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Barbara Connors

The Zeal of Fortune

Allegedly, poker is a logical, rational game. In theory, it's a game of calculated decisions based on odds, strategy, and a careful reading of your opponents. But as we all know, it's not really like this in practice. Factors such as greed, ego, and tilt often play a substantial role in decisions made at the poker table. Moreover, poker players-even skilled players who are supposedly bastions of strategic and mathematical knowledge-can be some of the most superstitious people in the world.

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Set for Life

It's one of the best feelings in poker. You're holding a pocket pair and watch the dealer spread a flop containing a beautiful matching card. You've flopped a set. Right off the bat, this puts you in a fabulous position to take down the pot. Not only is your set more powerful than the vast majority of hands that could be out against you-unless the board is very coordinated, and we'll get to that in a moment-but it's also exceptionally well-concealed. Most of your opponents will never guess what you have until it's too late.

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Tanks for the Memories

During the course of a hand, any player who needs a few extra moments to think about what to do when the action is on him can request "time." It can be anything from a few moments to a minute or two, as he tries to decide what to do next. But occasionally this poker time-out takes longer-a lot longer. This is known as going into the tank. And it's not uncommon to see this happen over and over again, particularly in tournaments.

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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

It's one of the most difficult things for any player to do: Let go of a good poker hand. So much of our time at the poker table is spent waiting, waiting, waiting to be dealt just a couple of decent cards. And so when we finally do peek under our hole cards and see something worthwhile, it's almost like falling in love-or at least like temporary infatuation. But the ability to fold premium cards in the right spot is a critical poker skill. When good hands make bad calls, it's virtually impossible to win in the long run.

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In the Land of Plenty: No Foldem Holdem

No fold 'em hold 'em is exactly what it sounds like: Nobody folds. Well, almost nobody. So efforts to protect your good hands by pushing opponents out of the pot are usually futile. Predictably, these games are almost exclusively found at lower limits. Contrary to what many believe, no fold 'em games certainly can be beaten. Actually, they are among the most profitable of all poker games in the long run. But to beat them, you must make the necessary adjustments-and be prepared for some humongous short-term swings.

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The Bottom Line

In the long run, good poker players win and bad players lose no matter where they sit. But seat selection is probably one of the most underrated elements of winning play and can have a substantial impact on your profits. Sit in the wrong spot and you'll spend the entire game swimming against the current. But choosing the right seat is like floating downstream with the tide gently aiding you along. In either case you can still get where you want to go, but the second way is easier and faster.

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Something funny happens to certain poker players when they run cold. Players who have been suffering through a prolonged losing streak, who have taken a number of bad beats, who lack confidence for whatever reason all have a tendency to start imagining the worst. Every time an opponent raises, that player must have the nuts. Any draw that's out against them will surely hit and drag the pot.

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Frou-Frou Poker

Some poker players over-complicate their game when it isn't necessary. It's called "fancy play syndrome" and is a chronic problem for many. Proud of the fact that they've studied the game and know how to execute sophisticated moves, these players just can't resist the chance to get elaborate with their play. In the right sort of game against the right type of opponents, fancy poker play can be very profitable. But most of the time it's a poor substitute for simple, straightforward play, and it only ends up earning less profit at more risk.

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Swept Away

It happens all the time. A player peeks down at two strong starting cards and begins mentally counting the pot he's about to win. Whether it's because of ego, an inability to read his opponents, or just plain bad judgment, he becomes convinced his hand is unbeatable-ignoring any and all warning signs that this might not be the case. Swept away by the sweet promise of those beautiful hole cards, he won't realize his mistake until his chips are being swept away by the dealer, right into someone else's stack.

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Check Republic

Here's a common tournament situation: One short-stacked player pushes all-in and is called by two or more larger-stacked opponents. Among experienced tournament players, there's an unwritten rule that both of the bigger stacks will just check the hand through all the way to the river-maximizing the chance of the short-stacked player being eliminated, because he's competing against two other hands at the showdown, instead of only one.

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