Note from Matt: Below is an excerpt from my book, The Making of a Poker Player. If you like what you read here, buy the book from Amazon today!
Chapter One: Learning to Play
The Mohegan Sun poker room was a welcoming place. Anyone with thirty dollars in his pocket could sit down among the bamboo and the TV monitors and receive his very own poker hand, along with a warm smile from the dealer. My friends had told me how great it was, how much fun they’d had losing their money over a green felt table. I had a problem, though—I hated losing money.
So before I made the trip to Uncasville, Connecticut I did some studying. I read a book. And I was silly enough to think that would give me an advantage over people who’d been playing the game for years.
That’s how I convinced myself to make the one-hour trip from my dorm room in New Haven; and that’s how I found myself in the middle of a hand, peering at three cards sitting face-up on the table. There were two fours and a queen. These were community cards, part of every player’s hand. If they helped someone else’s hand, chances were they didn’t help mine. In front of me, face down, were my two hole cards: an ace and a queen. In most of the hands until now, I had been throwing away my hole cards before any others were dealt, not wanting to pay even three dollars to continue. The book told me to do this.
Finally involved in a hand, I tried my best not to be nervous. Most people get uncomfortable when real money that can buy real things in the real world is on the line. That book I’d read, The Winner’s Guide to Texas Hold ’Em Poker by Ken Warren, said if you thought of six dollars in poker chips as a ticket to a matinee, or a personal pizza, or anything that six bucks could buy away from the table, then you had already lost. I was supposed to forget the money. The only thing that mattered was whether to bet, call, raise, or fold.
I had bet my hand aggressively, the correct play according to the book. I was betting chips, not money—a red chip and a white chip, not six bucks, I told myself. But my opponent, a quiet blond lady, wouldn’t fold her hand. Did she think I was just a young punk and probably bluffing? Or did she have a four in the hole, meaning my two pair would lose to her three-of-a-kind? I didn’t think she had a four, but then I had no idea how much to trust my instincts. I was playing this game for the first time.
The betting finished and, since neither of us had folded, it was time to show the hands. I exposed my ace-queen. The blond woman reached for her cards to turn them over. Despite my newness to Hold ’Em, I knew from my other poker experience that this meant trouble. Most players don’t show their hands unless they hold a winner. I wondered how she had managed to beat me when the woman flipped up her cards. An ace…and a queen. We had the same hand, and we would each get half the pot. Although this was an unlikely result—the odds against someone else at the table having ace-queen, given the queen on board, were 17.7 to 1—it fit perfectly with my assessment of her hand: strong, but not too strong. This was encouraging.
The woman and I smiled at each other as the dealer split the chips into equal sized stacks and gave me my share.
“I thought one of you had the four!” said an obnoxious player at the end of the table, looking sketchy in his mostly unbuttoned shirt. It was the fall of 1998, and for the first time in my life, someone was pushing me chips after a hand of Texas Hold ’Em poker.
I somehow did leave the Mohegan Sun a winner that night. More important, I left feeling this was something I could do. I had won money in casinos before, from slot machines, but I knew I couldn’t play slot machines forever and expect similar results. I thought I had a shot to win at poker.
Amidst school, a job, and now more school, poker has been the one constant in my adult life. Most of the friends I’ve met since my days as a Yale undergrad I’ve met through poker. I’ve used poker to get through failed relationships and bad situations at work, and I’ve used it to celebrate my minor and major successes. It’s an all-purpose drug—a drug that helps pay the bills. When I quit my job in the summer of 2002 to pursue an MFA, I subsidized my tuition with poker winnings. Poker is now my primary source of income.
My passion for poker has allowed me to make money and travel the country meeting intelligent players of all kinds—old and young, fat and skinny, geeky and suave. This book tries to create the same passion for the reader, and allow him to become a winning player.