Going over the basic poker skills

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It’s a new year, so it seems appropriate to revisit some of the key skills and strategies we have discussed during the past year.

Here’s our annual Poker Skills and Strategies Review. All of these are essential to playing winning poker.

• Table selection is at the top of our list because it is the first big decision you must make. You can always change tables during a game to one that is more to your liking.

Players’ traits give the table/game its character or “texture.”

Personally, I like to compete against opponents who are fairly loose and somewhat aggressive. I won’t stay very long at a tight table. You can’t win any money there; and, with small pots, the cost-to-play is bound to make you a loser.

Before investing heavily in a hand, I want to see whether the flop helps me, and to what extent. That’s why I don’t want very aggressive opponents who often raise pre-flop. It’s O.K. if I’m the one doing the raising.

If there is a raise and re-raise pre-flop before you must act, consider folding a mediocre starting hand – even if it meets the Hold’em Algorithm criteria. There’ll be another deal very shortly.

It’s O.K. to play against a single “maniac” who frequently raises and re-raises – but only if you can sit to his left, so he acts before you.  

• Starting hand selection is the most important decision. Poor starting hands can cost you a bundle.

The easy way is to use the Hold’em Algorithm. (See ad.) It offers points based on several key criteria including card value, position and other factors.

• Unless you start with a made hand (A-A, K-K or Q-Q), most often your hand must improve on the flop. If not, consider folding.

“Improving” to a drawing hand with at least six good outs is worth a call if it’s a multi-way hand and there are no raises. That’s the Hold’em Caveat. If everyone checks on the flop, you can see the turn for free. Note: With the three cards dealt out on the flop, you will have then seen over 70 percent of your final hand.

• Always seek a Positive Expectation (P.E.) after the flop, when holding a drawing hand that almost certainly needs to improve to warrant further investment.

Explanation: Count your outs – those unseen cards that will complete your hand. There has been a bet. Should you call or fold? Using the 4-2 Rule, figure your card odds – the odds against catching one of your outs.

Observe the pot and estimate the pot odds – the number of chips in the pot compared to the amount of the bet. For a P.E., the pot odds must be higher than the card odds. Reward is higher than risk.

• Bluffing – A player who never bluffs is bound to be a loser. Check out The Art of Bluffing (an easy-to-read booklet; see ad). Bluffing wins often are the big difference between winning and losing sessions.

Don’t do it too often – or your opponents will get wise to you. I love semi-bluffs where you have lots of good outs, in case you are called. Two ways to win!

Be sure you know when the situation is right for a bluff; and use the “Esther Bluff” tactic to best convince the “enemy” to fold.

• Building your pot – There will be times that you flop a monster hand. You are practically certain to win this pot.

Ecstasy! Now, your goal is to build a big a pot. Slow-play on the flop to keep opponents in the hand.

If it’s a loose game, you might check from the Big Blind; then an early-position opens the betting and there are several callers before you. That’s a good spot for completing a check-raise.

Expect all who called the original bet to call your raise. If there are loose-aggressive players at your table, you might try the check-raise again, on the turn. But bet out on the river – bet for value.

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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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