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Poker Introduction

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Poker isn’t really a casino game. Yes, it’s played in casinos (among other places), but the poker mindset has more in common with golf than it does with blackjack or craps.

Regular casino games pit players against the house. In some situations, professionals can squeeze out a positive edge, but in most contests the casino has an absolute advantage; which is typically between one and 30 percent. That’s why there are no professional roulette players, slot, keno, or craps players. It is just not mathematically possible to win at those games in the long run.

There are a few professionals who earn a living playing blackjack, and fewer still who sustain themselves playing video poker, but it’s tough. Perfect play will produce a one to two percent player edge. Skill has a part in those contest, but luck and the percentages still hold the greatest influence.

It is the other way around in poker. Bad luck can hurt, but skill will always beat luck over time. Consider the people who play poker. Many are professionals, either big money winners or small players who grind out a reasonable living. Some are semi-professionals that supplement their regular income with poker winnings. Then there is a throng of casual players who love the game and play once or twice a week. It all sounds very much like golf.

Why is this distinction important? Because your money is potentially at greater risk when playing poker. The house edge may slowly bleed you dry in most casino games, but it also protects you. The math is set. Sometimes you win and more times they win. You have a predictable chance even if you’re a beginner. Not so I poker. If you’re a beginner or a mediocre player, it is like playing golf against Jack Nicholson or any other professional golfer. You’ll never win. Ever. At least not in a casino.

Poker is the national pastime, not baseball. Just think about it. How many people do you know that actually play baseball? Every week millions of people across America gather in kitchens and dining rooms to play the game that enraptured Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill and countless other historic personalities. The majority of people’s poker knowledge is from this communal experience. This knowledge is further influenced by an ever-present scene in films and television. We all know the scene; four or five people are sitting at a round table with a single bright light shining down from above. The year is 1900 or maybe 1930. Each person is holding five cards. The bad guy throws some cash into the pot and says “I’ll see your $800 <pause> and raise you $3 000.” Then he tosses a second stack of bills onto the pile.

Casino poker is nothing like that. Even the basic game is different. You’ll be hard-pressed to find five-card draw or for that matter any contest with wild cards. The two most popular poker variations for professionals and semi-professionals are seven-card stud and Texas hold’em. Other common poker variations include Omaha and lowball.