How to Learn Poker Fundamentals

Fundamentals are important in every profession and in every interaction.  Poker fundamentals are like the fundamentals in other fields even though poker is a game and it is different than, say, open-heart surgery.  Here we will talk about how to view and learn poker fundamentals.

Fundamentals are Fundamental

This is not just as silly turn of phrase.  If our goal, at Juicy Stakes Poker, is to simplify the idea of poker fundamentals—and it is—we need to see the term “fundamentals” in its purest form.  People use the term fundaments so often that we can lose sight of its true meaning.  So, let us look at poker fundamentals as being poker basics.

And, it is abundantly clear that poker basics are basic to playing poker well.  In essence, the basics of poker are the same whether you are playing Texas Holdem or any of the many other forms of poker.

Fundamentals are important in all walks of life and in all professions.  We all love and enjoy sports and music.  We need to recognize that musicians and athletes always refer back to the fundamentals in their fields.

Surgeons also go back to the basics.  The character trait of any professional in any field who feels that he or she is above going back to basics is arrogance.  In poker, arrogance leads to losses far more often than it leads to wins.

Respect the Essential Value of Practice

It is also true that only the most instinctive poker player can excel at even the poker basics from the first hand they play.  Everyone else—that is, almost 100% of us—needs a lot of practice in order to master even the most fundamental of poker fundamentals.

Impatient players try to advance to advanced concepts before they have mastered the basics.  Let’s master the basics first!

The Most Basic Concept in Poker: We Need a Sound Method for Making Decisions

In addition to simply being able to make good decisions, we often need to make decisions quickly.  At the most basic level, poker fundamentals have to teach us how to make good and quick decisions.

Thus, we can see poker fundamentals as a framework for making the best possible decisions.  We have to acknowledge that we usually don’t have perfect information.  So, our decisions might be incorrect.  But by using poker fundamentals we can make good decisions a lot more often than we make poor decisions.

Learn Poker as a Child Learns

First we need simply to learn.  Only then can we learn to do something better.  A child learns to speak by repeating sounds.  Then they make words and finally simple sentences.  We all learned to crawl before we learned to walk.

Going from the most basic level of poker knowledge to a higher level may involve just a few tweaks.  On the other hand, it might involve a major change in mindset or attitude.

An Example from Video Poker

Basic strategy in Jacks or Better video poker game has 16 lines of strategy.  However, advanced video poker strategy for the same game has 36 lines of strategy.  No one should think that they can learn all 36 lines in advanced strategy until they have learned the basic 16 strategy items well.

We Need Solid Rules for Effective Decision-making

If you look for advice on how to make decisions, you will find that there are so many different opinions on the best way to come to a decision that it will make the matter extremely complicated.  So, let’s simplify the matter by taking some of the best ideas about decision-making and incorporating them in our poker play.

  1. Have no fear.  If you are afraid that you might make the wrong decision, you will usually make the wrong decision.  No one makes the correct decision all the time.  If you are afraid of losing a large part of your bankroll on one decision, then you are probably playing for too-high stakes.
  2. Try to never play a hunch.  Try to always have a good reason for taking your action.  You can learn from any decision if you have an idea why you made it but, if you play hunches, you can never learn from your actions except to stop playing hunches.
  3. Don’t let any of the mathematical ideas that have become part of poker intimidate you.  They are all accessible to average players.  It simply takes time to learn all of these concepts well.
  4. Don’t let the non-mathematical concepts—such as ranges, effective stack size, and position—intimidate you.  These ideas, too, can be learned.
  5. Embrace the concept of game theory in your poker decisions.

Game Theory?  What is Game Theory?

As with so many ideas, game theory can be very complex but we will try to simplify the term and the idea.

Game theory as a term is quite unfortunate because it makes decisions seem like a game.  Monopoly is a game.  Game theory is basically a concept that turns decision-making into a kind of science.

If it helps, think in terms of the science of making decisions.  Now we might be on to something since poker at bottom is all about making decisions.

The reason the so-called science of making decisions is called game theory is because it involves interactions between people where the other people’s actions affect and can even determine your payoff.

Your payoff could be money. It could also be a great restaurant meal, a seat on the 50 yard line at the Super Bowl, a beautiful sunset, or any of thousands of other payoffs that are not directly financial.

Game theory gets complicated quickly since when there are more than two people involved, the payoff is determined by more than two people and so on.  In fact, we have other terms for when a number of people are involved in arriving at a decision: elections, negotiations, market economics, and many others.

These ideas are all directly related to game theory as a scientific analysis of decision-making. 

Game theory can also explain the phenomenon in blackjack at land based casinos where the person who is playing according to sound strategy is blamed for the other players’’ losses.

There are Two Types of “Games” and Game Theory

There is cooperative game theory and Non-cooperative game theory.  Non-cooperative game theory is the game theory that relates to competition.  Poker is all about competition.

How Does All of this Relate to Poker Basics?

It is actually a step before we study the basics of poker.  We need to see that poker is at times cooperative and at times competitive.  It may be in two players’ interest to build the pot.  They will be “cooperating” with each to do so.  At the showdown, they are in competition with each other.

The key point in this entre discussion is that the single most important aspect of poker to learn over-rides mathematics and all of the other ideas.  It is that we play poker against other people who have their own interests.  Most of the time, their interests clash with ours.  We need to learn as much as we can about people in order to be able to use all of the other poker concepts wisely.

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