June Learnings: Improving my Poker Skills

Texas Hold'em Poker

Though poker skills doesn’t come up as a high priority for most retirees, it’s been on my list for awhile.

I come from a family of gamers. When I was a kid, we regularly played family card games (Pinochle was a favorite.) My parents were both Bridge Masters and tried to get me to play. I was intrigued by bridge, but never got into it, like my parents.

My kids also are major gamers and we’ve even attended board game conventions together.

Board Game Convention with my kids

Scotty and I took an online class together about Gaming Theory and I found it fascinating! There are so many different types and aspects of games – collaborative or competitive, luck vs. skill, social, strategic.

I’m at risk of going down a long tangent here because there’s so much that interests me about games, but I’ll cut to the chase: The game I’ve been focusing on mastering is Texas Hold’em Poker.

Improving my Poker Skills

When I first learned to play poker, I thought it seemed like a rather boring, simplistic card game that was much more about luck than strategy.

However, as I played more, I realized that, like bridge, there were some formulaic ways of betting that did involve a lot of strategy. Seasoned poker players also are able to predict what other players have in their hands, not just by how they’re betting, but by knowing their tendencies and reading their ‘tells.’

The combination of luck and strategy, added to the relatively unique aspect of reading the other players intrigued me. Add to that the fact that there are plenty of opportunities to learn, to play and even make a little money, and I decided to go ‘all in’! (Or at least make it my focus of study for June this year.)

Classes and Podcasts to Improve Poker Skills

Last year, I took a 4-week online class through Poker Power, a group that specifically teaches women to play poker. This group is really interesting in that it ties poker skills to business skills such as negotiating and risk-taking.

Both in poker and in business, women tend to be more submissive and get intimidated by those who are aggressive. The classes gave us strategies for confidently understanding when and how to aggressively bet. I’m no longer in a business environment, but it’s always good to build confidence skills and know how to not back down to an inappropriate aggressor.

Knowing that I was going to be getting together with a group of friends to play poker this month, I reviewed what I’d learned in those classes. I also listened to a few podcasts (enough to realize that I still have a LOT to learn before I can compete with the pros).

There really is SO much strategy involved in this game. It’s both motivating and humbling. Sort of the same feeling I get whenever I want to learn anything really well. I’m excited and want to take more and more classes. I vow to study and become a master! But then I realize how much there is to learn and that I’m such a novice when compared to the real masters.

The “wise” me advises: “Learning is about enjoyment and fun! You do not need to win big in Vegas or compete against the pros. You just need to beat your friends!” Heh, heh, heh…

Executing my Poker Skills

Though I’m no where close to being ready for Vegas, my goal this month was to use my improved poker skills, beyond my friend group. I joined an online poker site, Ignition, and attended a Poker Meetup in Boulder last night.

Playing Tournament Texas Hold’em with my Friends

Chris and Adam at our Mt. Shavano KOA Poker Game

I came in 3rd out of 6 (which means I didn’t lose any money) when I played with my friends this month. Adam and Chris came in first and second and they both are very good players. I played much more aggressively than usual and it showed.

Both Chris (who’s given me some good poker coaching) and Adam noticed my improved game-playing. I could tell a difference as well. I used to “limp in” pre-flop, but now I almost always either raise or fold pre-flop. (This was one of the first lessons from my Poker Power class.)

Playing Online Low-Stakes Poker

Though I’ve played plenty of online poker for practice, when you’re not playing with real money, you take much more risk. I had been doing much better with my online game (no real money, no real people!) Would I do as well playing against real people for real money?

After researching the best low-stake online site for newbies, I found that Ignition Casinos was good. They don’t use HUDs. HUDs (head’s-up-displays) are a great tool for experienced online-poker players, but will expose a newbie. Since I much prefer playing live to online, I didn’t want to add the complication of learning about how to use HUDs to my list this month. I was challenged enough just learning how to use the Ignition Casino application.

I bought in to the application with $50 and I’ve been playing low-stakes games with 2 and 5 cent blinds. You can ‘buy-in’ to a game for a minimum of $1.50 and that often keeps me playing for quite a while, but when you win, you don’t win much, even getting called and winning when you go all-in.

The last game I played, I bought-in for $5 (the max you can buy-in to a game for) and I did have a “big win” with an Ace-high Flush:

But even that win was only $2.92. (With the blinds so low, the usual pot is less than $1. so it was exciting!)

My application pot total is now sitting at $51.22, so I’m up by $1.22… It definitely can be addicting and is more fun than playing the “fake games.”

Playing with a Meetup Group

Poker Meetup in Boulder

My final out-of-comfort-zone poker experience was playing with a Meetup Group last night at DV8 Distillery in Boulder.

This group plays every 2 weeks with a $20-$60 buy-in and low stakes (.25 and .50) blinds. Unlike when I play tournament poker with my friends, I didn’t have to worry about the blinds getting so high. It’s also really nice to be able to cash-out or to buy more chips if you want. With tournament poker, you play until you’re either out of chips or you win them all. That can make for either a depressingly short night or a way-too-long-I’m-ready-to-be-done tiring night.

As it turns out, last night was a just-right night. The people were friendly. There were two tables, each with about 9 people. Of course, I prefer playing with people I know (and it’s definitely an advantage if you know people’s betting styles). These were obviously seasoned players, so I had a little bit of newbie-fear, but I was able to stay confident with my game.

I bought in for $40. I won a couple of small pots but mostly did a lot of folding. With so many people at the table, it’s tough to have the best hand.

The game started around 7pm and after 9pm, I’d decided I was going to bet big the next time I got a good hand. My break came when I was dealt two kings. I bet and raised to $12 pre-flop and went all-in ($12.75) after the flop, and finally won a decent pot! Time to cash-out!

My total was $49 (so a $9 win) but it was the first time I was in the green all night and a good time to call it a night! (If it had been early, I probably would’ve gotten cocky and lost my lead.)


As is usually the case, the more I learn about something, the more I learn how much I don’t know. I certainly didn’t become a master of poker this month, but I absolutely improved my game.

I’m proud of myself for gaining the confidence to play online for money and for joining a new Meetup and play with people I don’t know.

The biggest goal, again, is to have fun.

Retirement is a good time to go ALL IN!

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