Further defining how to reach your A-game in poker

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In a recent issue of GamingToday, I told how I was planning to change my A-Game. By definition (Ref. Wiesenberg’s Official Dictionary of Poker), a player’s A-Game is his “best game, in terms of quality of (his) playing.”

After much thought, I now realize there is much more to one’s A-Game than the three issues I had identified. To reiterate what I wrote at that time, my A-Game was to be changed to:

• Obey the Four Basic Rules for Winning (as described in my first poker book, The Greatest Book of Poker for WINNERS!).

• Use the Two-Step. 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 hand; and, 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.

• Leave the table when the texture is not conducive to your style of play; change tables, or take a break, or quit – while you are still ahead.

What’s more?

These three criteria for my A-Game are fine as far as they go; but this neglects a very important part of winning poker: What about your opponents? If everyone at the table is tight, the rake would eat up all your chips. If everyone at the table is aggressive, it would be too costly to play with a limited bankroll. If everyone at your table is a Calling-Station, you could never bluff to win a pot. And this leads me to ask: what about the texture of your table?

Recognizing this, it is almost obvious that my A-Game must consider both (1) the types of opponents in the game as well as (2) the texture of the game – the basic scheme or structure of the game being played at your table. As players come and go, the texture can change many times during the course of a session. 

For most limit hold’em players (like me), a loose-passive game is best. Reason: Most starting hands are drawing hands that must improve to become winners; such hands play best when there are lots of opponents in the hand (yields high implied pot odds) and there are no raises before the flop (would make the investment to see the flop, too costly).

So what about that?

We had already considered the texture of the table in defining our A-Game, but what about evaluating your opponents? Some of us do that to some extent. But most are too focused on their own hands and too busy looking at the board to spend the time to evaluate their opponents. 

In playing our A-Game, it is important to consider what types of hands our opponents play relative to position, and how. Decide early-on whether each opponent is loose or tight, passive or aggressive, a “maniac” who bets and raises almost every opportunity, a Calling-Station (who cannot be bluffed out), a timid player who folds to a bet unless he has a monster hand.

As a matter of fact, I have been evaluating my opponents for years, and I teach it to my students at the Claude Pepper Sr. Center and West L.A. College, and private lessons. I just had never before considered it as part of my A-Game. Indeed, I go one step further and take notes as I play so I don’t have to rely on my memory – especially as players come and go from the table.

My A-Game has grown

In trying to define what the A-Game means for me, I realize it has increased in scope. Thinking about it, I am more likely to stick to my A-Game. And that’s all the better for me. Perhaps I will be able to raise my session win percentage from the current 70% mark to over 80%. I promise to try.

“The Engineer,” noted author and poker 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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