How Do I Learn to Play Poker?

Ace-King, one of the top five best holdem starting hands

So you want to learn to play poker. A noble pursuit, I assure you. But where to start?

1. Pick a Game -- There are plenty of games to choose from, but seriously, you should choose Holdem. It's the most common game out there so you can always find a game.  It also has the most information available about it in books, magazines, the internet, and even the television. And with only two starting cards it's the easiest game to learn starting hand requirements, which is where all poker learning starts.

And since you're playing Holdem, you should play limit Holdem. A novice can play for longer when they're not risking their whole stack every hand like in no-limit. At the higher levels limit poker is actually more volatile than no-limit, but at the lower levels it is more forgiving.

2. Get some books -- With so many books on Holdem out there, it can be difficult to pick which one to start with. Luckily, here is a post on some beginner books for Limit Holdem. In addition to those, you should read everything by the master of limit Holdem, Lou Kreiger. He passed away not too long ago, which was a great loss to the poker world; his contributions to the limit Holdem lexicon are unparallelled.

3. Play! -- There's nothing like experience to teach you. It's one thing to read that KJ under the gun is a losing hand; it's another to get your head torn off with the hand a couple times. That really sinks the lesson in.

Start with home games. Start your own if you must, but surely you have a buddy who runs one? If not, try a MeetUp group for your area or something similar. They are very supportive of beginners. The casino or cardroom, though that is where you'll play most often later on, is not great for the true beginner.

Things to concentrate on in your early playing career:

Starting hands, starting hands, starting hands. And then maybe take some time to learn starting hands. Seriously, the first step in developing as a player is learning what hands to start with. Just paring down what hands you play can go a long way into turning you into a winning player.

Learn your math. They say that poker is about people, not numbers, and they're wrong. Well, half wrong. It's about both. All the people knowledge in the world won't help you if you don't know what to do with the information. Poker math is what you need to tell you what to do with the knowledge that you glean from knowing people.

Don't forget to have fun. Poker can be a grind when you take it seriously. And though you need to take it seriously to become a winning player, you do not have to hate every minute of it. Have fun at the table. Engage with your opponents. Having fun pays extra dividends, as pointed by the Mad Scientist of Poker and author of poker's seminal book on tells, Mike Caro, who claims (and I believe him) that happy tables are profitable tables. If you're happy, it's more likely the rest of the table will be happy and the chips will be flowing.

And if you're good, they're more likely to be flowing in your direction.