by Barbara Connors
Everybody has to start somewhere. For poker players, just as for readers, the journey begins with ABC. Literally, of course in the case of readers, while aspiring poker players cut their teeth on a style of play known as ABC poker.
As the name implies, ABC poker is about building-block fundamentals. It’s poker played strictly by the book. But ABC poker can be best described by what it is not—it is not creative, it is not deceptive, it doesn’t make adjustments for your opponents’ playing styles, and it’s often not the most profitable way to play a given hand. And if all that’s not unappealing enough, because ABC poker dictates that you play by the book—following somebody else’ script— there’s little sense of personal satisfaction or accomplishment, even when you win.
So many misconceptions muddle poker that I sometimes make lists. Today, I’d like to share three favorites from my collection, hoping that your game will improve, once you understand the truth.
Where should we start? How about bluffs. Whenever I warn about the badness of bluffing, some players get confused and think I’m telling them never to bluff. I’m not. There are clearly profitable times to fire a bluff into the pot. And there are specific opponents who make the best targets.
Fine. But I’m warning you that most players lose money for their lifetimes by bluffing. In that sense, yes, it would be better for them if they never bluffed. Here’s the strange part. Among all those millions of players who lose money bluffing, most probably think they earn money. I’ll tell you why that is in a minute.
by George “The Engineer” Epstein
My column entitled, “How Do You Rule?” in the Feb. 10 issue of PPN, had so many great responses that we awarded seven valuable prizes (copies of the Hold’em Algorithm) instead of one as planned! All raised salient issues; many offered thoughtful suggestions. Some described personal experiences. I’ll summarize their comments and quote several in this and the next column (Part II). After studying the responses and consulting with others, I have drawn conclusions that I will share with you in Part III. (You may be surprised!)
When I was a kid, I was able to demolish local poker games in Denver just by entering pots with only my very best starting hands. We call that playing “tight.” It amazed me that opponents had so little patience. They were willing to sacrifice their chips to me night after night without me having to know much about poker to win. I just took advantage of their tendency to bet money on bad hands.
Of course, later I helped pioneer aggressive poker strategies that proved that the sit-and-wait era of winning was finally over. But it’s important to realize that playing tight often still wins by itself. It doesn’t win as much as my power poker tactics (a term I coined in 1978 for Doyle Brunson to use with his poker bible Super/System — A Course in Power Poker). But it wins marginally.
by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
Candy makers know that if they can get a person to like a certain type of candy as a kid, they’re much more likely to eat that brand of candy for the rest of their lives. Something similar occurs in poker - where players start out playing a certain style of poker and continue to play that style throughout their poker career. Just because something feels comfortable, doesn’t make it correct. In fact, in tournament poker, much of what initially seems correct is dead wrong.
The average poker player starts out overly tight, playing mostly semi-premium and premium hands. The sad truth is most of these players remain tight for years and years. It’s very important to be a chameleon at the table - adjusting to the table conditions (stack sizes, play of our opponents, time of the tournament, among other factors) on a constant basis. Other players start out loose (affectionately known as spewtards) and also follow along that path for far too long.
Playing poker is like driving a car; we go fast on the highway and slow in school zones. Just because we go fast on the highway, doesn’t mean we are a “fast” driver - it’s just part of the skill-set we need to efficiently get around town. Try not to mentally box yourself into a certain category of player. Let the game come to you and make the necessary adjustments along the way, since many other players won’t.
by Barbara Connors
“I had a feeling.” This seemingly innocuous phrase, usually spoken in defense of a loose call after the hand is over, ranks right up there with, “I had to make sure” and “I’ll just play a little while longer until I get back even again” as among the most costly utterances in poker. And yet what red-blooded poker player hasn’t been tempted to play a hunch now and then? Sticking to clinical, strategically-sound, mathematically correct play all the time may be the most surefire way to make money at this game, but we’re not robots. Playing hunches appeals to the frustrated artist in all of us. It’s flattering to believe that maybe we’re a little bit psychic and it’s just plain more fun.
But is it always a bad thing to play a hunch? Well, it depends. Anytime you feel yourself wanting to make some unorthodox play that you would never make otherwise, based purely on a gut feeling, the important question to ask yourself is—where did that gut feeling come from?
Many poker players lose for a single, simple reason. They don’t grasp the nature of the majority of their opponents. Because of this common and fundamental misunderstanding of opponents’ natural state at the poker table, players pour profit down the poker drain trying to accomplish things that are impossible. What does that mean? Listen, and I’ll tell you.
Why they play
In order to take advantage of your opponents’ greatest weaknesses, you first need to understand why they came to play poker. No, really. Let’s examine that. Imagine that you’re a regular guy or gal with a regular everyday job. Maybe it’s standing all day long behind a used tomato booth at a secret black market for fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s painting over minor scratches on the bottom of automobile mufflers. Just some common job. Okay. Now imagine that your job is only thrilling for the first seven hours each day and that, by the final hour, you’re bored and eager to get home. Fine. So, that’s where you are right now. Home.
Then a monumental thought bombs your brain: “Maybe I’ll drive to the casino and play poker.” Immediately, your pulse quickens. An adventure awaits.
So, now I want you to stop imagining and jump back out of the head of your pretend opponent. You’re you again, in your own head. And that’s the “you” to whom I’m posing this important question. Here it comes. Do you think, while driving to the casino, your opponent is thinking, “I hope I can just sit at the table and not have to play any hands,” or “I hope I get to play a lot of hands”?
by George “The Engineer” Epstein
Hear Ye... Hear Ye... The Players’ Poker Court of Law is now in session.
You are the Judge. I am the key witness. I have been sworn in. During a low-limit game at a local casino, James raised before the flop in middle position, and was called by several opponents. The flop was rather uninteresting:
There was no card higher than a nine, no pairs, no connectors, and it contained three different suits. A player in early position bet out. There was one limper before James raised again. One player behind him—Bill—and the two limpers called James’ raise. The turn was not very exciting either. There were no pairs on the board, but there were possible long-shot draws to a straight or flush.
By Barbara Connors
Few things can match the anticipation of sitting down in a new poker game. Every game we enter offers the chance to challenge ourselves, to test out new strategies or fine-tune old ones, and most of all, the possibility of a big win. So much thought and care goes into the start of each new poker session—where to play, when to play, what stakes, how much to buy in for— and yet a decision that is at least as important, when to leave the game, often seems to get made on a whim. Choosing when to exit a cash game can be tricky. Everyone, it seems, has a different opinion, but conventional poker wisdom holds that you should keep on playing as long as the game is good and you’re able to keep playing well. The first criterion, good playing conditions, is easy enough to identify. It’s that second requirement, confidence that you are still playing well, that gets so many players into trouble.
by Ashley Adams
We all know that correctly folding a losing hand can save you money. The better you are at reading your opponents, and thus the better you are at assessing when you are beaten or significantly behind, the greater will be your savings from folding correctly. I’d like to look at another advantage that accrues from folding. It is an advantage that stems from how folding affects your image in the minds of your opponents.
In the old fashioned home game, where buddies play poker regularly with each other, images are fashioned over time. Reputations for betting styles, long developed, are not soon to change no matter what the actual betting may be in one series of hands or even over the course of a few regular poker nights. But in public poker rooms and on line the image that your opponents will have of you is created quickly. In a casino, your image depends predominantly on what you have done recently at the poker table. Exposed as players are to so many opponents, few will actually keep a book on you. Unlike online poker, where note taking is easy (and with the help of some software automatic), public poker room opponents will decide what kind of a player you are, and how to play against you, based on how you’ve played at their table over the session you’re in.