If you call too many bets, you will fritter your chips away. And if you think for ages, you are simply giving your opponents more time to get a read on you.

So why do they do this stuff on TV? Firstly, and most importantly, because people at home can see their cards. Thus bluffing looks gallant and macho, while passing the best hand looks weak and girly. But if nobody can see your cards, there is neither credit nor shame. You are Steve McQueen only in your own head.

Secondly, televised poker is always tournament poker - if you run out of chips, you are knocked out. With a limited chip stack and a ticking clock, sometimes you just have to make crazy gambles. But in most home poker games, you can always buy more chips, and the game doesn't finish until it's time to relieve the babysitter. Or have children. So you can afford to wait for a decent hand. (We will define "a decent hand" later in the series.)

Lastly, televised poker is usually "no limit", meaning that you can bet any amount you like. This is a much faster and more aggressive variant than the traditional British home game of "pot limit" (where players may only bet a maximum of whatever is already in the pot). Pot limit requires a greater level of care and sanity - so make sure you display some.


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