7 highly successful traits to victory when playing poker

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Awhile back, poker pro Dusty Schmidt wrote an interesting column on “7 Traits of Highly Successful Poker Players,” published in another poker publication.

It struck a familiar note for me. Although the column was based on the teachings of Jared Tendler, author of “The Mental Game of Poker,” Schmidt’s column incorporated much of the Four Basic Rules for Winning in my first poker book (Ref. “The Greatest Book of Poker for WINNERS!” by George Epstein and Dan Abrams; T/C Press). Interesting!

I thought I could offer a similar but somewhat different view on the seven traits needed to win, perhaps easier to understand and implement.

1. – Don’t “gamble.” Treat poker as an investment; consider risk versus reward. Don’t depend on luck – over which you have no control. Use probability theory to make decisions on betting, calling, raising – or folding. Estimate the pot odds versus the card odds. The pot odds must be higher than the card odds to warrant a call with a drawing hand.

If the immediate pot odds are close to the card odds, then consider the implied pot odds at the showdown. Being skilled, you should win most of your sessions; however, since you cannot control luck, there will be some losing sessions. Basic Poker Rule #1 (See Ref.) suggests starting each session with a “win goal.” To be sure you leave a winner takes considerable self-discipline. But, just in case you lose (it will happen on occasion), have a limit for your loss. Never use the “rent money.”

2. Understand your opponents: How do they play their hands; what drives their decisions? Are they tight, loose, passive, aggressive? Who is timid and likely to fold to a raise with a drawing hand? Who is deceptive – often bluffing; sometimes check-raising?

3. Be an entrepreneur. Each bet is an investment: Again, consider risk versus reward. Take chances only where it makes good “business” sense. (You are in business to make a profit!) Understand and use the Hold’em Algorithm; the Hold’em Caveat; the card odds and pot odds; and the Esther Bluff. There are 13 Reasons for Raising; use them for your benefit.

4. Have confidence in your playing skills. Long-term winners have the requisite skills. They care little of plaudit or criticism from others at the table. They maintain their confidence even when the cards turn against them. (No one likes to be “rivered” time after time; but it happens.)

5. At Peace with Losing – Do whatever is reasonable to avoid losses; but realize losing on occasion is par for the course. Don’t expect to hit a home run every time you come to bat; even the great Babe Ruth struck out sometimes. There is bound to be variance (ups and downs) at the poker table; live with it. Do not go on tilt.

6. Continuous Improvement – The Air Force had a program called TQM (Total Quality Management); it advocated striving for perfection. Try to improve your skills every opportunity. Use your playing experience by analyzing any mistakes you (or an opponent) may have made. How can you do better? When you read poker books and columns, ponder the ideas; be sure you fully understand them.

Tendler advocates note-taking at the poker table. I always do it, and have taught my students; however, most are reluctant to do so. (It does take effort.) But I use the notes during the game to guide my decisions as I play a hand; whereas Tendler/Schmidt refer to their notes only after the game to analyze their play and resolve any weaknesses identified. My notes also can help me to adjust my game the next time at the casino.

7. Love the Game – Poker is a marvelous game. For seniors like me and the members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group (now over 200 people) and our CalVet Seniors Poker Group (elderly war veterans with special healthcare needs who are housed in a beautiful facility at the VA/West L.A.) it provides mental exercise to keep our minds healthy, and vital social interaction. One Caution: Be sure you don’t get addicted to the game.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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