guest article: jon tang

a few posts into this blog, and i realise that i may have left those new to poker behind. as such, i think its only appropriate that the man who got me started on the game should write the entry for poker beginners. his name is jon tang, a former internet and live game player who plays a good mix of tourneys and cash games. here’s his article, please enjoy

Poker in a Vacuum – Part I

So, hello. This has taken a while to pen, and for that, I apologize. Surprising, really, considering the number of times I have re-written this in my head. The problem with poker is that no article ever adequately captures it – it seems to be a game where logic and guidelines sometimes fly through the window. Anyway, here goes. This piece begins a several-part series dealing with the various aspects of Hold’em poker play. Although it is arguably more suited to no-limit games, those being the games of choice among our generation, I have striven to attempt as general an ambit as literally possible. Advice given with regard to mentality, discipline and playing styles, therefore, are applicable across the board of competitive poker games, be they H.O.R.S.E, limit Hold’em, or Omaha Hi-Lo, to cite several examples.

As the title of this article implies, thus, I propose to examine poker in an emotional vacuum. Although the element of emotion can never truly be cut out from any competitive game, I have always found the best mindset in playing any stake is to be emotionally detached from the table. That leads to table control, because you never let the table mood control you. It is a myth that tight focus is required to achieve this mindset, because, well, anyone can achieve this detachment through sheer practice. Throughout this series I propose to touch on such issues as table control, shifting gears, odds calculation, mental awareness, and other psychologically related issues. Any idiot can learn the rules of a card game, but good players never let the rules control their actions. By setting up plays, mixing up styles, et cetera, the rules can always be shifted towards your advantage by taking advantage of others’ mental weaknesses.

On this note, this first instalment deals with what I consider to be several rules that every semi-serious player should follow. You should never break these rules, because this leads to illogical playing, and illogical playing leads to unsustainable losses. Experienced players, or God forbid, pros, do bear with me. Or perhaps do read on – refreshers are always helpful in this field.

Rule 1: Never be afraid to lose

This is perhaps the most important rule of all. One can NOT play poker if one is not prepared to lose all the money he has put into the pot. It sounds simple, and is something that many people scoff at, but it is true that a whole lot of casual players drop hands they should have comfortably won if they had only been prepared to commit themselves to a full bluff on the flop. You will not bluff convincingly if you regard the $200 you throw into the pot as money you are afraid of losing. Your hand will start shaking, you will look nervous, be unable to meet peoples’ eyes, feign disinterest. Worse still, you may not commit the proper amount, say a large overbet in an attempt to scare, if you are afraid to lose that extra $50 in case the guy actually calls. Unless you are seriously mind-fucking the guy, and he drops his hand because you’ve pulled a fake bluff before, he’s going to call and your scare bet has come to absolutely nothing. There are so many people who pride themselves on their reading, there’s no point making it any easier for them to actualise your hand.

Rule 2: Never play beyond your means

This follows from the first point. Online players will be familiar with this concept – if you’re starting out small, you never raise the table stakes until you have the bankroll to jump tables. I have hardly played any higher-stakes games online, mostly because I build a nice fat bankroll playing poker and lose it all on online blackjack or roulette. But hey, I love table games, and that is my sin. Anyway, back to the issue. It is true that regardless of the stakes, your play should not vary wildly. Odds are, after all, relative to the pot and nothing else. However, if you’re patently uncomfortable at playing a $200 buy-in, then for fuck’s sake go back to your comfort zone until you have the wherewithal to raise your table stakes. Uncomfortable players make silly, silly mistakes. They are more liable to go on tilt, after being outdrawn; more likely to commit basic pot errors because they are flustered; get pushed into folding good hands more often because they are afraid to commit. Slowly, they see their blinds being eaten and wonder, well, ‘what the hell am I doing wrong?’, and then they get reckless trying to win it all back. Been there, done that (and lost quite abit along the way. Mind, I play in pounds.)

