By George “The Engineer” Epstein
With so much having been recently published in leading poker publications – Card Player magazine and the weekly Gaming Today newspaper – regarding mega-rich casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s attack on our poker world, I am sure Stan Sludikoff would have wanted the last word...
Recall: Adelson claimed that poker was a game primarily of luck because the players cannot control the cards; skill plays “a negligible role,” he argued. Those of us “in the know,” realize that, on the contrary, skill is the most important factor in winning at poker. Those who depend on luck – those who are unskilled – are bound to be losers over the long run. And you don’t have to take my word for it. That’s why so many can make a living at the game.
Let’s examine some of the key skills:
♥ Recognize that “luck” is merely chance. And, you have no control at all over which of the cards in the deck will be dealt out or “burned.” But you can control how you play your hand, and can even influence how your opponents play theirs. Then, luck becomes less significant. By using the Hold’em Algorithm for starting-hand selection (see ad), based on the value of your holecards, you will have substantially improved the odds in your favor – or mucking if so indicated (saving the chips you most likely would have lost.
♥ Starting with a “made hand” (pocket Aces, Kings or Queens), thinning the field by raising to force some opponents to fold, improves your chances of winning. It’s a matter of statistics – not luck.
♥ We can use our skills – expertise – to make poker like a wise investment; risk your chips only when the odds favor you. In that case, the pot odds are substantially higher than the card odds against you. Otherwise, mucking your hand is wise. (Chips not lost are more valuable than those you win.)
♥ There will be times when you flop a monster – perhaps even the “nuts.” Instead of betting and forcing out your opponents, use strategies such as slow-playing, trapping, and check-raising to build “your pot.”
♥ Bluffing is a great strategy, permitting you to win a pot while holding “a losing hand.” (Ref. The Art of Bluffing; see ad.) The truly skilled player knows how to use the Esther Bluff tactic to reinforce his bluff. It also helps to know what type of player your opponent is. That’s skill – not luck. The same applies to semi-bluffs. The player who never bluffs is bound to be a loser!
♥ Chasing while holding a drawing hand with five or fewer outs is a very poor investment. Likewise when holding a hand that is likely to be dominated by another player. Statistics are inviolable. Otherwise, you would be depending on chance – to get lucky.
♥ Focus your attention on the game – no drinking liquor or watching the big football game being shown on the big TV screen on the wall. It may be quite tempting. With proper focus, you can better learn your opponents playing traits – tight, loose, passive, aggressive, deceptive (often bluffs), a calling-station (don’t try to bluff him out.) Look for inadvertent tells by observing – especially – the opponents to your left when the holecards are first dealt out and, then, when the dealer places the flop on the board. (Note: The players to your left will be declaring after you act.)
♥ There are at least 13 reasons for raising. Know them, and use them when appropriate.
So, tell Sheldon Adelson when you see him, about all these ways to gain an edge over your opponents. It’s skill – not luck, Sheldon. On further thought, in case he decides to play poker at your table, keep it all a secret from him...
George “The Engineer” Epstein is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!; Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision; and The Art of Bluffing. He has taught poker at the Claude Pepper Senior Center, at West L.A. College, and to elderly war veterans at the CalVet facility in the VA/West L.A. George created and organized the Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group. He was awarded the Senior Citizen Volunteer-of-the-Year Award, in large part for his activities on behalf of senior citizens, and has been elected to the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame.