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Most poker players have their A-Games, whether or not they acknowledge it. Simply stated, according to Michael Wiesenberg’s Official Dictionary of Poker, a player’s A-Game is his “best game, in terms of quality of (his) playing.”

As you enter the casino, you promise yourself: “I’m going to play my A-Game tonight.” What’s more, you are determined to stick to that pledge.

But what exactly is you’re A-Game?

Until recently, mine was simply:

• Obey the Four Basic Rules for Winning (as described in my first poker book, The Greatest Book of Poker for WINNERS! (T/C Press, 5482 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1553, Los Angeles, CA 90036).

• Use the Two-Step. In poker, the Two-Step is not a dance step.

Briefly, Step 1 is to use the Hold’em Algorithm to ensure I start with a decent hand – one that has a reasonable chance to end up as the best.

Step 2 is to stay in after the flop only if my hand improves enough: I must flop a made hand or have at least six good outs. (Note: If everyone checks to you on the flop, no matter how few outs you have, never refuse a free card.)

Losing sessions hurt

Who doesn’t suffer a losing session now and then? Even the most skilled among us has.

Overall, playing my current A-Game has worked well for me. I win about 70% of my sessions, but in many (30%) that I ended up losing it should not have happened. And I know it!

In most of those losing sessions, there is a point when I am ahead. Call it human greed, perhaps, but I continue to play – even though I know there is much variance in the game of poker. The swings in your poker results can be wild.

Say, after an hour of playing, you have doubled your buy-in. Great! But then your trips on the turn become second-best when you get rivered by an inside-straight draw – and lose a huge pot.

A few hands later, you are drawing to a big open-ended straight against a player with four-to-a-flush.

You feel lucky when making the nut straight on the river. But look again! Unbeknownst to you, that same river card also gives your opponent his flush. Before knowing it your winning chips have disappeared faster than you can say “Oh, my G-D, what happened?”

Perhaps you go a bit on tilt at this point. (Who can blame you!) Now you get careless. Anxious to recoup your winnings, you forget about playing your A-Game. Before very long, you have to go into your pocket to buy more chips. Sound familiar?

Often this occurs after the table has changed its texture. You were winning at a loose-passive game but now it has become loose-aggressive or very tight – neither of which is conducive to winning for your style of play.


How can we prevent this scenario from slamming our egos again? For me, I have decided to add to my A-Game. All things considered, I will abide by the words of poker sage, Byron Ziman who proclaimed:

“I kicked myself out so I wouldn’t have to kick myself later for not kicking myself out.”


When the table turns against you, leave while still ahead. You might change tables, take a break with a brisk walk in the evening air, or call it a night.

In any case, before you lose it all back, get yourself away from that table and not have to bemoan your lack of resolve. It’s a matter of self-discipline.

That’s now the third part of my A-Game. What’s your A-Game? A prize for the best answer.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in West Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. 





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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