To specialize your poker or not to specialize

September 01, 2015 3:00 AM


High ranking Poker Player Scott SeiverIn William Cowper’s poem “The Task” (1785) he offers: “Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.” The idea is doing many different things, or frequently changing what you do, makes life more interesting. That certainly applies to life. Otherwise, it can get rather boring. We all seek diversity.

Many believe this also applies to the game of poker – by playing several different poker games. In that regard, there are indeed a very wide variety of games available, ranging from low-limit to no-limit hold’em, Omaha, Stud, Razz, high-low games, and on and on. There are even tournaments that consist of several different varieties at the same table.

In a recent feature column in Card Player magazine (April 15, 2015), high-ranking professional tournament player, Scott Seiver (at that time, one of the leading contenders for that magazine’s Player of the Year Award), was quoted: “…if you vary what you play, you aren’t going to get burnt out. People that get tired of poker seem to be doing the same thing day in and day out, and it gets stressful or like work to them.” Yes, many poker players do strive to become expert – skilled – in more than one variety of poker.

Contrast this with those poker players who prefer to specialize. They focus on one particular game. Perhaps, it’s no-limit hold’em tournaments, low-limit cash games or Omaha high-low. The choice is large. There are significant differences among them.

For example, in limit games, the size of the bet or raise is preordained. You can only bet a specified amount of chips. In no-limit games, the bet can be as many chips as you decide at the moment. As long as you have the chips on the table in front of you, anything goes. A huge all-in bet can make the difference between a successful bluff and one that is quickly called by an opponent.

In a no re-buy tournament, a player would have second thoughts about calling a big raise that would knock him out of the tournament if he loses – even with favorable pot odds. On the other hand, in a cash game, he could go to his pocket to purchase more chips to remain in the game after losing on a toss-up decision. Then, he could hope to win back his losses and perhaps even go home a winner – with a little good luck.

The cost to play: Another big difference. In a tournament, once you pay your registration and entry fee, there are no further costs. Whereas in a cash game the house rakes chips from the pot every hand. It even takes a chip out of the small blind if the two remaining players decide to chop before the flop. Add the drop for the Bad-Beat Jackpot and tip to dealer; that cost can add up real fast – well over $20 per hour. That’s a huge cost for each player in a low-limit game.

A better reason for specializing: Aside from all these differences from game to game, there is an even better reason for specializing in one particular variety of poker: It’s a matter of expanding your skills. By concentrating on a single game, you can develop optimum skills versus trying to become expert in several different games at the same time.

There is a good reason why doctors tend to specialize. A brain surgeon does not treat patients for ulcers. If you were the patient suffering a brain illness, which doctor would you prefer? That’s a rhetorical question, of course.

We have all heard the expression, “A jack of all trades, expert at none.” I would rather win by specializing – becoming ever more expert – in $4-$8 limit hold’em cash games than lose by playing a wide variety of different poker games.

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