Rule 3: Always count pot odds

Probably the issue that most players do not understand, and possibly the greyest issue in casual play by far. I accept that in several situations, playing the player is more important than playing the correct odds. We’ve all been outdrawn before by retards who call a $40 bet in a $10 pot on the flop, and go all-in on the turn, just to hit their inside straight draw on the river. It happens. Then they give you some fucking smug face and you just want to throw a drink at them. Well, it happens. You can console yourself all you want about how that particular person, say, B, will lose money in the long run, but the truth is you’ll probably be sent on tilt. Honestly, though, before you even sit down at any table game, know the rough percentages of hands hitting, e.g. percentage of hitting a flush on the river, and call or bet accordingly. Being able to calculate your outs reduces your variance immeasurably. I would always rather be known as the player who loses, at most, one buy-in, and wins a steady amount most of the time, than a player whose variance is huge and wins big but loses big too. The former is a disciplined player who has severely cut down his odds of variance; the latter merely a gambler who does not fully appreciate that there are only 52 cards in a deck. Who would you rather be?

Rule 4: Forget your hands

Some people, including the author of this blog, think that this is quite an unacceptable habit of mine. Well, I stand by it. If you’ve folded a hand, really, just forget about it. Ignore the board in which you would’ve made a full house, or quads. Ignore the fact that you would’ve fleeced the two straights that split the pot. Push the cards into the middle of the table, and mess them up for good measure so you can never find them again. Think about something else, like a pretty girl (or boy) or something. I think of going home to level my Hunter, or how they nerfed the staff of preservation in WC3 (Blizzard, if you’re reading this, fuck you). I don’t even remember what I folded most of the time. Look at it this way. Poker requires enough concentration in the hands that you are in. Why put that extra burden on yourself by playing hands that you’ve already folded? The worst thing is when people start saying that they’ve folded winning hands pre-flop for the last, say, seven hands, and blind-call raises after that and get burnt. There is absolutely no logic in that. Like I’ve emphasised, detach emotion, and your poker game will improve.

Rule 5: Never show your hands

I think this should be the last insert into this particular article, and would lead nicely to part II of this series which should (in all probability) deal with reading the table, styles and tells. There is a strong argument for never showing hands when you have gone all the way. If you are required by the rules to show the hand, then, well, you don’t really have a choice. But if they have folded to you, resist the temptation to show off your full house or nut straight; resist the temptation to gloat. Just take the damn chips and be done with it. If it’s a casual game, well, tell the guy you’ll reveal your hand after the game or something. Everything you give away is information about your playstyle. The last live game I played, I won roughly ten hands in five hours, and they only got to see my cards in four of those hands that I won. I still made several times the buy-in, and I’m not exactly the most serious player ever. Every little bit of information given away by a careless reveal is information about your style of playing, what kind of player you are, how much you bet on certain hands, what you consider a value bet, etc. Unless you are deliberately misleading the table to set up for a monster bluff later (more on that to come later in this series), there is absolutely no reason to give people free information about you. Make them pay to see it.

It is half-nine in the morning and I haven’t slept, so that concludes my first foray into writing for Personally, I hope this has been of use. I am probably not the most qualified person to give advice – heck, I’ve quit playing online over a year ago, and nowadays play poker for the company, really. However, I have been around long enough to know the rudiments of how this game’s mental aspect works. I appreciate that this is a game where disagreements are rife because it is simply so opinionated and there is no truly proper way to play the game. I merely hope to have been of the slightest help. Feedback is always welcome. And from me, then, good luck and have fun at the tables.

Jonathan Tang Yuan

King’s College London


~ by Tim Young on September 23, 2008.

3 Responses to “guest article: jon tang”

  1. Jon ALWAYS remembers his hands.. he just pretends to forget

    Anyways, I have heeded this sound advice and have PROSPERED.. I urge everyone else reading this to completely disregard what has been written (so that I may further prosper)

  2. ive not played for so long tt ive forgotten how the cards look lke. this post would serve me in good stead come macau! thanks ahahah

  3. i dont like poker.

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