Making choices is an important part of life. Choose your career goals; choose your mate; your clothes, friends, entertainment, vacations… Likewise, choice is an important part of poker.
Choose the game, the casino and table at which you play – even the seat at that table. Choose the starting hands with which you will see the flop. Each choice will influence your results – whether you win or lose, and how much. The wrong choices can be costly. You could even go on tilt! Let’s examine these so we can make the best choices!
Each variety of poker – including the stakes – is unlike all others. There is a mountain of difference between cash games and tournaments; hold’em vs. Omaha; etc. To be a winner, it is essential to be expert at all aspects of the game you choose. Know that game like “the palm of your hand.” Can you be the best player at that table? On that score, I advocate becoming proficient in one game; avoid other varieties. It’s challenge enough to become expert in one game.
Casino & Table
There may be several tables offering your choice of game at your favorite casino. Each casino is somewhat unique and, likewise, each table is different. The players make the difference. The table may be tight (few players staying to see the flop), loose (lots of players putting their chips into the pot), passive (raising is rare) or aggressive (lots of betting and raising). There may be a maniac (maybe several) at that table. Select the best table for your style of play. I always opt for a loose-passive table.
One maniac at the table is great if I can sit to his left; then, he acts before I must declare, helping me to make better decisions. (Depending on the situation, I might even reraise to force out opponents or to build the pot, with fewer draws against me.)
At every opportunity, evaluate your opponents. I prefer lots of “PokerPigeons” – poor players; they stay to see the flop much too often for their own best interests. Over time, your table may change its character. You have a choice – whether to stay at that table or change to another.
This can be critical. It is important that your seat afford you a good view of the board. (You don’t want to misread the cards. It does happen.) It’s best to be seated to the left of aggressive players, especially maniacs, and to the right of passive and loose players.
What could be more important than your choice of starting hands? Are your holecards worth the investment? Just as in business, there is risk and there is reward. A wise investment is more likely to succeed. The Hold’em Algorithm (see ad elsewhere in GT) can make that choice a lot easier for you. The majority of your hands are not worth playing. “PokerSharks” (that’s your goal) rarely play more than 1/3 to 1/4 of their hands, on average.
Call or Raise
Having decided to stay to see the flop (based on your holecards and position), now you must decide whether to just call or raise the bet. That’s an important choice throughout the hand. Usually, a drawing hand is not worth a raise – unless you have so many outs the implied pot odds will be much higher than your card odds. (There always are exceptions.) With K-Q offsuit, your raise may improve your chances of winning by forcing out A-rag hands.
When to Quit
Because luck is so important in poker, expect to experience considerable ups and downs in your fortune at the table. When you are well ahead, how can you decide when to quit the game or, if it’s too early to go home, take a long break? It’s your choice. It may take considerable will-power – self-discipline. It’s your choice!
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