One day, a poker professional will stand before his vanquished enemies, holding his belt, bracelet, or wad of cash. And he will say that he learned to play the game not by playing online or in poker rooms, but watching poker on TV.
For most people, their first taste of poker is playing for spare change (or candy or cookies) with friends and family. However, their first taste of what it could be like to play poker professionally comes by watching the greats duel it out on the television screen.
To that end, I learned a lot of how to play poker just by watching it on TV. After giving it some thought, here are eight of the lessons I learned about poker from seeing it on TV that didn’t cost my hard earned bankroll to find out on my own.
1 – Even the Pros Fold
As a novice poker player, the idea of folding as a defensive strategy feels like quitter talk. The idea of playing poker is to win, and there’s no way to win if you are sitting around watching other people play their hands.
That’s why too many novices hold on to terrible hands that have no shot of coming out on top and continue to toss money into the pot until the very bitter end. After a while, a novice might get the idea that they fold 2-3 unsuited or even jack-7, but there’s no way a novice mucks any hand where there’s an ace or a king or any of those good cards.
That’s where watching the pros was so instructive. A pro will clearly fold a terrible hand, but they will also fold hands with aces in them if the other card is two. They might even fold a pocket pair if it’s not high enough.
Therefore, you fold out of a bad hand and live to fight another day. You might also give up a decent hand if you don’t have position or if everyone else is betting aggressively.
2 – Even the Pros Lose
This is a tough pill to swallow, because every poker player wants to believe they are invincible. The problem is that even the greatest poker players lose, and even the poker greats may only win a major tournament once.
Poker is a fickle game. To be great, you are going to lose a lot. Seeing the pros on television get close only to find their chip stacks disappear is a hard lesson, but it’s encouraging for those of us who don’t play for a living.
It allows us to accept losing a game or two and still keep going.
3 – Calculating Odds Is Important
While watching poker on TV, the screen will show you the odds to win for each hand. This is based on the television program’s perfect knowledge of each card that has been dealt and what cards remain.
It’s cool to see it as a teaching tool so that the viewer can understand the relative strength of each hand. Still, for years, I thought that the only way to calculate those odds were to know everything about the game.
As it turns out, poker players are constantly plotting the odds of the strength of their hand against the risk of staying in. And once everyone goes all in, they are good at calculating odds in their head that rival the odds shown on the television screen.
All of this means, at the end of the day, I had to do a lot of research to better understand how those odds are computed. Now, I employ similar math when I play.
4 – Poker Lingo
Like a lot of games, poker has its terminology for almost everything. For reasons I can’t fully fathom, there seem to be a lot more poker terms than in other pastimes and those terms get used an awful lot.
It’s important for players of all skill levels to be able to use these words when talking about poker and when studying it, especially because many articles on strategy and tips use these terms. In the end, if you don’t talk the talk, figuring out how to walk the walk is almost impossible.
Enter poker television. The poker players and announcers often use poker-specific terminology when talking about the game. However, in most cases, they will back up and explain what something means to the audience.
It’s a good way to get familiar with the language without having to read a glossary.
5 – The Pros Have Tells
Every poker pro will tell you that winning in-person poker games involves eliminating tells, which is good advice. A tell gives away information to the your opponents.
Also, in many ways, professional pokers excel at removing their tells to the point they sit at a table like a statue. Still, professional poker players do have tells. You just have to look a little harder to find them.
Pretty soon, you will find you can judge if they are happy with their cards or not.
Once you get comfortable with this, you can then go to other real-life poker games and start to find other players’ tells. You’ve already seen what to look for by watching poker (body position, posture, breathing, rate of speech), just find similar patterns at people in your table and you are one step closer to poker mastery.
6 – The Talkers Are Tilting
The cameras love poker players who talk a lot. They make for a better viewing experience. But they are almost always on their way out.
Sure, the cameras will fix on a player that is constantly jawing at everyone around them, but fairly quickly, the announcers will start to notice that the player is making erratic bets, staying in instead of folding, and succumbing to some seriously bad bluffs.
All of this is to say that poker television teaches how to spot someone tilting (and ripe to plunder). This is why you should never stay in when you start to tilt.
7 – How to Bet Before the Flop
Before watching poker television, I often wouldn’t bet preflop because I didn’t always feel confident in winning without seeing what the first three community cards were. However, after watching a lot of Texas Hold‘em on television, I quickly grew to realize there are numerous reasons why one bets prior to the flop.
While there are several reasons to do so, I found that I really liked two of them.
- The first is what you call a “bully bet.” I’ve seen it in a number of cases. When the table is calling the big blind or only betting a small amount, one larger bet can cause a lot of opponents around the table to fold. This should only be done by a player in position, but it’s a great way to win a hand without trying.
- The other reason to bet before the hand is to do a value bet. A small bet is enough to show the table you have some confidence in your hand. But it also gets everyone else betting so that, in the end, you hopefully take their money.
I’ve seen all of this play out well on poker television.
8 – What a Bad Bluff Looks Like
I’ve seen a lot of people try to bluff in poker and have it go horribly wrong. In the end, watching other people bluff has shown me the changes in the bluffer’s body language. They almost always go stiff and get quiet.
In fact, poker television has taught me to avoid bluffing since it rarely works.
Watching poker television is like going to poker school every night. I have learned so much about the game just by watching other professionals do their thing at the poker table.
Fortunately, you can learn all of these lessons just by reading this post, but I challenge you to turn on the television and watch a game or two. See if you come to the same conclusions I did, then you can decide if you want to change your game accordingly.