Beginner Poker Tips from Pros: Matt Ashton Helps You Pick the Right Game

Matt Ashton
Any game is the right game for pro Matt Ashton.

Liverpudlian Matt Ashton walked away from the 2013 World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas with the respect of the entire poker community.

His four final tables in different formats of poker, over $2m in cashes, and victory in The Poker Player's Championship said everything needed about a young man who can play any card game in the world as well as, if not better than, anyone else willing to sit down.

Like every other star, Ashton didn’t always use to shine so bright. But that was a decade ago and things were very different.

These days the entry to our great game can be a little scary for the newcomer. There is more choice than ever and it can be quite daunting knowing where to even start.

So what better way to find out than to enlist the services of the man who has found success playing in all of them?

You've decided to play poker for the first time after watching a show on television. Should you head down to the casino for a cash game/tournament, or download an online poker client and start bashing away from the sanctity of your own bedroom?

“I think online is best, because I think you need to get a decent number of hands under your belt to begin with and a.

online poker3
Ashton: "Online is the quickest, cheapest and most comfortable way."
 

"I think starting at the casino will likely add extra pressures that will detract from your learning initially.”

When playing online there are so many options but the big three are going to be tournament, cash games or SNG - which should the beginner choose and why?

“I think it depends a lot on your main goal. If you're jumping into poker hoping to make some money then going straight to cash games is going to give you the best chance of doing that.

"SNGs and tournaments are generally more fun for most beginners and so if they're looking to play mostly for pleasure, and beating their mates in a game, or try and improve to a point they could enter a big live tournament with more confidence, these might be better practice for them.”

There are around 20 different formats of poker for beginning players to choose from ranging from NLHE to Razz. Where should a beginner start and why?

“I think the beginner should definitely start with NLHE. It's still the most popular game on the whole and will be the game with most money to be made both live and online (nosebleeds aside) for a good while yet.

“The basics and hand values are also simpler to learn than the other forms of poker so a good starting point even if you end up more interested in another game later on.”

So we have decided to play Hold’em first. Do we choose Limit, No Limit or Fixed Limit?

“Well Limit Hold’em is a much more simple game and I think the best one to practice and learn game theory with, but that aside the beginner is so likely to find himself playing much more NLHE in the future, and very little LHE, that it makes sense to jump straight into that.”

When it comes to the question of buy-in should a beginner play at stakes they are comfortable with i.e. A man earning £350,000 per year playing $5/10, or should they all start much lower down the food chain at micro stakes?

Matt Ashton
"Slower is better for beginners."
 

“I think there's a tiny argument for starting at the bottom and learning to play against all types of opponents, but in terms of speeding up your learning process and becoming a better poker player, the higher stakes you play the quicker you will learn.

“A lot of the best online players jump into new games at the highest stakes, lose a lot in the beginning but learn very fast because of the tough competition (as well as them being smart). So I would say playing the highest you can without getting uncomfortable with the losses is the best way to go.”

There are more speeds than a Formula One car. Where should a beginner start: regular, turbo, hyper-turbo or slow?

“I think slower is better for beginners. The deeper stacks are, and more hands they get to play with the same group of players, the more they can take in and learn from.

"I think the fastest tournaments are more about learning shoving ranges and ICM, their time would be spent better watching a training video than playing a bunch of those trying to work out what was going on.”

There have never been as many different tournament formats. Where should the beginner start?

“Shootouts allow you to learn playing shorthanded a little more, rebuys might get you to experience some deeper stacks early on. But all in all anything that isn't a standard tournament is designed to either create a bigger prize pool or be a more fun alternative.

‘For a beginner looking to learn I think a standard tournament getting to play lots of hands with the same group of players and not having extra considerations, like the rebuy period, re-entry option, extra incentive to bust players from bounties, keeps the focus on learning the most important and common concepts for tournament poker.

0053 Matthew Ashton Wins 50K Poker Players Championship
"Playing games you enjoy and can keep interested in is important."
 

“Once beginners have gained experience I think they can consider the alternatives if they enjoy it more or find a reason it could be more profitable.”

Should beginner players get involved in satellite tournaments to bigger contests?

“Satellites are great for taking big shots at a bankroll boost and can definitely add excitement to a tournament schedule. Again for a beginner it’s another pretty different strategy to be learnt so I wouldn't recommend it early on but I do believe there is very good value in them.

“I think from a more professional/making money point of view it's important not to play a satellite that's a smaller buy in than you would regularly play a normal tournament for because it’s just not going to be the best use of your time.”

Anything else you think the beginner needs to focus on?

“Playing games you enjoy and can keep interested in is important. You will develop much quicker as a player if both of those things are happening and so sometimes it may take you down a different path either in stakes or a different form of poker.

"Don't just expect your path to be the same as others you've seen and don't just chase the money because if you lose interest your progress will stall.”

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