Game Selection

Choosing the Right Match

The most basic of all the elements of poker strategy is also one of the ones that is most often taken for granted– game selection. Lots of players pick a game based on how fun it looks like it will be to play, rather than carefully analyzing what will be best for them in the long run in terms of personal growth and financial return. There’s one major factor to consider when you select a poker game to play– what will give you the maximum return for your money, given the skills that you currently have? You don’t want something too difficult, or you’ll end up giving all your money away to other players, so what you’re really looking for is a game that you can actually win at some of the time. If you’re a novice player, you probably also want a game that’s going to help you become a better player, so that you can step up to tables with higher buy-ins, which means higher returns when you win.

So what’s a beginner player to do when faced with a slew of poker variants to choose from? has you covered with our guide to game selection:

Draw Poker

There’s a reason that children who play poker with their parents almost exclusively play draw poker– it’s the easiest type of poker to master, as it has the least betting and requires the least amount of strategy. Don’t mistakenly think that this poker variant is only for children, though! Its gentle format is perfect for beginning players because it allows you to get a handle on the rules of the game and build up your ability with basic poker strategy.

The good thing about draw poker is that there are only so many options for your action in every game, and you’ll learn something about the other players’ hands halfway through. With draw poker, you learn to read the actions of other players (“Bob just took three cards– he must have a pair” or “Jane took two cards– she either has trips or is making the long shot for a straight or flush”). You also learn when people are trying to fool you (“Bob just took one card, which means that he either has two pair, or he’s holding trips and wants me to underestimate him”), and you learn how to bluff other people by manipulating the information that you give them. For players who are really new to poker, draw is a very safe option– there’s really no downside to it, save for the limited betting.

Texas Hold’em

Texas Hold’em is the most popular form of poker and therefore has the most players (at all levels of play), but it has also been the most studied, which means that there’s no small number of players who are incredibly skilled at the game, having studied Hold’em strategy extensively. While there are generally some soft tables in other games such as Stud and Omaha, these other games have a lot more depth and complexity than Texas Hold’em does, making them more dangerous for novice players. You will always be able to find Texas Hold’em games, regardless of where you go, or what format or stakes you’re looking for, and there’s a good chance that at least some (likely upwards of half) of the players are going to be beginner players. This gives you a nice mix of potential return (from less skilled players) and potential growth (by observing and learning from players more skilled than you).

The benefits of playing Hold’em are many: there are plenty of weak players around, and you can use them to not only add to your bankroll but also to learn from their mistakes; countless strategy books and guides have been written on the game, so there’s a virtual encyclopedia of information at your fingertips whenever you want to improve your game; games are easy to find in all table formats, at all levels of stakes; the game offers a level of randomness that contributes to the number of bad beats that can happen but also protects the weakest players by offering them at least a snowball’s chance in hell of pulling off a decent hand; and there are plenty of strong players, which means that you can watch televised Hold’em games, Hold’em tournaments, and find plenty of solid competition that will help you learn and grow as a player.

Stud & Omaha

There’s some debate about whether or not novice players should play Stud or Omaha. On one hand, there are some soft tables in both, but the kicker is that you have to find them, which can take a while and cost you some of your bankroll. On the other hand, both games are almost completely devoid of any kind of protection for a new player, and they’re merciless to weak players, who can easily be exploited by stronger players. Very little of these two variations relies on luck or chance, so players who make bad decisions are unlikely to see a lucky break like they are in Texas Hold’em, which is a much better game for weak players, as it offers much more randomness– this randomness can save a weak player from certain defeat… at least some of the time.

New players often find Stud and Omaha less interesting than other forms of poker because there’s less variability, but for number crunchers and players who have mastered the art of advanced poker strategy, these games are full of action. It just happens to be action that passes under the radar of novice players, who often don’t know what they’re looking at when they see or participate in a game of Stud or Omaha. While it’s valuable to watch lots of Stud and Omaha games as a novice so that you can develop your skills, playing too many games is taking a personal risk, as strong players in these variants rely on weaker players to supplement their bankrolls and will have no hesitation in pulling out all of their tricks (including trapping weaker players) in order to take your money.

Table Selection

It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of players take for granted table choice and will sit down at any place that looks good, regardless of the min/max bid amount or the buy-in to play in a particular tournament. A lot of novice players will play only at low-stakes games, but you should always look for the table that’s going to be the most profitable. If you’re starting to pick up some skills (or you want to play a few hands against some people who have them), you’re going to have to choose your table pretty carefully.

Different No-Limits offer different potential where bluffing and bidding are concerned, for instance– while fixed limit is easiest for new players because it puts a cap on the amount of bidding that can happen in a game (and therefore affects the bluffing, slow-playing, and protection that’s offered to a player), it doesn’t have the same returns as No-Limit. Experiment with a few different table types and see which kind works for you in terms of providing you a reliable return while simultaneously letting you hone your poker skills.