Like most hold'em players -- young and old, I always raised pre-flop whenever I was dealt an A-K, but now I have changed my ways. (Note: This strategy is bound to be controversial.) A-K is one of the best starting hands, especially if suited. But A-K is a drawing hand. Usually you need to improve to have a decent shot at the pot. If you catch an ace on the flop, your pair of aces with the king kicker is the best hand -- unless someone has caught a set. The same applies if a king flops.
It helps to understand the kind of opponents you are facing when playing winning poker. (That's the only kind of poker we want to play!) We are all familiar with tight and loose players, timid, passive and aggressive players; often there are deceptive players (you may be one yourself); and, of course, we love "calling stations" - opponents we can count on to call our bets when we hold the nuts. Depending on the kind of players in the hand, we can adjust our strategy so that we have the best chance of winning as large a pot as possible - or avoiding calling bets doomed to be losers.
In a recent column by Fresh Young Face of Poker, Jennifer Matiran (Poker Player; November 29, 2004), the point was made that the outcome in a game of poker is never certain. Gambling, she explained, means to bet on an uncertain outcome. Her cautions struck a chord for me because I have been reprimanded by several people for teaching my now 9-y.o. granddaughter, Esther, to play poker - thereby encouraging her to gamble. I admit to that; but is it wrong for a youngster to learn to gamble?
My last column discussed some pros and cons for playing poker in a casino vs. a home game. Semi-pro Chris Cornell offered his perspective; and I promised to give you the thoughts on this subject of another poker player who frequents both home and casino games. Arizona Stu is a senior citizen who was extremely successful as a businessman and entrepreneur - and is a PokerShark.
The other night, while seated at a hold'em table at the Bicycle Casino, an attractive older woman tapped me on the shoulder. "Can I talk to you?" she asked, with a big smile. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. (Beautiful women don't tap me on the shoulder very often.) Lynne had a copy of my recent column in Poker Player in her hand, but she really wanted to ask me about the cards used in playing poker. It seems that the design of the cards has been essentially unchanged since invented by the French some 300 years ago.
If you see Leo C., tell the big guy that this column is dedicated to him. His comment to me was the inspiration. Seven-card stud once was the top choice of poker players. During the last ten years, Texas hold'em has far surpassed it as the preference of most players. Until three years ago, 7-card stud was my game. My co-author, Dan Abrams, and Chris C. (code name: Shadow), a bright child psychologist/poker semi-pro, convinced me to try hold'em; and it quickly became my choice too. Yes, the games are similar in some respects.
Experienced poker players know that seat position at the table can make a big difference - whether you win or lose. Most important is how aggressive are the players to your left, those who bet after you.
In the January 12, 2004, issue of Poker Player, I commented on a recent column by Oklahoma Johnny Hale in which he had expressed his opinion that "senior poker players are really not playing . . . to win money. They are playing for the fun and/or sociability of the game." I had disagreed with that statement. And OK Johnny replied in his column. But something he said made me think: Why do we really play poker?
The "Esther Bluff" - What's that? Let me explain. . .
A year ago, I introduced you to my then 8-year-old granddaughter, Esther Fayla Epstein, and her almost incredible, innate talent for playing poker. She has an instinctive flair for the game; she's a natural winner. .
Well, Esther is now 9 years old and is away at overnight camp for two weeks - her first time away from home without her Mom. Before she left, she made a button for me with her picture on it, so I could remember her while she was away.
Many years ago, as I was advancing in my engineering and business career, a friend recommended I read a book entitled The Art of War by an ancient Chinese general named Sun Tzu. Indeed, I found his teachings very useful during my career. (So too was Dale Carnegies' book on How to Win Friends and Influence People.) Recently, while reading about a fierce high-school class election competition, I was reminded of Sun Tzu's teachings on how to win a war.