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In a recent magazine article, poker guru Ed Miller discussed preflop play for $1-$2 no-limit hold’em. He offers a checklist of six “principles.” Great! But, he makes one statement that should be corrected – at least for low-limit games:

“If you think like everyone else, you will play like everyone else, and you will lose the table rake – about $10 an hour.”

All things being equal, in the long run, an average low-limit player will lose much more than $10 an hour with a rake of $5 per hand.

Explanation: Thirty to 40 hands are dealt each hour of play – averaging about 35 hands per hour. (Check it out yourself.) Hence, the rake-per-hour is $5 x 35 = $175. With nine players at the table that’s almost $20 an hour for each. With fewer players, that $5 rake will cost even more.

In addition to the rake, there’s also the Bad Beat Jackpot drop – $1 per hand – another $35 an hour for the table, or about $4 per hour for each player. Then there’s the tip to the dealer. In a low-limit game, that adds up to almost $30 an hour per player if the table is full – more if the table is not full.

Buy-in for $100, and it will have cost the average low-limit player all of that after 3 to 4 hours.

But, your goal is to go home a winner. Poker is a game of skill. Being highly skilled, you play much better than the average player.

Luck – chance – is also a key factor. You cannot influence which card in the deck might next be dealt. But, you can control how you play your hand and influence your opponents’ play – making luck less significant. Basically, that’s what Miller’s checklist is all about.

Starting-hand selection is important. “If you’re out of position, play about 15 percent of your hands. If you are on the button, play about 35 percent.”

Using the Hold’em Algorithm those percentages are correct. More important, the algorithm also provides the criteria for selecting those hands. Avoiding poor starting-hands – playing moderately tight – you are less likely to lose. And, you rise above the average player.

Avoid strength. Tight players rarely raise. If one does, assume he has a strong hand; play accordingly. Observing their tells can also help. That gains you a big edge. And, you rise above the average player.

Attack weakness. Some opponents play too many hands preflop; most will be weak. “When you suspect your opponents are in with weak hands, you should attack them with raises… Be aggressive when your opponents don’t tag themselves with strength preflop.”

Don’t try to make Hands. Don’t think/play your hands like everyone else; if so, “you will lose the table rake.” Example: “If your opponents are limping, they’re probably weak… Attack them with a raise – even if your hand isn’t so great either.”

Good advice for no-limit games where you can size the bet to force out those opponents. In limit games, use the Esther Bluff.

Take this principle one step further: Don’t chase post-flop when you have fewer than six outs, especially if there is a raise. Consider if the pot is big enough to give you a Positive Expectation.

Choose hands that have equity when called. “If you think you will be able to play aggressively on a wide range of flops… you have a hand worth playing.”

Miller prefers hands like 8-7 suited over A-4 offsuit as 8-7 suited “hits a wide range of flops, ensuring that you have equity.”

Defend blinds against steals, not strong raises. This is essentially a restatement of Miller’s principles (2) and (3), applied to hands when you are in the blinds. “When your opponent makes a raise that is likely to be a steal, defend with… re-raises and calls.”

 Miller closes: “Avoid strength. Attack weakness.” Good advice.

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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