Favorite 15 skills for limit hold'em poker

Favorite 15 skills for limit hold'em poker

January 03, 2017 3:10 AM


Skill – expertise – is essential to winning at the poker table. There are many aspects of skill. Working with my poker mentor, George “The Engineer” Epstein, here are our favorite 15 skill forms for limit hold’em:

• Before getting seated: Table and seat preference;

• Starting hand selection;

• Looking for and interpreting tells;

• Using reverse tells;

• Looking to the left as the hole cards are being dealt, and then as the flop hits the board;

• “Reading” your opponents – their traits and their hands;

• Knowing when it is best to just call or to raise;

• Knowing the many reasons for raising, when and how to use each;

• Understanding the importance of position, and using it to your advantage;

• Understanding and using the math of poker to get a positive expectation with a drawing hand – pot odds higher than your card odds;

• When and how best to bluff – especially to semi-bluff;

• Using other forms of deception (slow-play, trap, check-raise);

• Timing your moves;

• When to change seats – or tables – at the casino;

• Avoiding tilt and remaining alert while playing.

There are many degrees of luck and skill, ranging from the worst to the very best, and everything in between. While you have little control over luck, you can take steps to improve your poker skills. It’s within your control! The more you study and play – including paying attention to any mistakes you observe (both your own goofs and those of your opponents) and learning from them – the better your skills will become. Seek to continually improve your skills and your winnings will steadily increase in response.

How do you measure skill?

That’s the question I was recently asked by Esther Fayla, George’s bright granddaughter – and what motivated me to write this rather unusual column. It’s a good question and not easily answered.

We can measure our skills by the frequency and the amount of our winnings. If you never win, then (obviously) you have few of our 15 poker skills. If you are a consistent winner and the amounts won are growing with time, then you must be rated as highly skilled.

George also suggests we could think of it as a Bell curve with a normal Gaussian distribution.

The mean and average values coincide at the peak of the curve. On the vertical axis, the curve displays the percentage of winning hands – or, it could be the amounts won or the frequency of winning sessions – with the standard deviations displayed on the horizontal axis. It shows there will be a relatively small number of players at the two extremes, with the vast majority hovering around the average. (The “standard deviation” is simply a mathematical term indicating the frequency distribution.)

How do your skills stack up against your opponents? Ask yourself, “Where would I fit on this curve?” Be honest with yourself. If you are not happy with your poker results, then you must be situated at or near the far left of the curve. Strive to improve your skills, then you move to the right.

Located just to the left of the peak, you might consider yourself on about an equal skill level – on a par – with most of the other players. You will win a decent number of your hands and sessions – but not enough to make you a consistent winner. Remember, you still have to pay your share of the rake, the bad-beat jackpot drop, and tips to the dealers – the cost-to-play.

Keep working at it, and move further to the right. Now you are among the better players. You might strive to become the best – at the extreme right of the Bell distribution curve. It won’t be easy; but you can try –whatever you can do to improve your skills. Winning is great fun!