13 Tips for Enjoying Poker

by A Manly Guest Contributor on July 30, 2010 · 14 comments

in Blog

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Tim Chilcote.

After years in poker, both as a writer and mildly successful player, I finally ponied up the $1,500 buy-in for event #16 at the 2010 World Series of Poker, a six-handed no-limit Hold ‘em tournament. It was my first real shot at poker glory – I lasted all of an hour and a half when I turned a set of eights and my opponent rivered a straight. After busting, I walked around the Rio for an hour feeling like I’d taken a baseball bat to the chest. It wasn’t the money – though that was a bummer too – it was was the end of the dream that I would someday hit the big time as a poker pro. Despite the loss, I still enjoy the game. In fact, I prefer to do just that; enjoy the game. I put together a reminder sheet for myself –

13 back-to-basics beginner’s tips to help put the fun back in poker:

1. Don’t expect to lose, but plan to. Poker is an imperfect game, and no matter how well you play there’s no guarantee you’ll come out ahead. Sure, over time skill will prevail, but to put the odds in your favor would require such a large sample size of hands that you’d have to be an insomniac. If you go to a poker game with $200, plan to lose it all, consider it the cost of an evening on the town. If you win, great; if you lose, no big deal.

2. Smile at the table, tell a joke, chat with other players, enjoy yourself. Don’t waste your days off of work turning poker into another job. There’s no reason to stare down other players or to gripe about someone else’s bad play. Of course, if you’re playing with close friends, heckle at will, but don’t belittle lesser players just because you can.

3. Listen to bad beat stories, but never tell one; nobody is listening anyway. Poker players are selfish in nature, they have to be. No matter how brutal your story is, other players are just waiting to one up you. Change the subject or be an observer.

Bonus tip: Don’t draw your gun during a game. Unless of course a man cheats. Then you can shoot him.

4. Know the rules and know when it’s your turn to act. There’s nothing worse than a player who slows down the game by not knowing when the action is on them. If you don’t want the other players to hate you, pay attention. It will keep the game moving and other players will appreciate the courtesy. That said, be flexible. Sometimes amateur players make amateur mistakes, especially in home games. For help getting started there are a lot of how-to poker books on the market; one that I would recommend is Phil Hellmuth’s Play Poker Like the Pros.

5. Win graciously, buy a round after the game. A broke loser always appreciates a free beer.

6. Lose graciously, buy a round anyway. If you can’t afford to buy a round after the game, you had too much money on the table to begin with.

7. Learn games other than Hold ‘em. You don’t need to be a HORSE expert, but learn how to play Omaha and Stud, and learn one fun variation for dealer’s choice for home games. I personally like Pineapple, a sort of hybrid of Omaha and Hold ‘em where players are dealt three hole cards, only two of which play with the cards on the board, so your hand will change over the course of the action.

8. Chat up the dealer and be sure to tip. 99% of the time the dealer is the most interesting person at the table. Dealers catch a lot of grief – rarely get credit – and they’ll appreciate a friendly conversation. Heck, you might learn something. If they don’t appreciate the conversation, they’ll appreciate the money and pretend to enjoy the conversation; it’s their job.

9. Invite the ladies. Boys nights are for, well, boys. Women are just as good at poker, and a night of cards, cigars, and bourbon will make for a unique date. Added bonus: If you go bust, at least you’ll have attractive woman to talk to on the rail.

10. Don’t wear sunglasses or attempt other wardrobe gimmicks. Trust me, the table sees right through you.

11. Take it like a man. If you lose, or if you catch a bad beat, recognize that poker is full of life lessons. Shrug it off, learn something. A bad night at the poker table is nothing more than a handful of lemons…

Bonus tip: Never invite squirrels to your game. They’ll eat all your peanuts. But dogs live up to their billing.

12. Get comfortable handling chips. Like the old basketball coach’s method of making players dribble a ball wherever they go, bring chips to work, to dinner, anywhere. It’s one less thing you’ll have to think about at the table. Try learning at least one trick too. There are plenty of good how-to videos on YouTube for chip shuffling, flipping, and twirling.

13. Drop the hammer, always drop the hammer. There’s no better feeling in poker than taking down a pot with 7-2, the worst starting hand in no-limit Hold ‘em. If you lose, which is likely, at least you’ve announced to the world that you came to party.

See you on the tables.


Tim Chilcote is a freelance writer and the assistant editor of BULL: Men’s Fiction. He lives in Michigan with his wife and bulldog. Follow him on Twitter @TimChilcote and check out his blog, Great Lakes Guru.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark July 30, 2010 at 11:12 am

WTF does drop the hammer mean? Can someone explain point 13?

2 Thomas July 30, 2010 at 11:25 am

Did this guy really just recommend “Play Poker Like the Pros”? This book was terrible when it came out right after the poker boom, and tons of better books have been released since then. Granted a lot of them might read like textbooks, but even the original poker book “Super System” by Doyle Brunson is a far superior read than Helmuth’s rag.

