By George "The engineer" Epstein
Here’s an e-mail I received awhile back from reader L. J. in San Diego:
“I read your column in Poker Player and think you must be a really quick thinker to be able to figure odds so quickly when playing. I am a novice player and like the excitement. Would like your opinion as to whether a player can be a loser almost always—a chronically unlucky player—or is it possible to change this condition? Will appreciate your reply.” Here’s my response to her, edited for Poker Player Newspaper: Every player is unlucky sometimes, but when it’s always the case, something needs to be changed. It takes considerable patience and perseverance. And you have to be dedicated to becoming a winner. Most players are long-term losers. The difference is a matter of skill. While you cannot control luck, you can influence it to be more favorable. Here are some ways I teach my students.
• First, take advantage of the many opportunities to improve your poker skills. Books, classes, seminars, columns in Poker Player Newspaper are great sources that are readily available. Use them.
• Secondly, make sure you play at a good table. I avoid tables with lots of raising before the flop or tables that are too tight. A loose-passive table with occasional raises is just fine for me. Also I avoid being seated to the right of a very aggressive (maniac) player. If I can’t avoid that, I adjust my playing accordingly. If the table is not to your liking, ask for a table change.
• Next, have viable starting-hand criteria so you avoid investing in hands that do not have a reasonable chance of becoming the winning hand at the showdown. Consider the value of your hole cards, your betting position, whether there are any raises or likely to be after you bet, how many opponents are staying to see the flop, and what kind of players you are up against. Making the initial investment is your most important decision.
• Have a core playing strategy based on the laws of probability for starting hands regarding made hands vs. drawing hands. Made hands before the flop, such as A-A, K-K, and Q-Q), are best played against four or fewer opponents. Drawing hands that must improve to win at the showdown play best in multi-way pots without preflop raises.
• Use position and raising to gain advantage over your opponents. By the way, we have identified 13–count them–reasons for raising. We will share these with our readers in a future column.
• With a drawing hand on the flop and turn, use the 4-2 rule to estimate card odds, along with an approximation of the size of the pot relative to the bet amount—the pot odds—to decide whether to call a bet. With two cards to come, simply multiply your outs by four to estimate the probability of making the hand. From that you can determine the approximate odds against catching the card you seek. With only one card to come, multiply your outs by two. If the pot odds are higher than the card odds against you, you have a bet with a positive expectation. Make the bet. In the long run, it’s getting a return on your investment (ROI). This is especially important in limit games.
• An occasional bluff, depending on the circumstances, is advisable so your opponents have more trouble reading your hands. It is wise to have viable tactics to help your bluff succeed.
• Understand that variance—the ups and downs inherent in poker—exist in any game where luck is a factor. Use some form of money management during the session so you don’t lose back all of your winnings and then some.
One of our former students played in the WSOP and did well until he was dealt pocket kings and was all-in against pocket queens. A third queen came on the river! Happens. . . Bad luck! Comments?
George “The Engineer” Epstein is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! and Hold’em or Fold’em?—An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision and teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center in Los Angeles. Contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org.