Time to practice poker

People often ask me how they can learn other forms of poker besides hold'em. Most of the time, their first excuse for not learning other games is that they're too busy playing hold'em. Typically, if a player is making money playing hold'em, they're going to keep playing hold'em. It's hard for them to justify taking time off from a game they're profitable at. However, if their usual game isn't very good that day, I would suggest they find a smaller game in another variant and learn at a cheaper level.

An example where I followed my own advice was when I was invited to Larry Flynt's stud game several years ago. The stakes were $2,000/$4,000 limit and up until then the biggest I'd played was $400/$800. Even though there were a few bad players in the $2,000/$4,000 game, I probably wasn't a favorite to beat it because at the time, stud was my weakest game.

The Larry Flynt game ran on the weekends, and what I decided to do during the week was practice by playing in the $75/$150 game at the Commerce Casino. When I first sat in the $75/$150 game I was definitely an underdog, but after a few weeks I learned the different plays that were common in stud and used them in the $2,000/$4,000 game. After about three months in the $75/$150 game I felt I was one of the stronger players at the table and didn't think there was much more for me to learn at that limit.


If I hadn't practiced playing stud at lower stakes there was a good chance I would have gone broke playing at the higher stakes. But as a result of my practice, perhaps I wasn't one the best players at the table, but I was a favorite to beat the game and did so for several years. It probably took me a year or two before I was one of the top players in the $2,000/$4,000 game.

Right now is a good time for people in the United States to practice playing poker at very small stakes. And by very small stakes, I mean play money. You can hop on PokerStars and practice mixed games or PLO or whatever variant you're interested in and get ready for when real-money online poker comes back in the United States. You might say well, people who play for play money don't have the skill level for those games to be worthwhile. In some cases, you're probably right, but you will still learn things, even in play money games. As a matter of fact, I sit at play money tables on PokerStars from time to time. As a representative of PokerStars I want to maintain a presence on the site even though I live in the U.S. and cannot play online for real money.

I like to practice playing on the mobile client. When I used to play online I would have four tables tiled on my monitor. On PokerStars mobile, it's a little different and the games are tiled one on top of the other. I've noticed when I play I'll occasionally time out, partly because I'm usually multitasking. While timing out for play money might be annoying, timing out for real money could be tragic. Hopefully by the time real money games come back in the United States, I'll have mastered the mobile client and will never forfeit a pot because I wasn't able to act in time.

Barry Greenstein is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

Barry Greenstein
@PokerStars in Barry Greenstein