3 rich July 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm

My buddies and I sometimes play where cheating is allowed. But if you get caught you owe chips, have to run down the street in your underwear, have to take a five star on the back, or somthing like that. Also, you have to be honest about getting caught. This is normally for pretty low stakes so it does not get too serious. It end ups being a ton of fun. And you get pretty good at catching people cheating. Which is always a good skill to have.

4 Jason July 30, 2010 at 2:23 pm

“Drop the Hammer”

When someone raises early (usually pre-flop if playing Holdem) just to push other players around, and you just can’t take that smug grin on his face, you re-raise a ridiculous amount and “drop the hammer.” This most often occurs during a Testosterone Fight, and the object is to make the other player put his testosterone hose away and fold. Since it is pre-flop, this has nothing to do with the cards you have, just plain good ol’ fashioned balls.

5 Mark July 30, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Thanks Jason.

6 Joanne July 31, 2010 at 6:00 am

Consider running your own tournament or playing in a tournament with a modest buy-in. One of the benefits of tournament play is that you get to play against a variety of styles in a single night. I play in a couple of tournaments where the buy-in is $20-25 with a $10-20 rebuy for half the starting amount of chips ($10) with unlimited rebuys up to a certain time, usually two hours into the tournament or the full amount of chips ($20) with limited rebuys. 100% of the buy-ins and rebuys are returned to the players, with the top 3 finishers getting paid.
If you have a casino nearby, they probably run poker tournaments at midweek. Here you might pay $20 plus a $3 entry fee.

7 Joanne July 31, 2010 at 6:06 am

I also prefer mixed games to straight Hold ‘Em. My usual game is HORSE for no money on line, but I really like razz, which is a game of bluffing and patience. It’s easy to know when you are beaten in razz. I’d like to try 2-7 lowball for no money, but haven’t found a website where it is spread.

When you are playing for no money on line, I’m always amused by the number of people who get mad at the “sitters”, the people who buy in and never play a hand. IF you’re patient, they will be blinded out. It’s surprising how often a sitter “cashes”.

8 Eric Granata July 31, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Great post! We usually play a couple of Hold ‘Em tournaments with $10 buy ins. A low barrier to entry but enough to make you want to win. While I love playing games like that I also enjoy playing dealer’s choice with my uncles. We play for change. They know a good variety of poker variations (whiskey poker being one of my favorites).

9 Jared August 1, 2010 at 12:22 am

And, for crying out loud, tip the dealer. For all the sh!+ he gets from the players, you can tell he doesn’t do it for fun. If you play at a club, in some states it is illegal to pay the dealer an hourly wage. If that’s the case, he certainly isn’t doing it for the pleasure of your company. And, if you win a tournament, and other players have been a bunch of cheap-asses, take care of the dealer. As the winner, you have a little money to throw around. And, if you lose, tip the dealer. Again, he just spent his time doing something valuable for you. You don’t owe him a $20, but it wouldn’t kill you to drop a 5 spot on him.

10 Vince August 3, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Mixed games is a bad idea because it messes with the strategy. Also, never play a game for less then $5. I’ve known guys who wanted to play $1 poker, and I was like “What are we, five years old?”

11 Matt August 4, 2010 at 5:32 pm

I’m a big fan of modest buy-in poker nights with friends. In college, since we were all broke, we would play $3-buy in cash games (i.e. not tournament) with chips at 5, 10 and 25 cents and unlimited rebuys. Just enough money to keep people honest, but not enough that we couldn’t afford it. You’d be amazed how tense it can get battling it out over a $5 pot. Then again, it was probably the bragging rights. On a good night, you won $10-15 and treated the guys to pizza. On a bad night, you walked home $10 poorer. Either way, it was definitely a good time. Now that I’ve graduated and have a real job, I can afford to play “serious” poker (3-6 casino and the like), but still prefer $5-10 games with friends. The trick is to make sure that you have some money on the line; it doesn’t matter how much. Competitive nature will do the rest.

12 Andrew August 5, 2010 at 2:39 am

I would also add: Learn to shuffle. Nothing worse than having one of the players fumbling around whilst shuffling (I know. I am one of those guys)

13 Joanne August 10, 2010 at 6:05 pm


At the casino where I used to play a $3/6 limit game, the usual tip was $1 a hand from the winner, $2 if it was a kill pot. The limits doubled if the same person won two hands in a row for the third hand, so the tip doubled. People played fairly fast, so the dealer usually wound up with $15 or so for his 30-minute shift.

14 Dylan Robertson April 16, 2014 at 11:41 pm

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Fabrice Touil and he always told me that even as a professional poker player, he always tries to enjoy the game because the moment that you treat it like a job will be the moment that you no longer enjoy playing.

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