Concentrate more on poker skill than luck

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Luck is nothing more than random chance. Good luck favors you; bad luck does not. You have absolutely no control over it.

Our model

Try to picture this: On a two-dimensional plot, we can represent luck as a sine wave on a zero horizontal axis. Above the line, it’s positive and good – in your favor. Below the line, bad and negative. In the long run, it evens out; the pluses are balanced by the minuses.

Of course, at the poker table we always “pray” for good luck. But there are no favorites, though it may sometimes seem that way when you are getting rivered over and over. In the eyes of the “poker gods,” we are all alike and equally deserving.

Poker skill is a measure of your ability or expertise; it’s a gauge of your proficiency in playing the game. In the long run, it determines whether you are a winner or a loser. On the same plot with luck, skill is on the horizontal line when it’s zero, and climbs above it as you gain greater skill.

It is never below the line. The greater your skill level, the more good fortune you will enjoy – in the long run. The sum of the luck and skill points determines your results.

How to do it

Skill can be achieved and improved by studying the game, thinking about the various strategies and tactics, learning new concepts, reading poker books and magazines, attending poker classes and seminars (such as those offered at local senior centers), discussions with poker buddies, and paying attention while playing or observing the game.

As time passes and you gain greater skill, expect to win more often and enjoy bigger payoffs. It takes effort; you cannot just sit there and gain skill by osmosis. You must work at it.

We have absolutely no control over luck; it’s just a matter of chance. You don’t know what cards the dealer will put out on the board and couldn’t even make a halfway intelligent guess. On the other hand, we can, in fact, influence luck – in our favor. Skill is the magic ingredient.

Key skills

Being skilled you will make fewer mistakes. When a hand goes against you, think about it. Did I make a mistake? Should I have played that hand differently? Learn from your mistakes. We are only human and are bound to err on occasion. Try to minimize those errors; skill will dominate the luck factor.

Most important is skill in starting-hand selection. Use the Hold’em Algorithm. Then luck will be less critical. By avoiding probable losers, luck no longer is a major factor.

With a drawing hand on the flop, count your outs and estimate card odds using the 4-2 Rule; compare this to your pot odds. If the pot odds are higher than the card odds, you have a better chance (luck) of succeeding at the showdown. There are more opportunities for luck to help you win.

“Knowing” your opponents – tight, loose, aggressive, passive, calling-station, etc. – can help you “read” their hands more accurately. Then, you can make better decisions; so luck is more likely to help you.

Knowing which opponents are easier to bluff out. Using the Esther Bluff tactic, will make your bluffs much more effective. Rely less on good luck. Semi-bluffing gives you two ways to win the pot, so you are much less dependent on the luck factor.

Using the Hold’em Caveat preflop helps you decide whether to pay to see the flop with a marginal drawing hand. Lose less when you miss; win more when you connect. Probability is with you. Luck is still involved, but less of a dominant factor.

It is best to be lucky and good (skilled)!

“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].

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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