Are you a newbie to the wonderful world of poker?
Congratulations! It’s exciting, isn’t it?
Everybody has to start somewhere in their poker career – there was a time when the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey and the late, great Doyle Brunson (below) all saw the pack shuffled before they received their first hand.
Those famous players and more learned their craft over many years, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hands and much more.
So, if you are just about to embark on your poker journey, what are the best snippets of advice you can follow?
In this first article in a series, I will give you five tips that I wish I had known, or at least followed, when I began playing at the Cash Tables.
Then over the next few weeks, I’ll do the same but this time for standard tournaments, followed by Freerolls, Sit ‘n’ Go games (such as bet365 Poker’s Twister Poker games) and lastly the art that is Heads Up poker.
“The name of the game is No Limit Texas Hold’em, the game that takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master.” – Mike Sexton
The Right Path
These tips should put you on the right path regardless of whether you are playing at the cash tables in a casino, in your house with friends and family or whether you are loading up bet365 Poker to test yourself on the sites’ extensive cash table game options.
I can’t promise that these tips are going to make you a poker professional, or even improve your cash game play immediately.
That is down to your efforts, application, skill and as always, a healthy slice of luck.
But I do feel the tips will give you a better chance at not losing money so quickly as a newbie.
Additionally, they should give you an opportunity to enhance your cash game skills quickly enabling you to become a more rounded player, and not the sucker at the table.
“If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.” – Mike McDermott in the film Rounders.
Beginner Poker Cash Game Tips
Tip 1 – What Are Your Expectations From A Cash Game?
How is that a tip you may ask? Well, many people when they first sit down at a cash table will look at the stacks of the other players and think to themselves, “Wouldn’t it be great if I won ALL that money!”
Well, just hold on a moment there, this isn’t a tournament, or a Sit ’n Go table! Cash Table games are far more about the long game and if you are looking for quick, short term gains, then this form of poker isn’t for you.
One of the best to play the game and write about it summed it up nicely:
“When we play, we must realize, before anything else, that we are out to make money.” – David Sklansky.
This is especially true of cash games where the aim is to build your stack over time. That requires patience and realistic expectations, as well as a sensible playing style that will eventually lead you to profit.
So, your expectation from a cash game isn’t to ‘win’ it is to make money. And if you can do that more than you lose, then you are on your way to becoming a solid cash game player.
Tip 2 – Bankroll Is Key
It goes without saying that the importance of having a decent sized bankroll compared to the cash table you want to play at is important.
For example, if you have a bankroll of say £200, and you can buy in to a table where the maximum buy in is £20, or a different table where the minimum buy in is £20, you should always, as a beginner, select the maximum buy in £20 table.
Why not buy in at a table where the maximum buy in is for £200? Well, why risk all your bankroll in one session? Remember this is for the long haul, so you need to be sensible and realistic in your expectations. You won’t improve any if you lose your entire £200 bankroll in just one session, as can easily happen.
Therefore, playing a percentage of your total bankroll, say 10%, and buying in at a cash table where that is the maximum buy in, is a good rule of thumb for a beginner.
There are several reasons for this, firstly, players won’t be able to bully you immediately as they have much larger stacks, secondly, the blinds on that table will be less than on the other and thirdly, you are more likely to find inexperienced, low ability or novice players playing the smaller stakes tables.
You do not want to start at a cash table playing catch up straightaway, so always pick the right table for how much you want to stake of your remaining bankroll.
Tip 3 – Know When to Call it a Day
It is immense fun to play in a cash game, especially if you start to pick up a few hands and land some chips to put you in profit, but don’t get too overconfident as pride often comes before a fall for a beginner.
Some smarter players will even let you win low value hands to increase your confidence and then watch as you bet more before they swoop in and snatch away a massive chunk of your chips.
So don’t become shark bait. Set a time you want to play for in the cash game set up, whether that’s online, in a casino, or with friends. Then stick to it.
Being disciplined like this can help you walk away from the table at the right time, rather than overstaying and overplaying and eventually losing chips, rather than making a profit.
Tip 4 – Don’t Bluff
Bluffing is an artform and for you to be successful at it, you need to have a high degree of plausibility against more experienced players and as a beginner, you are not likely to time your bluff correctly.
Of course, it is tempting to bluff, it’s great when an opponent folds holding the nuts to your well-executed bluff, but those hands are rare, even for the very best players.
So as a beginner, forget the Hollywood movies, and keep bluffing to an absolute minimum, or forego it entirely until you have learned a little more about when a bluff is most likely to work.
Tip 5 – Hit the books: There is a LOT to study!
How can you go about becoming a better player, well listening to the advice and wisdom of some of the best players in the history of the game is a good place to start.
Fortunately, there are a number of poker books by legends such as Doyle Brunson that are a perfect place for a beginner to start their trawl through some of the finer points of the game.
You can find our list of four such books to read in this excellent poker book review.
However, along with that list of the four poker ‘bibles’ for players that want to improve, I would also add the following titles:
- Every Hand Revealed by Gus Hansen (2008)
- The Body Language of Poker (The Book of Tells) by Mike Caro (1994)
- Harrington on Hold’em by Dan Harrington (2006)
- Harrington on Cash Games by Dan Harrington (2008)
- Hold’em Poker by David Sklansky (1976)
- Winning Low Limit Hold’em by Lee Jones (1994)
- Kill Everyone by Lee Nelson (2007)
- Small Stakes Hold’em by David Sklansky & Edward Miller (2004)
- Applications of No-Limit Hold’em by Matthew Janda (2013)
- Essential Poker Math by Alton Hardin (2016)
- Reading Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood (2012)
- Strategies for Beating Small Stakes Poker Cash Games by Jonathan Little (2015)
- Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em by Jonathan Little, Phil Hellmuth, Mike Sexton, Chris Moorman and Alexander Fitzgerald (2015)
- Mastering Small Stakes Cash Games – A Comprehensive Approach to Winning at Poker by Evan Jarvis (2021)
- GTO Poker Simplified by Dara O’Kearney & Barry Carter (2022)
There are of course many other books that focus in on one form of poker (cash games, tournament play, Sit ‘n Go games and more) and we will recommend those when we focus on the tips for those particular games later in the series.
Of course, I am not advocating you read every one of these books, but learning about the skills of Texas Hold’em and then focusing on the specific skill set you need for cash games is a great starting point for quick improvements.
An additional benefit is that you will also quickly learn to grasp key poker terminology.
So with these five simple tips, a lot of effort, hard work and dedication, plus a decent bankroll to start off with, you can now hopefully avoid some newbie beginner mistakes at the cash game tables!
“Nobody is always a winner, and anybody who says he is, is either a liar or doesn’t play poker.” – Amarillo Slim.