What I Learned Watching Professional Poker

The first time I sat down to watch professional poker I had been pretty excited. I had checked in advance, and knew that many of the players involved were listed as the best in the world. So, naturally, my expectations for some seriously epic, nail biting poker had been high.

About a half hour into the poker game, however, a few things had started to become clear in my head. The first was that poker, no matter how professional, was not much of a spectator sport. It turned out to be a pretty damn boring affair, to the point that I had begun to play Angry Birds on my phone, just to keep from nodding off. At least, professional poker was boring to me. I’m sure there are many out there who would say watching professional poker is akin to watching Godzilla go head to head against ten armoured Tyrannosaurs Rex clones.

But, as I kept watching, a few other things became clear in my head, mostly concerned the game of poker itself. I realised that professional poker players really do approach the game on a completely different level. Regardless of how boring I found professional poker to watch, I certainly learned a great many things on how to play the game on a new level.

You Don’t Need A Hand To Win

All jokes aside, it honestly blew me away how differently professional poker players approach the game, as apposed to how I approach the game. Notable, for starters, was how many times I witnessed the players go ahead and bet big, with absolutely nothing in their hands. And I don’t mean they bluffed with a pair of threes, hoping to make the best of it. They literally made bets with no cards holding any poker value in their hands, whatsoever. Other than a high card. A good high card, as it turns out, is a lot more valuable in poker than I had thought.

When I play online poker I tend to not bet at all unless I get something like a pair of picture cards, or above. I had been told that it is unwise to bet unless you have at least a high pair, and took it to heart. It is, after all, logical, especially when you have money on the line. A professional poker player would apparently laugh in the face of such a notion; however, or at least that’s how it seemed to me.

Upon doing some research I learned that a good poker player would know that there are wins to be achieved, even if your cards are not coming up with royal flushes. Many times, as anyone who has played poker for an extended time will know, there are periods when none of the players present are getting hands of value. But this does not mean that there cannot be a winner. A high card is still a winning hand, simply assuming that there are no cards with a higher value. The trick is in this case, simply knowing that your high card has what it takes to lasso the pot. In fact, I learned that many professional players will specifically avoid rounds where the other players have valuable hands, and swoop in for easy victories with a high card. Live and learn.

Poker Face Bonanza

Another thing I learned was just how extraordinary poker faces can be, especially when worn by six grown men fighting for tens of thousands of dollars. I have previously mentioned in my blogs that I feel I have a pretty good poker face, but upon watching the mind blowing lack of emotion in this poker game, I realised I have a lot to learn.

There was not a single betrayal of emotion by any of the players, to such an extent that you would believe you were watching a group of men do their taxes. All six of the players were silent, speaking only when absolutely necessary, and some not even speak at all. On only three occasions were there explosive releases of emotions, each of which took me so by surprise I nearly fell off my chair. Upon reaching situations where the players had to bet everything on one last chance to save themselves from ruin, the men dropped the façade and leapt up from their chairs, screaming encouragement at their cards. Fascinating. I had not known cards could be encouraged to be more valuable.

Watch And Learn

I was joking when I said professional poker was boring, if you haven’t already gathered. I honestly find it to be rather educational, although, truthfully, there are long stretches of not much interesting happening, which does get a little on my nerves. It could also be, however, that I just don’t understand what the players are doing, when they choose to do nothing. There is likely some very deep strategy going on that I’m missing.

I find it very interesting to put myself in the shoes of one player, and mentally compare my own actions, to those taken by that player. It is extremely educational, and I very much recommend it to anyone who aims to be a better player. How you refine your poker face, however, and how you refine your card encouragement skills, is something I feel you have to work on in your own time. Good luck.

Marc Armstrong - Signature

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