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Choose one style of poker and master it

Rather than sticking to one variety of poker, many players make a point of playing different games.

There are even tournaments that alternate among several different varieties; high, middle, or low stakes; no-limit, high-limit, middle- and low-limit games. These include Texas hold’em, Omaha, Razz, and others.

I have often wondered why they do it. Do they get bored by playing the exact same game day after day? Or is it just the challenge of diversification? What is it that drives them along that path? Are they trying different games and varieties to see which they enjoy the most — or at which they win more? Do they, themselves, understand why they move from one game to another?

Logic vs. intuition when playing poker

I don’t have the answers. But I can cite my own experiences. As a youngster, draw poker was the game; we played for baseball cards and pennies. Later, when I was in the Navy during World War II, our game became 7-card stud.

Still later, in college and the games we played among friends and family, it was just a matter as to which game was the most popular at the time. Most often, it was 7-card stud. And so it was when I retired from my engineering career when I turned 65, that I decided to make poker — always recreational poker — my “second career.” Seven-card stud poker remained my game, whether we were playing in a home game or, later, in a casino.

Over time, the playing stakes steadily increased from pennies, then nickels and dimes, on up until today when I play only $4-$8 limit Texas hold’em. It soon became my game of choice. More recently, the casinos added a “kill” to that game, wherein the stakes increase to as much as double when a player wins two games in a row and continues if he keeps winning without a break. At my favorite local casino, I soon didn’t have any choice; it was a kill game or none.

There is a big difference — not only in the mechanics of the two games but also in my win rate. Why? Thinking about it, I soon realized: Playing hold’em, I could read only my two hole cards and the 5 community cards placed open-face on the board — 7 in all; whereas, in 7-card stud, I could see the face-up cards for each player. Depending on how many stayed in the hand after each round of betting, I was able to get so much more information. As we all know, poker is a game of information — partial information. Skill helps you make the best decisions using that information.

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Playing 7-card stud, my win rate grew to 70-80 percent of my sessions. Switching to hold’em, it dropped precariously. And when the casino increased its rake, my win rate turned negative. I struggled hard to better learn the poker skills, and gradually was back up to 50-60 percent. I suspect there were more winners in the “old” days. In fact, it has been estimated that as many as 90-95 percent of players are consistent losers.

So, what about diversifying? For me, that is a no-brainer. Don’t diversify. I teach my students to pick one variety of poker, including the stakes — and focus on becoming the absolute best you can at it.

An athlete may play several different sports as he goes along, but, when he becomes a pro, he is smart enough to stick to one. Doctors often specialize to become the best they can in their choice. That is why we have so many branches of engineering — so each engineer can become most proficient in his/her specialty.

Likewise, in poker, it makes good sense to stick to one game and become as skilled as possible in that particular game.