Poker is played in casinos and card rooms but the game is played against other players, not against the house. A house rake (3%-5%, capped at $3-$5) is taken from each pot. Dealers make their money primarily from "tokes" or tips from winning players ($1-$2 a pot). The rake is significant but talented players can beat the rake by winning money from the other players.
Texas Holdem Poker is a game with only five basic actions. You can bet, check, fold, raise, and call. Just about all of us can rank the hands from royal flush to a single high card. Texas Holdem is played with five community cards and two hole cards and most people can decipher the best hand (the nuts) on the flop, turn and river.
The game is simple and you can teach a child to play and less than an hour and he will remember the basics for life. But it takes most winning players a lifetime to master. The vast majority of players will not be winners over their lifetime and even fewer will master the game.
A person can become better than most players at the lower limit games simply by reading a basic strategy book. But like finger prints, no two poker situations are identical, and each has to be assessed independently, rather than by rote-play rules of thumb or conventional wisdom to master the game.
Numerous poker players have read the books and understand poker’s basic strategies. But, what is most important and difficult to teach in a book is reading opponents’ hands. Once I ran into world class Texas Holdem player T.J. Cloutier at DFW airport after a flight from Las Vegas. He told me that every player can learn the basics, including the simple math. He said the most important element for success is learning to "play the player not the cards", which is much more difficult.
Good hand readers make better lay downs, value-bet better, and design highly profitable plays based on their reads. Great hand readers combine their hand-reading ability with their strategy knowledge and make better decisions in their play of hands.
The key to decision-making is having good data. In poker, you have a continuous data stream in the form of the tendencies, behaviors, moods, and other variables displayed by and affecting your opponents. The game is simple. Processing the data and making correct decisions (within seconds) is very difficult.
The most important poker decision that a poker player ever make involves game selection. If you are the tenth best player on earth but play in a game with the nine better players in the world, you will lose long term. On the other hand, playing at a table with nine less talented players will be profitable long term, even if you are the 10,000,000 or worse player on earth.
Life is all about the journey, not the destination. Playing Texas Holdem is like that for me. It's a challenge and ever day played is just a small part of the life long session. The best players are going to have losing days. Good players have to be able to play through the volatility to be successful.
I am looking forward to spending a couple of weeks playing in Las Vegas next month. Casinos in Vegas offer the lowest "rakes" and the best game selection. Winstar (Oklahoma) has not been good to me this year. Whining about how bad things are or how your two black aces in a five-way capped pot are looking at the 8 7 6 5 board on the turn doesn’t matter a bit. How you got here doesn’t matter a lot. What are you going to do now? That’s what matters.
Everyday is an adventure!