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"Learning" at the Play Money Tables - Part I

Preparing for Poker in a World of "Roulette"

By Greg Mallon

It's often been said that you cannot "learn" anything useful at the on-line, play money tables. For the most part, that is probably true.

The first thing to understand is that you are dealing with an incredibly eclectic group of people (that is, people with varied backgrounds and even more varied reasons of being there). It's safe to say that half of them at any given table have little clue on how to play poker properly. What's more, they don't really care. Many are kids, people looking to just play and chat, some simply want to argue and be obnoxious. So how could you possibly learn something in an environment like this? Well, if you are lucky, you will probably run into three or four people at your table who are interested in playing a real game of poker. So your goal is to get it to the point where it is just you and them. Then you may get yourself a small dose of realism. But that is not always easy.

Roulette Anyone?

Before we go any further, if you are the type of person who likes to go all-in on the first hand, just stop that right now because you're playing "roulette", not poker (where skill is required). Too many beginners are so afraid to play without the chip lead that they simply bounce from free table to free table, going all-in at the beginning each time. If they get lucky and win, they'll stay. If not they'll keep on searching. Needless to say, they haven't proved anything by doing this - but at least they've helped themselves feel good, if only for a few minutes. If you really care about playing the game and improving, you need to focus on what will improve your skills - your decision making.

Narrowing the Field

The first thing to do when you begin your "play money" game is nothing. That's right, just chill out. You are in no hurry to do anything. If you get pocket aces or kings, well go ahead and play, but other than that, do nothing, even with a pair of queens. Remember, your goal is not to crush everyone in the first five minutes, but to isolate yourself against the three people at the table who know the game. You'll begin to realize who they are, because more likely than not, they are folding just about every hand. Why? Because they're not stupid, they are not playing "roulette". You should not care if five people went all-in and one person now has 4000 chips. It means nothing to you or your ability to learn. You've simply allowed 4 potential morons to go away. The winner may not be a very good player either, or maybe he had pocket aces (a potentially legitimate reason for risking it all that early). At a ten player table you still probably have about 800 chips or so and that is plenty for what you are trying to accomplish - that is, learn. If you are a beginner, you are not trying to win here so much as put yourself in a situation against some better players. Actually, learning to play with fewer chips is a skill you will have to acquire at some point, so welcome the opportunity.

Preparing for Battle

Another important point here... While you're doing nothing (hopefully you weren't taking me too literally), you should be "paying attention". Now don't just blow past that last sentence and say "yeah, yeah, pay attention". One of the most critical skills a good poker player has is simple "awareness" and recall. Watch what the other players are doing. Once you have reached the point where there are four or less players (including you - and that won't be hard to do, if you've been folding and playing pocket aces or kings), you should have collected some information about the remaining players. You may have a maniac left, and very likely one or two solid poker players. Specifically, you should be looking to see what cards they have "shown down". That is, on the river, after winning or losing, what exactly did they play (their "hole cards")? Did they raise with these cards, were they aggressive? How did they respond to the flop (considering what you now know about that opponent's hole cards)? How many hands on average do they play? You do not need to know exactly, but someone who plays a lot of hands is less likely to have a great hand - makes sense. You need to know this. How did they respond to a raise? Were they timid when it came to a raise or did they fight back? Good things to know. If you were watching TV, you may not have noticed.

Armed with your remaining chips, which should be more than 600 at most ten-handed play money tournament tables if you've been conservative, you are ready to mix it up a bit.

End of Part 1

2005 by Gregory J. Mallon, PokerDecision.com, All Rights Reserved.

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