18/04/2007

Should you specialise or not?

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

An often asked question by new and up and coming players is “should I specialise or learn all the various poker forms”. I always find that the answer to this question is not as straight forward as what many people make out and can be dependent on various factors, some of which are very subtle. There is no doubting the fact that learning other forms of poker will not only broaden your all round poker knowledge, it will also add depth to your game as well as contribute to making you a more complete player.

But many professionals argue that you have to learn all of the various forms of poker to be successful and this is simply not true these days. Going back in time to when all the poker player had available were games inside their local casino or private cash games then playing in dealers choice games was the norm and you had to arm yourself with knowledge of several other games at the very least.

But with the advent of online poker, the goalposts have moved considerably and now any player can concentrate on only one form of the game. I firmly believe and no one will ever convince me otherwise that any novice must specialise. Poker is tough enough to crack as it is but when you factor in all or the various poker forms and the differences that lay in each one then you have a subject that is as tough to learn as any other out there in my opinion.

You not only have all the various poker forms but you have no limit play, pot limit play, limit and spread limit play, and in each you have full ring games, semi-short handed games, short handed games and heads up play, each one with their own unique characteristics. This is before we even discuss the differences between tournament play and cash game play. Each one is a subject on its own and is far too much to take in for any novice. It boils down to what you are trying to achieve in poker. If you are a beginning player who desires to make the game a serious revenue stream then the quickest and best way to do that is to specialise and get one form of the game sussed as quickly as possible.

You will not make money in poker by having bits and pieces of knowledge of all of the various poker forms. You make money and can only make money by having knowledge and possessing skills that your opponents do not have. I think that the term “jack of all trades master of none” applies somewhat here. Of course that is not totally accurate as some poker forms have a very close affinity with others. You will over time pick up the other poker forms naturally anyway but it is a mistake to attempt to rush this process.

At the outset of my career, I had a good working knowledge of all of the main poker variations and probably nothing more than that. But I realised that after I stopped playing blackjack that if I had any chance of earning money at poker immediately online then I had to learn just one form of it but learn it to a level that was very high and to ensure that I had an edge in whatever game I sat down in.....that game for me was limit hold’em simply because of the sheer volume of limit games at that time.

I was not a great player when I first started but I was a winning player and that was the important thing. I was good enough to keep myself in the game at the start and earning money. It is a bit like passing your driving test, it don’t make you a great driver just because you have passed your test.... that comes later if you work at it! But too many people in poker are attempting to drive Ferrari’s before they have even learnt how to drive if you get my drift. But I think that deep within the psychological make up of your average human being is a desire not only for success but for success now or at least at the very earliest opportunity.

Humans on the whole have less patience these days in the high speed modern world and crave immediate results. Whether it is losing weight or looking more attractive or in this case being good enough to earn money playing poker, people are too impatient for results. Expertise in poker cannot be rushed and can only be arrived at through time and hard work. Don’t be fooled by hearing about some dude picking up $100K in some tournament who has only been playing the game for a few months either.

Chances are that they got immensely lucky and the tournament had a very poor structure that made the entire event a crapshoot. You do not need to be an expert player to win some of these events. As usual success and expertise in poker cannot always be measured by how much money you are ahead or how long you have been playing the game. But success can be measured by how much you are ahead AND how long you have been playing the game. So it is vitally important that you realise what your goals are when you first start out in poker. If you want to earn money in a relatively short space of time then you need to focus in on one game and one game only and leave the others for a later date.

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