It’s poker night with the lads. There’s a box of cigars that taste like car fumes, a crisp £20 note in the wallet, and, despite living in Telford and not Texas, you’ve brought a Stetson.
There’s just one problem: you don’t have a clue how to play. Not really. As your mates clean up, you play uncertain hands, calling “Royal flush!” at the slightest flash of a queen and going home with wallet and pride depleted.
It doesn’t have to be this way, says PokerStars pro player Jake Cody. The British boy wonder has secured one World Series bracelet (an FA cup in the poker world) and one European title, meaning he’s got a few tricks (and nothing else) up his sleeve. He’s taken almost $4 million in winnings so far in his career.
You’re unlikely to walk away from Gary’s with the same purse this weekend, but Cody’s insider tips will help you fleece your mates out of their beer money. Keep these close to your chest.
Eyes on the prize and all that, but don’t let the promise of dollar signs dilute your deduction skills.
“Hand strength, position and stack size – the order in which players take turns and the amount of chips you have – are the things to contemplate, as these three variables dictate whether or not you enter the pot,” says Cody. “After that, it’s imperative to pay attention to opponents’ actions – who are they, and how are they playing.”
Swot up on the ranking of different hands (see below) before you start and remember that the best position to be in is the last player to act on a given hand. That way you have some sense of what your opponents are doing so save your biggest bets for then.
Practice Makes Perfect
As with any card game, rigorous training makes for a top player. Poker is no exception.
“Real beginners should practise and make sure they know the rules by-heart,” says Cody. “You can read and study strategy and more complex theories, but nothing will speed up the learning curve better than playing the game and jumping in at the deep end. Online services like PokerStars lets you get to grips without dropping a cash deposit.”
One thing you’ll pick up early on is that you shouldn’t play too many hands. Going in on everything will tell more experienced players that you’re easy pickings. And by only going after the hands you’re really confident on, you’ll increase your chance of winning. Or rather, reduce your chance of losing more often.
When Should You Cut Your Losses?
It’s always better to take home a modest haul than end up in the minus figures: know when to throw in the towel.
“This all comes down to how well you can handle your emotions and swings in the game,” says Cody. “Some people can play for hours and shake off big losses they are confident to make, while others will take one bad beat and let it affect the game.
“If you’ve been unlucky and that’s gotten inside your head, this will affect your decision making and skew your skills. So stop.”
Is ‘Poker Face’ A Legit Thing?
From steely resolve to lyrically abysmal Lady Gaga songs, the term ‘poker face’ has been repurposed beyond the pale. But how relevant is it to your next game?
“Underrated by many, and overrated by an equal amount – in reality, the importance of poker face is somewhere in between,” says Cody. “Everyone is different, so study people’s’ emotional states – an easier task if you’re playing with friends. Detecting body language can definitely help make the right decision in a big pot and close decisions that are down to the wire.”
As a general rule, bluff sparingly if you don’t want to be caught out. And remember that when you’re five drinks in, you’re not nearly as subtle as you think you are.
Foolproof Card Combos Do Exist (Sort Of)
You don’t need Victoria Coren on speed dial to realise that some combos are better than others. One in particular however, is almost a dead cert.
“If you have pocket aces pre-flop – before the first card is made visible – and get the money in, you’re a huge favourite,” says Cody. “But in poker, there’s no guarantee as luck plays such a big factor.”
And Equally, Other Hands Are Underrated Plays
Pocket aces may be gold dust, but some hands are more a silent assassin. Look out for a starting hand that consists of an ace and a card of the same suit.
“Suited aces, especially in big money situations, are incredibly high value,” says Cody. This is due to the relative reliability of the hand – not quite a flush (which is a rare find), but strong enough to take on most opponents. Use the chart below to identify the top 20% of hands you can start with.
Could You Go Pro?
Robbing your friends of their hard-earned on a Friday night can tempt you to quit the day job in pursuit of a professionalising a hobby. Just like dreams of premiership football however, poker is a tricky game to monetise full-time.
“You have to really be in love with the game itself to make it – not the idea of getting rich,” says Cody. Besides, you’ve got to leave your opponents with enough to make them come back next time.