You can learn a lot from poker beginners

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I recently took a trip to Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun, which remains one of the nicest casinos on the East Coast. I highly recommend it as a destination and a place to play poker. The poker room is spacious and well-organized. While it may not get the total traffic as some other rooms, I was impressed with the variety of games running at any given time. I tried a number of different levels and found various skill levels.

Mohegan Sun offered a game that you won’t find at many poker rooms: $1-$1 no-limit hold’em. It played differently from $1-$2 in that it was a true beginner’s game. A couple of people at my table were extremely green along with what appeared to be some real regular nits. It’s a great casual game for someone just starting out and wants to get some experience in a no-pressure environment.

While I wouldn’t recommend the games for a more experienced player, I enjoy trying different games and levels to see if I can learn anything. So, let me tell you what I learned in this game. One of the challenges in playing against a novice player is it often proves difficult trying to determine what they have. That’s because they don’t know the relative strength of their hand. This causes them to play in an erratic and unpredictable manner.

You’ll often hear experienced players say they would rather face another experienced player than an amateur.

This is what they mean. Of course, there’s nothing purposeful to the newbie’s arbitrary play and, of course, over time they will lose money and ultimately be easy to manipulate. The goal of experienced players is not to appear amateurish but to mix up play enough to be confusing to opponents.

For example, one of the hallmark traits of a newbie is to be a calling station with everything from speculative and mediocre to even strong hands. They’re just hoping to get to the river and show a winner. That’s not a winning strategy, especially when you hold the best but a vulnerable hand at any time. However, there are no absolutes in poker. Calling can often be a deceptive practice to get more value out of your winning hands, especially when it leads opponents to misread your hand.

If your goal is to become a better player, get out of your comfort zone every now and then and explore new ways to improve your game. Certainly, one way is to play at higher levels and against better competition. That can be an expensive exercise. Try stepping down from time to time and I’m sure you’ll make discoveries. Remember, you are the variable!

— David Apostolico is the author of You are the Variable: Play Your Best Poker, available on Kindle for $5.99. Email him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.