A novice approach to learning hold ’em poker

How do you survive the period between being a complete poker beginner to an intermediate player that can be competitive in the poker arena? After you’ve read the books and watched the DVDs there is still a wide gap from theory to application. The gap narrows with experience and maturation of your skill level.

Your earliest poker sessions will keep you busy with the mechanics and protocol of playing the game. The more sessions you put under your belt the less you will need to think about procedure and your skills of observation and strategy can develop. The following suggestions can be applied immediately to your next game.

Starting hands

Depending on which books you read, there are about 70 starting hands that can be played depending on whether you are in early, middle, or late position. Some of us without photographic memories find it difficult to memorize these hands during our early poker careers. Many very notable professionals frequently ignore the starting hand guidelines and often follow an “any two cards can win” philosophy. An alternative approach for beginners to use in the meantime is playing only combinations of 10 through ace or pocket pairs for starters.


Those of us who lack aggressive personalities are at a certain disadvantage in the competitive world of poker but the lack of aggression is usually accompanied by an abundance of patience. The patience advantage helped get me to the final table more often than not and confirmed the idea that beginners play too many hands. Even some players with a couple of years experience seemed prone to play poor cards and a lot of hands so it was more a matter of cautious endurance than skill that got me to the final table. Typically only about 1 hand in 10 is worth playing but some sessions will provide wide swings in how many playable hands you get. If you get dealt 20 hands that aren’t playable you may need to play again another day or just change tables.

Think about what the other players might have

During the first few tournaments or sessions of hold’em your play will be based on the relationship between your hole cards and the cards on the board. With experience the relationship of the board to what other players may have becomes important as well and you will make better decisions when you can analyze the texture of the board.

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Comments 3 comments

Matthew Maktub profile image

Matthew Maktub 4 years ago from Las Vegas

The biggest mistakes I see a lot of novices make in tournament poker is just trying to survive longer, where as very good players usually make gambles in the middle-late stages of the tourney so they can have a bigger stack and more control over the table.

Don Knight profile image

Don Knight 4 years ago from Orange County, California Author

I think that once a player has reached the level of being able to control or employ strategy to control the table then he is more of an intermediate level player or, as you state, a very good player.

Matthew Maktub profile image

Matthew Maktub 4 years ago from Las Vegas

Right, it's been a long time since I remember how I played when I first started out in the game. I was always a little ahead of the curve, but I likely had the same strategy and hand selection for at least my first 6 months playing poker.

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