The Texas Hold'Em Skateboard – The skill jumps in Texas Holdem
It shouldn’t be surprising then that different poker games value different skills, and even have different relationships with the concept of “skill”.
Texas Holdem (or Hold’em or Hold ‘Em) is the most common form of casino poker. But interestingly it is seldom the first game a player learns. Draw poker or stud poker usually come first. But draw and stud are both games where skill differences are so massive that new players would never have a chance against solid players. Newbies would go into casinos and get slaughtered. So along comes Holdem — a fast, easy to understand game that has huge bucketfuls of short-term luck. To be blunt, Holdem is the most popular casino card game because most casino poker players don’t play well. Holdem gives these players a reasonable shot at not just having winning days, but big winning days.
So does Holdem’s higher random luck mean it is an easier game to master? Nope. It doesn’t work that way. The challenges of Holdem are very tough nuts to crack indeed. Holdem is all about exploiting small advantages over and over and over. Small advantages applied time and again do mount up. Most people simply don’t have the discipline, let alone the true skill, to meet the challenges of the game.
Let’s compare Omaha Holdem (commonly just called Omaha) to Texas Holdem (commonly just called Holdem). Holdem is far easier to play instantly. You get two cards, you make Draw-type five card hands, and you normally end up with mundane hand values like one or two pair. At first glance, Omaha is much more complicated. You get more cards. You can play various combinations. You usually are playing a high-low split variety. The winning hand normally is a very strong one, often the “nut” hand possible.
If you would ask many players, they would answer that they just don’t “get” Omaha. They stick with the “simpler” game of Holdem.
But looks can be deceiving.
Holdem is like a skateboard, while Omaha is like driving a car. The first is easier to do instantly, but far tougher to excel at. Any physically fit person can roll along at a slow pace on a skateboard without even ever having seen one before. But driving a car requires multiple basic skills, and is nearly infinitely more dangerous. Almost everyone needs driver’s education before they are fit to handle a car at even slow speeds.
But after the basics, things start to turn around. Put most adults in even the hottest racecar and they could drive it. Now hand an adult a skateboard and ask them to do those loops and spins and extreme sports junk you see on ESPN late at night. Not only can’t they do it, they can’t come close to doing it. Performing above-the-rim excellence with a skateboard is a lot harder than with an automobile.
While Texas Holdem is easier to simply sit down and play, and is designed to have a high luck factor, truly mastering the nuances of the game is a much more difficult task than with Omaha. Where Holdem excellence involves dozens of miniscule skills, Omaha allows players to reach a high level of competence much easier. You only have to master a few Omaha skills (good starting hands, build pots early, exploit huge edges). This is due largely to the fact that most people play Omaha dreadful, much worse than they play Holdem. Much worse. You can be a successful Omaha player (given enough game selection) while on autopilot. Not so with Holdem. No easy shortcuts here. Holdem is work. Holdem is spotting an edge and pouncing.
Okay, it’s not really this cut and dried. Omaha has small skills to exploit too, and Holdem has a few major hurdles to jump, but the basic idea is valid. Omaha played among a group of outstanding players may again surpass Holdem on the complex skill front (Holdem is not played at the highest limits very often), but that’s going to affect a lot less people.
Next time you go into a casino, imagine all the Holdem players on skateboards. Most are just teetering along at a snail’s pace. Some of the snails even think they understand the game. But then pick out the extreme sports equivalents — doing loops and spins and running rings around the snails in a dozen ways every single hand. Now that is Holdem.