Avoid losses at the poker table with these tips

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There are two ways to win money playing Texas hold’em – win pots by holding the best hand at the showdown and bluffing out your opponents.

Of course, your skill at building big pots when holding the best hand certainly is a factor. But you could lose all those winnings and more, if not careful. It happens so often: Start off a winner but go home a loser! Can you avoid it and go home a winner more often?

Evaluating opponents: First of all, it’s important to know what kind of players your opponents are – tight or loose, passive or aggressive, calling station, timid, a maniac? Make note so you won’t forget later. Use that information in making your decisions.

For example, if a tight player raises from an early position believe him so you can avoid investing in a hand that is almost certain to be a loser. It’s best to be seated to the left of a maniac. See how he is betting/raising before you must declare. Then, you can easily fold after his raise when you hold a marginal drawing hand, thereby avoiding a costly loss.

All tables not alike: Aggressive tables – lots of raising preflop – are not for me. I’m bound to lose playing at such a table. I prefer loose-passive games, where lots of players stay to see the flop but there is little raising, so drawing hands are more viable. Then, when I do the raising, it is to my advantage to build the pot (as in value betting) or to bluff my opponents.

Your raises will be more effective in a loose-passive game. Often, I’ll raise on an early street to get a free card on the more expensive next round of betting – saving chips if my cards don’t come. The raise might gain me betting position over my remaining opponents, so I can better judge whether to fold my hand to avoid a loss.

Starting hands: Starting with the best hand preflop is a no-brainer. Everyone gets his share of good and poor hands. Muck the poor ones; concentrate on the better. Those are your best sources of winning chips. I use the Hold’em Algorithm to make it easier.

Chasing: This is a sure-fire way to lose your chips. For every hand that you catch a winner, dozens of others will be lost. It just doesn’t add up. My criteria for “chasing” – calling a bet with a drawing hand having five or fewer outs. Chasers are losers!

Positive expectation: Use this concept and it will save you chips. When the pot odds (or the implied pot odds) are higher than your card odds (those against making your hand), you will win chips in the long run. But the reverse also holds. A negative expectation spells “lose.” If you do not have a positive expectation, fold and avoid losing a bunch of chips.

Hold’em caveat: This simple concept can save you lots of chips. With a marginal starting hand, call to see the flop only if there is no raise – nor likely to be after you bet and it’s a multi-way pot with three or more opponents staying in. Otherwise, fold to save your chips.

Variance: Recognize this is inherent in the game. You cannot control luck, so there are bound to be ups and downs in your fortune at the poker table. If you have been winning, and then start losing it all back, there may be a reason other than bad luck. Perhaps your opponents have found a tell you are not aware of.

Before losing back all your winnings, there are several things you might do – change tables; take a break (players come and go); or call it a day and go home while you are still ahead.

“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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