Background: I’ve been playing poker daily since late August 2018. I’ve improved as a player by leaps and bounds, and still have a lot to learn. I think I’m pretty good, but I’ve always thought I was pretty good. While I’m probably wrong about how good I am at any point in time, it’s good to have a positive self-image and be an optimist. My hand outcomes have messed with this optimism quite a bit, but despite that I’ve managed to win chips over this time.
I talk to my girlfriend about my play, and she’s not a poker player, so she doesn’t have a great deal of understanding about the game, isn’t familiar with terms and jargon, and it’s been an obstacle to having meaningful conversations.
We’re practicing social distancing due to the pandemic, and so have been looking for activities that we can do that don’t involve going out, and learning how to play poker was one of the items that made it to the list.
First, I just tried to explain how a hand of NLHE is played. This didn’t go so well. I’d start dealing the hand and explain what’s happening at each step, and get bombarded with questions that would derail the hand playing out to the extent that it was hard to get through the hand. The questions weren’t bad, by any means, but just getting through explaining how a hand is played was not giving her the picture that would help answer most of those questions.
After getting through a hand, we tried playing a few, heads up. I didn’t try to play advanced strategies, she didn’t have any idea bout how or when to bet. Eventually it devolved to she’d call any bet because she just wanted to see the cards.
The fun wasn’t there, and it was clear what she needed was just to see how a hand is played, without having to be in the position of making a decision. We ran through a few face-up hands, and I’d try to explain, street by street, seat by seat what a player will be thinking and how that would influence their action, and how to read that action. Again it was too much information, and all I was doing was sucking all the air out of the room.
What we ended up doing was just deal single hands. I’d issue the hole cards, face up, and ask her to evaluate her hand strength. I’d ask her what cards she’d like to see on the board with these cards, and she could answer that question easily.
Then we’d deal the flop and I’d ask her to re-evaluate the strength of her hand. Did she hit the flop for anything? What cards would she most like to see on the Turn and River? What cards in an opponent’s hole would beat her? What cards in her opponent’s hole might continue in the face of a bet, rather than fold?
Then I’d proceed to deal the Turn card, and ask her the same questions, re-evaluating her hand strength and what new information she now has. And so on with the River. I’d offer some basics on how to figure out the odds of drawing to her strong draws, what outs she had, and eventually worked into it what outs were a mirage or counterfeit given the board texture. (Such as when drawing to a straight, but there’s a flush implied by the board texture, or when drawing a pair to your bottom card improves your hand strength, but doesn’t make you any better against Top Pair, etc.)
After running through a few of these hand-reading exercises, my girlfriend told me that this was fun to her, which I considered a win.
So, if you’re teaching someone how to play poker, I think running through some solo hands like this is maybe a great way to do it, as opposed to try just starting them out playing real hands or practice hands with a full table and actual (or pretend) betting .
I think it’s also a fun exercise to run yourself through solo, as “homework” when away from a real table.
If we do more lessons, I’ll see how we can work into how to create a learning exercise that can teach how to decide whether to fold, call, bet, and how much. That’s much more complicated, and becomes more advanced the more you’re able to learn about the game, so I’m not really sure yet how to introduce those concepts at the “shallow end of the pool”.