The Seniors Poker Group and guests recently enjoyed two special poker events at the Claude Pepper Senior Citizen Center in Los Angeles as part of a current series of classes focused on “Six Ways to be Sure You are a LOSER,” taught by me. On Aug. 19, high-stakes poker pro Yosh Nakano—founder of the International Poker Players Association—recalled his experiences playing against some of the top poker players, including Doyle Brunson, the late Stu Ungar, and Johnny Chan, as well as in Larry Flynt’s very high stakes home games. On September 2, our special guest was Barbara Enright, the only woman elected to the Poker Hall of Fame and the only woman to ever reach the final table at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) main event.
The more you know about your opponents, the better your decisions and the more you win. It pays to observe how opponents play their hands as well as each player’s traits and betting patterns.
My attention was called to an interesting article in a poker magazine that sometimes offers “food for thought” tucked amid its glossy pages and colorful photos. It was about reading your opponents by recognizing their playing traits and betting patterns.
In the game of poker, deception is not cheating or immoral. In all its ramifications, deception and trickery are part of the game and worthy of our full respect. . .
To be a winner at the game of poker, you must be deceptive: Give your opponents information that will lead them to make mistakes and it will enable you to win more and bigger pots. Consider ways to be deceptive at the poker table. . .
Bluffing: Bluffing is the most apparent form of deception. Most bluffs are intended to force out an opponent. Betting or raising gives your opponent reason to muck his cards, leaving the pot for you. At least you hope your bluff—your level of deception—will be adequate for the job.
A tell is any mannerism, gesture or expression that gives information about your hand. The idea is that you want to avoid giving any tells, and concomitantly, you want to observe your opponents and identify any tells they may inadvertently offer.
Sometimes we give tells that detract from our potential to win at the poker table, and we need to avoid it. Admission: Many years ago when smoking was allowed in the Las Vegas casinos and before I had given up smoking, I enjoyed smoking a cigar while playing poker. One day my wife called me away from the table and said, “George, did you know you have a big tell?” Then she explained that when I caught a big hand, the tip of my cigar would light up brightly as I took a deep breath! She was right. As you seek opponents’ tells, make sure you don’t have any yourself. In that regard, Mike Caro’s Book of Poker Tells (there’s also a DVD) could be invaluable.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, the ancient Roman statesman and philosopher who died in 43 BC, is credited with introducing the concept:“Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare.” Translation from the Latin: “Anyone can err, but only the fool persists in his fault.”
We all make mistakes now and then. Usually they are inadvertent. Hopefully we will learn from these mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes are surprising—unexpected—and should not have happened. Byron Ziman, one of the members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group (who is credited for introducing us to the idea of “tainted outs”) brought to my attention a conspicuous error by a top-rated poker celebrity, published in a column in a poker magazine. Apparently, the celebrity, who has won many poker bracelets in tournaments and often has been said to claim he is the best poker player in the world, made an eye-catching error. Oh, well, we are only human.
Have you ever asked yourself: ‘Why do I play poker?” Whether or not we admit it, most play the game for recreation, with the money we win as a measure of success. But there is more to it than that.
Hands like these don’t happen often; that makes them all the more significant and memorable, especially when you are on the winning end of a HUGE pot.
The meeting of the Board of Directors of our engineering society finished early so I decided to drive over to the Hollywood Park Casino, just a few miles away. The first table was not to my liking, so I changed tables. Nevertheless, despite having been successful with several Esther Bluffs where I won four and lost 1, I was a bit behind when I was dealt K-Q of hearts in the hole:
In a horse race, every horse is rated based on its chance of coming in first in competition with other horses in that race. The favorite is the horse with the lowest odds against it. So a 2-to-1 shot is a big favorite over a long shot that’s 10-to-1. This is reflected in the payoff. That’s why many who gamble on the horse races prefer to bet on long shots. The payoff is greater. The more horses in the race, the less likely it is that the favorite crosses the finish line ahead of its opponents. It’s similar in poker. Your hand may be favored before the flop against each of your opponents individually, but the more opponents involved in the hand, the less likely you are to win. It’s common, in fact, for a hand to be favored over every other hand individually, yet be an underdog when considered against a full field of opponents collectively.
Believing I had created the Poker Labs concept, I was surprised to read that the WPT Boot Camp includes “hands-on labs.” Why did I introduce the Poker Labs into my poker classes at the Claude Pepper Senior Center in Los Angeles?
If you never use deception in playing poker, you are not likely to be a winner. Without deception, your opponents are better able to read you. They soon learn that you hold a strong hand whenever you bet or raise. With that information, it is easier for them to make wise decisions about betting, folding, or raising against you.
Bluffing is the most common form of deception. The idea, of course, is to convince your opponents that you hold the best hand so they fold hands that likely were better than yours, or release drawing hands that might have improved enough to win the pot if you hadn’t bluffed them out. How often you bluff is a matter of judgment and depends on your assessment of your opponents and the immediate situation.
“Tricky!” was the title of my column in the August 30, 2010 issue of Poker Player Newspaper. We received many comments from readers about that column. And there were a number of clever names for the “tricky” play described in the column.