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18/11/2005 No.24
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday November 18, 2005
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

This is our ninth week on the poker journey, and there's a very important point I haven't made yet. In poker, rules are there to be broken. I don't mean technical rules, like kings beating queens, or flushes requiring five cards in the same suit - if you try to break these, you will simply lose all your money immediately. I mean the rules about how to play your cards.

It is, in that respect, a unique game. The magical poker element of bluff and deceit means that there can be no hard and fast instructions about how to play. If there were, people would always know what their opponents were holding.
For now, I am advising a low-risk strategy which should help to minimise losses and protect your bankroll. Nevertheless, it would be unfair of me not to explain that every piece of advice has its converse.

For example: I told you to play only strong starting cards and throw the rubbish away. But if you play weird starting cards, you are more likely to "crack" your opponents' strong hands without them suspecting it. I told you to raise with pairs of aces and with ace-king. But if you just call with those hands, opponents are less likely to guess what you are holding. I told you to throw away aces with middling kickers. But if you play those hands, it's possible to make a mysterious and tricksy (and therefore lucrative) two pair.

It is important to know what rules are before you break them. And in the early stages of poker, it's best to keep things safe and simple. But if you're going to read this column regularly, remember that poker is not like backgammon or hopscotch. Everything I tell you has a counterargument. The best play always varies according to situation. Later, when I start telling you to mix things up and make a few moves (which will involve some contradiction of the safe strategy), I don't want you to feel as if you've been tricked. It's just a question of pace. If we ever actually meet across the green baize, and we both have money at stake ... then I'll be trying to trick you. But not before.


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