Can poker be taught?

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Jeffrey | Poker Articles, Poker Strategy

Submitted by Kochan, this article is a part of the Poker Strategy series. 

This was the question posed to me about a year ago. Take a random person in his/her twenties of average intelligence and turn that player into a winning poker player. Given time and experience could you teach this person to play exactly like you and succeed?  My answer was yes. Why couldn’t I? There’s nothing inherently special about me that lends me to be winning poker player. Poker is not about natural ability, it’s just something that can be learned. On closer inspection however, I’ve learned that this above statement is not entirely true.

About four years ago I began playing poker socially with friends. As is the nature of the game I thought I was God’s gift. We all did. After about six months I put money online and swung up and down generally ending break-even and mostly playing SNGs with no understanding of even the most basic SNG strategy. Soon after I made the switch from SNGs to limit hold’em full ring games. One night I was playing while a friend of mine watched; appalled by my play, “What are you doing man, you gotta play TAG.” I didn’t have the slightest clue what he was talking about. He went on to explain the concepts of tight aggressive play for limit hold’em.

It completely blew my mind. Was this guy for real? I mean I understand that playing A3 and A4 might be bad but does he seriously expect me to fold a hand like K10s pre-flop? That hand is awesome! I tried to listen to him and fought through the pain of having to fold those good looking hands (sometimes I still do) and I began winning. I built up my bankroll in limit before switching to MTTs where I did the same, slowly learning concepts of stack sizes/bet sizes and gathering information from watching the top players play and reading their poker related comments on forums.

Nowadays we have so many training sites where top pros reveal their secrets and yet there are still people who watch these videos and fail. Why? The answer lies in the fact that poker DOES require some natural ability. There are personality traits that top players share that losing players lack. The most important trait that separates the winners from the losers is self discipline. This comes in many varieties and is crucial to success in poker. Discipline in bankroll management. Discipline to follow the principles of poker such as position and pot odds.

I know you have a feeling that you’re going to smash a set with pocket 4s vs. a UTG raiser with 15 big blinds. I know that you’re sure you can flop a monster from SB with A7 vs. a mid-position raiser. Clubs haven’t come on the flop in ages!!! They’re due! It’s important to be able to put these instincts or moments of wishful thinking aside and have the discipline to play as you have been taught.

Of course probably the greatest reason that poker cannot be taught to just anyone is that some people don’t want to learn. It may seem strange but this makes up the majority of the losing poker community. Poker is a skill game with large amounts of short-term luck that often deludes players into believing they are awesome. We all have a friend who is the self proclaimed most feared poker player out there. They’ll send you hand histories to prove it. They’ll send you their hero call with Ace high in a big pot that they got right.

But do they ever send it to you when they get it wrong? They’ll explain to you that their poker instincts are unmatched. You can try and help them but it’s no use because they’ve ‘got their own style.’ This sentence is generally followed up by a bad beat story. You may laugh and recognize this player but their cockiness and laziness exists within most of us. Lately I have been grinding out some 5/10 short handed limit holdem at a breakeven rate. On my bedside table sits ‘Short Handed and High Stakes Concepts and Theory on Limit Holdem’ by Stoxtrader and Zobags. It would most likely catapult me to becoming a winning player at these games and yet it has remained unread for the past 8 months. How could I teach someone else to play? I would first have to teach them how to learn.


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1 Comment to Can poker be taught?

December 19, 2008

I totally agree, in order to be taught, you have to have the desire to learn. What I find is that when people have a good run they think they are poker gods, but when they start to lose they don’t understand why, nor do they take the time to review their hand histories to see what mistakes THEY might have made. I have to admit, I’ve fallen into that category on several occasions, but now find myself trying harder to find my leaks. Great article!

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