*This is the second part of a three-part series detailing many of the misconceptions the general public has about Texas Hold’em. Much of the information in these articles apply to poker in general. However, I am specifically talking about Texas Hold ’em because it is easily the most well known and most popular variant of poker.
In the first part of this series, I explained how there are many misconceptions that the average person has about poker, specifically Texas Hold’em, the game most people think of when hearing the word poker. That post can be found here:Part 1. In that part, I specifically dealt with what I believe to be the biggest and most problematic misconception of all – that poker is a game of luck. I went into many reasons why poker is much more a game of skill than luck, even including a good amount of strategy concepts and scenarios. However, there are many more myths about poker, and I intend to expose nine more of them here.
1) Luck Transfers From Hand to Hand: For some reason, people seem to believe that their luck in past hands influence their luck in future hands. I’m frequently told things like, “last time I played 5-9 off-suit, I ended up winning a huge pot, so I’ll play that hand again if I see it,” or, “I’ve been hitting a lot of flush draws today, so I know I’ll hit on the river.” Believe it or not, the cards have no memory, and have no clue as to whether you’ve been lucky or not recently. The way the deck was shuffled in one hand has zero influence on another hand. In fact, believing it does will typically end up hurting you. You probably only played 5-9 off-suit if you were in a blind and could see a cheap flop. It’s a bad move to play that kind of hand frequently. Think of it this way. If you lose a hand with aces, are you going to fold aces next time you get them? Of course not. You play the cards you have in a smart way, no matter what they are.
2) There are Tons of Big Hands: I chock this myth up to two things: poker shows on TV, and poker in other TV shows and movies, most notably a certain hand in Casino Royale. Basically, people believe that when they play poker, there is never a dull moment. On one hand, a flush will beat trips, and on the next a full house will beat top two pair. This simply doesn’t happen. Watching poker on TV is essentially watching a highlight show. The show will typically take the best hands from one day of play which may last 6-12 hours at dozens of tables, and cut them down into a 45-minute show. This means thousands of hands are reduced to around 20-30, and those 20 will include crazy hands, an unusually high number of busts, and the big wins from top pros. It may seem ridiculous to suggest that anything above one pair is actually a very strong hand in Hold’em, but in actuality, roughly 92% of the time you’ll end up with either nothing or just a single pair, meaning two pair or better will win the majority of pots. A full list of the odds of getting certain hands can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poker_probability#Frequency_of_5-card_poker_hands. It’s safe to say that poker isn’t quite as exciting as it is on TV.
3) Players Go “All-in” Frequently: If you really think about it, this is pretty dumb. However, just as with the last myth, TV and movies have done the job of making the ridiculous seem like fact. When a player goes all-in, they are putting their life on the line. If they lose, and are playing in a tournament, they’re out unless they’re in a re-buy period. In cash games, they can’t keep playing unless they put in more money. Putting all your chips in the middle is a serious move, and one that is made in rare circumstances, almost always with a great hand. It doesn’t happen often. Despite this, I guarantee that in almost every TV show or movie with a poker scene, someone ends up going all-in. It just makes for a more interesting plotline. However, in real life, it’s the one move poker players try to avoid.
4) It’s All About the Pokerface: A poker player must have a serious, cold stare, devoid of any emotion to be successful…right? Well, while I wouldn’t recommend smiling or going straight for betting chips any time a good card appears, the whole notion of a pokerface is seriously overrated. While having a perfect blank expression does make it harder for an opponent to get a read, they should never be able to tell exactly what hand you have if you aren’t giving off an expression that could beat a brick wall in a staring contest. I personally like to talk during my hands and try to use psychology to my advantage. Everyone has their own methods, and I just recommend doing whatever comes naturally.
5) Tells and Reading Other People: Similarly to the pokerface, many people believe that the best poker players use some voodoo mind tricks and seem to always know what the other person is holding. In actuality, the decisions of top players rely on a combination of math and odds with what they can deduce their opponent might have through analyzing their opponents plays on every betting opportunity with the cards on the board and knowledge of that person’s play style. Tells can make these decisions much easier, but most players don’t have any obvious actions that can always signal that they either have a hand or don’t. Finding a tell requires a lot of work and won’t work all the time, meaning there are many other more important factors in a hand.
6) Bluffing is Essential to Success: A well-timed bluff can win you a lot of chips and earn you the respect of other players. However, bluffing too much can be very dangerous, as players will quickly pick up on this and be much more willing to call your bluffs, losing you money in the long run. In fact, many great poker players hardly bluff at all, and instead just focus on making as much money as possible when they have strong hands. Bluffing is an important skill to have, but it is far from the only factor deciding who a good poker player is.
7) Poker is Hard to Learn and Play: A lot of people don’t play poker because they believe it will take them a lot of time to learn the game and that when they play they will just get crushed and lose their money to better players. The rules of Texas Hold’em can be learned in just a few minutes, and the game is easy to pick up when you begin playing it. The thing I love about the game is that while a new player won’t be as good as an experienced one, they can still compete. Sometimes a new player will play well without realizing it, or just get a lucky run of cards. In a game like chess, and new player will always get dominated by a Grandmaster in just a few moves. However, a poker table is a great equalizer, and anyone sitting and playing has a chance to win.
8) Aces are Invincible: Pocket rockets, bullets, or simply aces- no matter what you call them, ace-ace is the best starting hand in Hold’em by far, beating every other hand at least roughly 80% of the time. However, people often fool themselves into thinking that they can’t fold aces in any circumstance. Additionally, they are always eager to tell people about their bad beats when they had aces, wondering how unlucky they must’ve been to lose with them. First off, if a board has four cards of a suit, and you don’t have the nut flush, there’s a good chance you’re beaten. Even if you have trip aces, the situation is unchanged. Four to a straight is a similar situation. Since anything as low as two pair beats a single pair of aces, you must beware of opponents holding better hands when they raise large amounts. The funny thing about aces is that while many people think you want to play against as many people as possible with aces to win more money from more people, that strategy actually ends up hurting you more often than not. The reason is that despite how good aces are, when going up against more and more opponents, your odds of winning drop. Against one opponent holding a random combination of two cards, the odds of aces winning is 85%. However, against four players, the odds drop to just 56%, not much better than 50-50. So when people complain about losing with aces, they probably don’t realize how low their odds actually are. It’s far from 100%.
9) Zynga Success = Real Success: A lot of people play online poker games or poker apps such as Zynga Poker because they allow people to play against other people without spending any actual money. However, someone being successful on an app far from guarantees success live. This is because apps like Zynga Poker have a lower level of competition, and many people on the app just enjoy throwing money around and going all-in because if they lose they can just go to lower stakes and do the same thing over again. While apps like this can be good for just hanging out, it doesn’t mimic the experience of an actual live game.
Hopefully now I’ve cleared up many of the myths surrounding Texas Hold’em. In the third and final part of this series, I’ll be discussing a side of poker rarely talked about- the educational side of the game.