By King Yao
Poker and blackjack are two popular gambling card games. Each game is beatable by smart players that put in the time and energy to learn the game. However, there are differences between the games that may make some people better at one than the other. The most crucial difference is how opponents react to the player's actions: blackjack players play against dealers that have to follow set rules of action depending on their cards while poker players play against other poker players without set rules of action.
In my opinion, it is a bigger challenge for blackjack players to learn poker than the other way around. Blackjack players have to play their cards with respect to the dealer's upcard and the count. Poker players have to play their cards with respect to their position at the table, the strengths of the other players and the actions of the other players. And then they have to see how their opponents react. Not only do poker players have to play their cards, but they also have to play their opponents; blackjack players do not have to be concerned with the actions of their opponent. Imagine what blackjack would be like if dealers could adjust their strategy based on your actions. It would be an entirely different game.
Due to the different ways the two card games are played, they usually appeal to different types of advantage player. Blackjack seems to appeal to people who are more interested in solving problem with set solutions. People who have ability in mathematics often find blackjack more appealing. They also seem to find video poker (another game where the opponents does not react to players' actions) more appealing as well. Poker seems to appeal to people who are more interested in solving problems where their own actions may influence other people's actions. This does not mean blackjack players are better or worse than poker players, it just means they have different interests and approaches to solving problems. Of course, there are advantage players that excel at both. Being good at one does not preclude being good at the other.
Advantage players of all types should be encouraged to have at least a minimal understanding of both games. Popularity of different games shifts throughout time. More people are playing poker everywhere. These people include many bad players and thus possible opportunities for advantage players. If you are a better blackjack player than you are a poker player, it is still possible you have a higher EV playing poker than blackjack. Given the increase in casino management's disdain for card counters and the increase in bad poker players enjoying the current fad, it may be beneficial for blackjack players to think about playing poker and get the positive EV before it disappears or diminishes. When doing so, realize how the two games are different. You cannot attack blackjack and poker in the same way. In poker, you must play both your cards and your opponents.
One similarity in both games is learning from good books. Reading good books gives players a head start and moves them along the learning curve faster than if they had to learn it all from experience. There are some quality poker books on the market. Players interested in limit hold'em should consider my book, titled Weighing the Odds in Hold'em Poker, published by Pi Yee Press. Although I did not specifically write the book for blackjack players, the approach of the book may be of interest to them. Throughout the book, I explain why certain actions may be correct or incorrect given different situations with EV formulas and logical explanations.
Lastly, it is important to enjoy yourself. If you are a blackjack player and you decide to try playing poker, you may find you just do not enjoy the game. If that is the case, then I recommend not forcing yourself to play, even if there is positive EV in playing poker. While advantage players make money in their endeavors, I think enjoying gambling is the biggest reason that advantage players gamble, rather than do something else with their time and energy. In short, it is not so much the money for many advantage gamblers (although the money is a big reason too), but rather the intellectual challenge and enjoyment of beating the casino or other players that excites us. While many may enjoy playing poker, others may not. If you don't, it's ok not to play. If you enjoy poker as many gamblers do, there is no reason to play without positive EV. The game is ripe for the picking right now.
Pi Yee Press publishes King Yao's Weighing the Odds in Hold 'em Poker