Poker lessons from a beginner

I spent the last 3 days in Vegas and played a couple of hours of poker every day. Playing poker is quite fun - it combines uncertainty, probability, psychology, reflection, and the thrill of winning (or losing) money. You get to make many decisions with incomplete information, in a compressed timeframe, and get feedback on it. On one of the days, my wife asked me what my winning goal was for the day, and I stoically responded that my goal for the day is to learn more. In situations where the outcomes are highly variable, you can only focus on your effort.

I don't wish to be a professional player as I think there other things to do in the world that aren't zero-sum games and don't have the arbitrary constraints on performance or high dependency on luck. But I'll continue playing occasional games for the thrill and learning.

At the end of the 3 days, I came out losing $300 but I still claim I learned a bit :). Here are some things I learned and how it can apply in real life (IRL).

1. If you play consistently logically than most of your opponents, you are likely to come out ahead.

2. Pick the table that’s right for you. If you are a beginner, choose low blind tables (1-2 or 1-3).
IRL: Know yourself. Choose the right lifestyle, career, partners based on what you want, are capable of and how much you’re willing to risk.

3. Play with the goal of learning and playing a logical game, rather than winning. Reflect on what happened and whether you played it right. Observe people who are doing well and learn how they are doing well.
IRL: Focus on what’s within your control, your effort, and learning.

4. Your main action (check, call, fold, or raise) and magnitudes depend on the cards that you have, cards you think others have, odds of you having the winning hand, and the pool. Consider all three.
IRL: Be conscious about the actions you can take (or are taking subconsciously) and the framework for deciding those actions.

5. Pay close attention to how much your opponents are betting and raising, and infer the possible hand they could have. It’s easy to miss not easily apparent possibilities like a low pocket pair that turned into trips or two pair.
IRL: Be aware of what others are going and why.

6. Bet or raise whenever odds are in your favor, including pre-flop. This increases your chances in a few ways - by eliminating people who have less favorable cards now, by revealing more information about what opponents have, by increasing the size of the pool proportional to your chance of winning.
IRL: Take calculates risks whenever you have the opportunity; your opportunities may change over time if you don’t act.

7. Fold whenever your odds aren’t looking good or whenever you infer that opponents have much better cards. Don’t get blinded by having “good cards” or by the sunk cost
IRL: Be selective about where you invest your time, energy, and money. Be ready to adapt as the situation changes.

8. Bluff sparingly and only when you know it can have an effect on your opponents. When you do bluff, know which possible hand you’re trying to bluff.
IRL: Only fake it sparingly and when there’s a chance it’ll pay off.

9. Your seating position in every deal matters to some degree. You have a disadvantage if you are among the first people to bet (early position) as you may have to fold and lose your bet if someone raises.
IRL: Even within a somewhat static situation, be aware of changes in opportunities.

10. Over time, classify your opponents based on how they bet - aggressive/conservative, algorithmic/erratic, what their bets mean, etc. But as a beginner, focus more on the round than on personalities.
IRL: Understand the unique nature of your friends, partners, and teammates. Use that understanding to foster a better relationship, help, get help, fill in gaps.

11. Set a $ amount target (both positive and negative) when you’ll stop or take a break.
IRL: Reset and take breaks at regular milestones.