Methods to get control of your poker game

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Playing Texas hold’em, each player is dealt two downcards – two cards in the hole. Only you can decide whether to fold or to invest your money (chips) in those two cards – to call or make a raise. You are in complete control. How you make those decisions depends on your skill level – knowing when to fold, bet or raise before the flop, weighing your options and making the right decision – the choice that is in your best interests. Only you are in control.

If you are highly skilled, you will have a firm basis for making that decision – certainly not depend on pure luck (chance). Don’t ascribe to the oft-stated thesis that “any two cards can win.”

Use the Hold’em Algorithm or other viable starting-hand selection procedure to help make that decision – to avoid making a costly mistake. It’s also a good idea to observe your opponents – how many call or raise before you, and look for tells from the opponents, especially those to your left. Position is very important. Consider the texture of the game: is it tight, loose, aggressive?

You should be aware that, on average, only one out of four or five hands dealt to you is worthy of investment. And, you need a stronger hand if someone raises before you – making it a two-bet; more so if it is re-raised. When making that decision, only you are in control.

Then, the dealer places the flop – three cards face-up – on the board. At that point, you will have seen over 70 percent of your final hand. Now you must make another important decision: Should I fold, check, bet or raise? Only you are in control. With skill, you can make the right decision – the one that is in your best interests.

If you have a strong “made” hand, you may want to build the pot size. In a limit game, is it best to bet or raise – or slow-play to keep your opponents in the pot so you can bet/raise on the turn when the bets are doubled? It takes skill to make that decision. The wrong decision may cost you lots of chips.

Very often, after the flop, you will still have a drawing hand – one that must improve to win the pot. The highly skilled player will consider his card odds (chance of making his hand) compared to the pot odds (how many chips are in the pot versus how much you must bet to see the turn). A Positive Expectation is essential: The current pot odds or, perhaps, the implied pot odds (considering likely subsequent bets on the turn and the river) must be higher than your card odds.

Only you are in control of making that very important decision. The dealer has “no say in the matter.” (Indeed, she only deals out the cards and does not control them in any way. It’s completely random.)

Perhaps you see the opportunity to make a semi-bluff on the turn. That gives you two ways to win the pot: (1) if your remaining opponents muck their hands; or (2) you catch one of the cards that makes your hand – most likely, the best hand – on the river. Of course, you want to have lots of outs in that case. It’s your decision.

It’s much like being the marketing or sales director for a major corporation. He is in control of the company’s products and how they are presented to the customer. In that regard, his skill is essential to the company‘s success. And his livelihood, as well as those of the other employees, often depends on his decisions.

If he does a great job, he may even be awarded a pay raise and, perhaps, a big bonus. Just as in the game of poker, he is in control, and duly rewarded if successful.

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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