10 Things I’ve Learned From Playing Poker

I spent the 31 days in July learning to play poker and playing in a Vegas casino.  Here’s what I’ve learned along the way for anyone looking to learn the game….

Poker Isn’t Hard – I thought poker would be so hard to learn.  I think I had some random high school run-ins with euchre that confused me out of playing organized card games (unless War counts) my whole adult life.  I literally watched a couple YouTube videos on poker and had the basic premise down in 2 days.  This may be the 7th month that I’m saying this, but with 30 minutes of research a day for a solid month you really can learn way more than you imagine.

Confidence is Key – When I finally made it to “the big leagues” (Las Vegas), I realized it’s mostly how you carry yourself at the table.  Same goes for gymnastics, interviews, house or car negotiations, and first dates.  In my rookie experience, I forgot what hole cards I had probably 50% of the time – but the key is to not let others know you forgot what cards you’re holding.  Be confident and other people will believe you/respect you.

If It Makes Your Stomach Hurt, You’re in the Right Place – I always say that if something makes my stomach flip, I’m in.  That’s how I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be.  Walking into a Las Vegas casino all by myself and going to a poker room and throwing in $200 and playing my first game ever made my stomach flip for sure (to put it lightly).  But I thrive on these things.  I think of an idea, I love the idea, I learn about it, my stomach hurts, I get mad that I said I’d do it, I do it, I love it again, I boast about it far too long.  Playing cards in a Vegas casino was super intimidating to me – so I ran straight towards it.  Find what you think is super intimidating and do it like a champ.  You’ll feel awesome and it will only reinforce your bada$$ness and make you more inclined to try other new things too.  If I can play poker in Vegas….what can’t I do?!

Tells Tell Tales – Lies.  Poker is about lies.  Well, not necessarily about lies but definitely about reading people and trying to tell if they’re lying.  This is the fun part of the game.  Any true poker player is scouting a table (more specifically, they’re scouting the players at the table) before they join the game.  Small gestures, the way they do or don’t sigh, the way they stack their chips, the way they touch their hand or their face or their cards can tell you if they’re bluffing or not.  Translate that to the real world, you can really learn to read people’s tells even outside of the game of poker.  If you study poker, you’ll walk away knowing when a coworker has lied or knowing when you should go all in.

Learn to Play With the Big Boys – Based on my own super sophisticated study, 2-5% of poker players at any given casino are women (I made that stat up but I stand behind it).  Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you can’t play.  Actually, just because you’re a girl is all the reason to play!  I heard from many men along the way that they get intimidated by women who play.  So ladies, buy some chips and and go intimidate some men until you have all their chips too.

Take a Chance at The Flamingo – If you’re learning to play poker and you’re venturing to Las Vegas to try your hand at the game – go to The Flamingo and binge eat on a breakfast/lunch buffet and then hit their poker room.  I found it to be non-intimidating (who am I kidding?  I’ll say “less intimidating”) but large enough for multiple tables to be in play but small enough to be less likely to attract true poker sharks.  Ask the person at the first desk which table is open and buy your chips at the second desk and you’re in business.

Online Poker is Legal – unless you live in the state of Washington.

Tell Everyone – Whenever I get an idea up my sleeve and decide “I might try it”…I tell everyone.  There were so many times, specifically when I was in Las Vegas, that I wanted to bail on this goal.  Funny because this was one of the more lighthearted goals, but it was just scary, plus, let’s not pretend my real life isn’t going on in the background of this blog which brings it’s own set of busyness/stress/distractions.  The fact that I had told everyone under the sun I was going to do it made me actually do it.  I kept thinking of how miserable and embarrassing it would be to tell you guys I flew all the way to Vegas and flaked.  Even if it was the accountability of this blog that made me do it, I was so thankful I did.  Not because of poker and gambling, but because it was one more thing that I can say I faced my fear on (and in my more confident and ridiculous moments I can say “boom, did it, I played poker in Vegas, I’m awesome” with annoying gangster-type hand motions and body language).

Unapologetically Ask – This is such an elementary lesson in life – but you have to ask questions.  Like, the dumb questions.  Like, you can’t feel dumb while you’re asking the dumb questions.  Surround yourself with people who can laugh with you and not at you and then ask them if you buy chips before you sit down or at the table, ask them if you’re allowed to look at your cards twice, ask them what words you’re supposed to say when you play poker.  I feel like so many people don’t do things that scare them because they’re afraid to ask someone all the dumb questions.  How am I supposed to know that the poker dealer rotates if I don’t ask how you know who the dealer is?  I had to ask, and re-ask, and re-re-ask the same basic poker questions to so many people….and you know what?  No one made me feel dumb.  Everyone volunteered to help me or play cards with me.  And then I learned a lot.  And then I wasn’t scared anymore.  And then they were there to celebrate with me when I accomplished this goal.  And then I felt loved.

Slots Trump Cards – My bias towards slot machines was only heightened this month after winning a $20,206.27 jackpot on a penny slot while in Vegas.  Cards are cool and all….but dancing characters and bonus rounds and music and virtual coins falling out of a virtual bowl telling you that you’ve won grand a jackpot trumps all.

I did it!