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Poker 101: What’s the Best Poker Game for Beginners?

Small stakes poker

You’ve learned the basic rules of poker, signed up for an online poker account and you’re ready to play. What’s the best game to start your poker journey?

It used to be relatively simple as there simply weren’t many games to play. Casinos generally spread cash games and little else.

These days, players have a variety of different poker games to choose from, including Hold’em, Pot-Limit Omaha, Seven-Card Stud, Razz, Short Deck and more in addition to a number of different formats including cash games, tournaments, Sit & Go’s, jackpot, bounty and many, many more.

So with that amount of choice, where’s the best place for a beginner to start? It’s actually pretty simple and we lay out some of the best options below in our ongoing Poker 101 series.

No-Limit Hold’em is King

Despite the rising popularity of games like Pot-Limit Omaha and Short Deck Poker, No-Limit Hold’em is still the overwhelming favorite in the poker world.

It’s easy to see why, as Hold’em is arguably the easiest game to learn and the most entertaining to watch. In Hold’em, each player starts with just two cards and then makes use of a community board that every player can see.

If you’re a No-Limit Hold’em specialist, then you’ll always be able to find a game wherever you go. That’s not as easy for someone who prefers a game like Razz or Badugi.

That’s not to say that other games don’t have value, in fact some of them might arguably be easier to beat, but Hold’em is the perfect place to start your poker education.

Back in the day, beginner poker players would start with Limit Hold’em, but over the last few years people have started skipping straight ahead to No-Limit Hold’em.

There’s no real danger in going straight to No-Limit Hold’em. It’s true there’s a little more volatility in Hold’em but you can always play small enough stakes so that it doesn’t matter. You’ll likely have more fun playing No-Limit Hold’em than its methodical limit cousin anyways.

Now as far as the format goes, there are two options that most longtime poker players recommend for new players.

Option 1: Micro-Stakes Cash Games

Cash games are the best place for most people to start playing poker.

Small-stakes cash games are an inexpensive way for players to play lots of hands without worry about being eliminated.

Online poker sites offer particularly good value for new players because they spread micro stakes, which are the lowest-stakes games in the world. We’re talking blinds of just $.01/$.02. That means the average buy-in is just $1. Even if you get unlucky and lose your entire stack on a bad beat, you’re still losing less than the cost of a Starbucks latte.

In addition, the blinds don’t increase, like in tournaments, so you don’t have to worry as much about short-stack strategy because you can reload any time you want. You also won’t blind out of the game.

For tournaments, it’s often correct to play extremely tight for the first portion of the event. You don’t have to take the same approach to cash games and that means you’ll generally get to play more hands.

Cash games are also better for learning to read players because you won’t get moved. Instead you’ll be seated with the same players and you’ll get a chance to exploit your opponents’ weaknesses.

Finally, you can leave a cash game at any point. That’s great for players who aren’t looking for a big-time commitment and might play anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.

Here are the CliffsNotes for why cash games are a great starting spot for new players:

  • You can always rebuy.
  • The stakes are low.
  • There’s less variance than tournaments.
  • You won’t blind out.
  • You can leave at any point.

Option 2: Micro-Stakes Sit & Go’s

Cash games aren’t for everybody.

Some players really don’t like the fact that cash games don’t really have a “winner” and they just keep running.

If you’re the kind of player who’s motivated by finishing first and you want the excitement and volatility of playing tournaments, then we’d suggest Sit & Go’s.

Sit & Go’s are a relatively new addition to the poker world and were popularized by the online poker boom of the early 2000s.

As you might expect, Sit & Go’s begin the minute the table is full. They are generally played with nine or six players and the last player standing gets the lion’s share of the prize pool. They take far less time than traditional multi-table tournaments and it’s easy to fire up a few at once if you’re playing online.

Despite their turbo-charged pace, Sit & Go’s are a great way to learn some of the fundamentals of bigger, more traditional multi-table tournaments. You’ll have to learn concepts like: stealing blinds, short-handed play, short-stack play and more.

Sit & Go’s are really fun too. The feeling of winning your first Sit & Go is something that will stick with you and it’s arguably more satisfying than winning a buy-in or two in a cash game.

To summarize, here are the reasons that Sit & Go’s are good for new poker players:

  • Faster than multi-table tournaments.
  • Variance is lower than MTTs.
  • Good way to learn different stages of a tournament.
  • Winning is more satisfying.
  • Experience playing with different stack sizes.

Why You Should Skip Big Tournaments

You’ll notice that we’ve essentially bypassed large-field, multi-table tournaments (MTTs) in this article. There’s a reason for that.

MTTs are one of the most difficult formats for poker and even the best players go through long periods of finishing out of the money. The payoffs can be huge but they are few and far between.

That’s why MTTs are a poor choice for new players. You can play well and still miss the money in 10 straight tournaments. You’ll also be playing fewer hands as you’ve got to try to conserve your chips in an effort to go deep in a tournament.

There’s also a great deal of waiting when it comes to big tournaments. You’ll be waiting until they start, waiting for the money bubble to burst and waiting for a good hand. There’s plenty of times where it makes sense to play very conservatively in big tournaments and that’s not the best environment to get better at poker.

Keep in mind that the information in this article is primed for improving your poker game. If you don’t really care about getting better and love to play multi-table tournaments in an effort to make a huge score, then just go for it.

There’s nothing wrong with playing poker purely for entertainment. Just don’t bet more than you’re willing to lose!

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