I talk to my father about poker. He plays in a couple of low stakes games each week - which gives us a lot to talk about.
He recently got back from a two week trip to Italy with his wife.
"You'll never guess what book I read every day in Italy, Ash" he said when we spoke on his return.
"Hmm" I pondered, "The Da Vinci Code?" figuring that he took it with him because he'd be at the Vatican.
"No" he said immediately. "I read YOUR BOOK!!!"
As it turned out, he read my book Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington, 2003) every day that he was in Italy. He said that now that he'd been playing for a while it meant a lot more to him than it used to mean before he had a lot of play under his belt.
I was flattered, but I wasn't really sure that it made much of an impression. The proof would be in our conversations over the following weeks when we talked about his game.
The first of those conversations happened today. He had played twice since his return and had a lot to talk about.
He wanted me to know, right off the bat that he had played very differently in his first game back than he had played in all of the games prior to his Italian vacation. I asked him what was different.
What he said was, I think, very instructive for the beginning and intermediate player who is still working on their basic strategy. He told me that the chief difference was that when he had a strong hand - like a premium pair - he wouldn't just come in for a call; he would raise. He said that in the past he would come in for whatever other players had bet - just calling those bets. But in this session, if he had what he estimated to be the strongest hand he would immediately raise - not letting other people in cheaply. He said that it made a big difference in how other people played because they weren't used to that aggression.
This is a key point that many beginning players don't understand. You must be aggressive when you have a strong hand. Generally speaking you don't want to suck people in. You want to knock people out or make them pay to stay in and draw against you. In games like this especially, when players are usually looking for excuses to call, you want to make it more expensive when you have an advantage. Few advantages are large enough that you want more competition.
He ended the story of the "Monday game" by telling me that he doubled his buy-in during the two hours of the game. We both understood that one session does not prove anything, but he felt very strongly that his play was significantly better. He even mentioned how the other players were commenting on the difference in his play - noticing that he was more aggressive. "I think they saw me as someone who pretty much just gave his money away before" he noted. "They don't see me that way anymore" he added.
We also talked about how he did in the session today - the Wednesday game. "I just broke even, Ashley" he confessed. "But I think that was more because I didn't get the cards than that I didn't play well". When I asked how he played he noted that he was definitely more selective and more aggressive - and that the players in today's game (who are a different bunch from his Monday crowd) also noted a difference in his play. But then he told me about how he played a hand of trip Jacks and I realized that there'd be another lesson coming soon on being too selective on the river. Next time.