Adam Slutsky has been published in Maxim, Outside, Chance, Mob Candy, and Casino Player. He is a regular contributor to Bluff and Fight! magazines, and is the author of six mixology books and a graphic novel. Holding a B.A. in creative writing from Arizona State University and a B.S. in cryptozoology from the University of Haiti in Port Au Prince, the self-described adrenaline junkie and poker player lives in Portland, Oregon.
Slutsky has agreed to print a few of his champters exclusively here on PokerTraditions. Here we present Chapter 1, with two more to follow in the coming days. To purchase Pick Up Your Poker Game, PLEASE CLIK HERE, or visit our Amazon.com store.
From PICK UP YOUR POKER GAME: TIPS AND STRATEGIES TO GAIN THE UPPER HAND:
Be a wolf, not a sheep
In Rounders, the quintessential poker movie and the first real exposure many of today’s poker players had to No Limit Texas Hold’em, Matt Damon’s character (Mike McDermott) delivered a simple yet all-encompassing statement: “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”
To put it mildly, poker is not about learning curves. It’s not about posterity, and it certainly isn’t about playing for an audience. Poker is about cold, hard cash—winning it and losing it. What’s more, poker is not a team sport: it’s a solo endeavor—just you against the world (or at the very least, the other players at your table). And when you’ve got no one else to depend on, you definitely do not want to be the weakest in the bunch.
Although skill is a relative term, especially in a luck-influenced game like poker, there is a world of difference between a novice and an expert. These differences are easy to spot—at least they should be—by everyone at the table. Unfortunately, a so-called newbie won’t always readily admit it. And if seasoned players can spot the weak members of the herd, those weak members, out of self-preservation, should realize their own limitations ASAP. Bottom line: whether it’s painful to admit or not, less-experienced players have to recognize when they are outclassed. Yet time and time again, in an effort to “learn as they go” or boost their image, a lesser-skilled poker player will sit down with superior players and accept his fate as if it was destiny. This is both illogical and crazy. Worse, it serves no purpose. There are plenty of ways to improve your poker skills—from books and videos to online live tutorials to simply playing more poker with players of the same skill level—but a game where your hard-earned money is on the line and the odds are stacked against you most definitely isn’t one of them.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a Bill Gates–sized bankroll or Brett Favre–like competitiveness, nor does it matter whether you’re playing poker in a brick-and-mortar casino or in an online card room. The point of the game is to win—to leave the table with more money and chips than you sat down with. Intentionally putting yourself in the role of “David” against a lineup of “Goliaths” is akin to
tearing your money into little pieces, lighting them on fire, and watching the ashes float away. More often than not, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Better to be the shark among the guppies, the player that is heads above the competition. You’ll have innumerable opportunities to move up a level in the future; if and when you’re ready, a game consisting of more proficient players will surely exist. But in the meantime, find the game where you can rule the roost—or at the very least, stand on even ground.
Unfortunately, some players have no patience. They look to jump into the first game with an open seat without even bothering to analyze the lineup.
Others, after determining that they are, in fact, the least skilled at the table, will opt to stick it out, hoping to get lucky, which is, in all probability, the only way they are going to leave the table a winner—or a smaller loser. Over time, those scenarios will not only handcuff you to some degree, preventing you from playing your preferred style, but they will also make you resent the game completely.
Therefore, choose your game wisely. Pretend poker is the food chain: every level provides sustenance for the one above it. Under no circumstances do you ever want to be considered sustenance. So if you can’t find a game where you are the apex predator—the top of the pyramid—wait. Have a drink, take a walk, go read a book, but whatever you do, don’t sit down and play.