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House of Cards
by Ashley Adams

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Today's Word Is... Keys

I think the word "key" is overused. Too many things have been labeled as "the key to success" or "the key to finding your soul mate." What is usually meant is: "Well, gosh, here's something that might help. I'm not sure how important it is, but it might be pretty useful sometimes, so I'll call it a key." Usually, when I say something is a key, it genuinely unlocks doors. Without it, you can't get where you need to go. To me a key isn't just a bonus poker tip; it's a piece of advice that, if unused, will leave you out in the cold.

So, today, my self-interview is about keys. And here's the very first question.

Question 1: What's the key to winning at poker?

See, that's just what I'm talking about. There's really no single key to poker success. I might say there is, if I'm in the right mood. But that's just careless speech on my part. There are many keys to winning; many doors must be opened.

I guess the closest I can come to answering the question is: "The key to winning at poker is to play your best game all the time." But, of course, that might not really get you there. Your best game must be good enough to win. If your best game is inferior, playing it unwaveringly will still cost money.

In truth, there are lots of keys to poker profit.

Question 2: Could you name some things relating to poker success that you believe are important enough to call "keys"?

I'll try.

Finding the best games is a key to poker success. Unless you understand this, it's unlikely that you'll ever succeed at poker. You could be the best poker player who ever lived-or ever will live-and fail to make a living. Why? It's because you might decide to play against the other eight top-rated players in the world. The edge you'd have over them would be so small that you might not be able to overcome the rake, the costs of food and lodging, tips, and whatever else it took to just tread water. You might not survive-and if you had bad luck, you certainly wouldn't.

But wait! What if you're the 3,552,118th best poker player alive? That's not bad, because there are probably over 100 million players worse than you-some playing rarely, some regularly.
What if you avoid games with superior players and target games with much weaker ones? I'll tell you what. You'll eventually make a lot of money. In fact, you'll likely earn a lot more than that "best player who ever lived," assuming he's bumping heads against other elite players. In fact, you might find yourself lending him money. Don't laugh. That happens all the time in poker. Trust me on that. Winning isn't about how good you are-it's about how good you are in relation to the opponents you choose. That's why finding the best games is key.

Conveying the right image is a key to poker success. Anyone who says image doesn't matter in poker doesn't understand life itself. Just as customers are more apt to buy products from convincing sales people or go to restaurants that win their attention, weak poker opponents give their money disproportionately to opponents who make losing less painful. That's why I recommend a friendly, loose image. It's a key to poker success. It's possible to win with other images, too. You can intimidate players, bully them, and be belligerent. That sometimes has short-term success, but isn't good for repeat customers. That's why it isn't my style of play.

Playing within your bankroll is a key to poker success. Most players who are theoretically good enough to win, don't. They simply put themselves in jeopardy too many times and are eventually crushed. A key to staying afloat is to realize that you probably need a bigger reserve bankroll than you think when the cards are running good. Of course, if you're just starting out, you'll need to build a bankroll before you can protect it, and that takes initial luck. But once you've got a meaningful bankroll, guard it. For most players, that means playing smaller limits than they believe their bankroll merits. It's a key to poker survival.

Question 3: Are there any doors that should remain locked in poker?

Now there's a truly perceptive question! For every profitable poker behavior, there are keys for how to do it best. But there are also poker mistakes and bad habits. And those, too, have keys that could be used to incorporate them into your game plan unwisely.

So, I guess, one key to poker success is to throw away the keys that open the wrong doors.

Question 4: Could you give just one example of a key that shouldn't be used?

Just one? Hmm. Okay, let's go with the angry key. It's easy to get frustrated while playing poker. Bad beats surround us. But that's the natural course of things. If the best hands always stood up, the weaker players would never enjoy the illusion of success. They'd never win, and they'd stop playing.

So, you should be grateful when you're drawn out on. More precisely, of the hands you play, the higher portion of them you get drawn out, the more money you'll eventually win. How come? It's because the signature of good play is to go in with the better hand most of the time. That means the only way your opponent can win is to draw out. So superior players have a greater percentage of their outcomes defined as being drawn out on. That's really a good thing.

What's a bad thing is using your angry key to open the door that lets you complain and scold opponents for weak plays. Doing that harms your profit-and that key opens a room you don't want to visit.

Question 5: Is there a key to understanding life beyond the poker tables?

The key to understanding human life is that you must always remain confused. If you could open the door and learn life's mysteries, nothing would matter anymore. There might be an electrifying moment of satisfaction. And then what? Poker is a game that mimics life. Each hand is a mystery, because if everyone knew the cards, then what?

Mike Caro is widely regarded as the world's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. A renowned player and founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy, he is known as "the Mad Genius of Poker," because of his lively delivery of concepts and latest research. You can visit him at www.poker1.com or e-mail him at mike@caro.com.

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