Mistakes in poker can be costly

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by George “The Engineer” Epstein |

Everyone makes mistakes – whether or not we realize it. Most mistakes are hardly worth noting; but some can cost a person his life. Try your best to avoid such blunders.

Certainly, we make them at the poker table – even in low-limit hold’em. Many poker players are not even aware of mistakes they make.

Almost always, mistakes cost you chips. Either you lose more or win fewer. At our Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center in Los Angeles, we decided to help our members become more aware of mistakes at the table so they could learn to avoid these costly miscues.

Poker players often speak about “mistakes” that have cost them dearly. Everyone knows that a mistake is an error, a blunder. If you are alive, you have been guilty. You may not realize that you are making that mistake – until it’s too late, if ever.

I know one poker player who has made the same mistake for over 50 years; he doesn’t recognize it as a mistake. It’s his loss.

Sometimes the consequence is hardly noteworthy. An error by the shortstop on a Little League baseball team may cost his team the game. No big deal – unless your teammates chastise you for making the error. Your pride may be hurt; but there’ll be another game next week.

Perhaps you put your poker loss – or failure to build a bigger pot – in that category: No big deal! But if it occurs over and over again, the mistake becomes very costly. How can we prevent mistakes? In that regard, we can learn from the experience of the aerospace industry.

The Aerospace Industry Experience

Years ago, when I led the Manufacturing Engineering Office at The Aerospace Corp. supporting Air Force space systems, we observed that certain anomalies and failures were prone to recur. Consider a satellite and launch vehicle valued at over $1 billion. Losing those assets when a payload shroud explodes during launch is extremely expensive. It costs precious dollars plus a major mission capability lost or delayed.

It takes time and dollars to build another reconnaissance satellite, or a replacement communications satellite – essential for ensuring national security. In fact, that’s what happened.

In response, we established the Air Force Manufacturing Problem Prevention Program (MP3). Experts representing the Air Force, The Aerospace Corp., the various prime contractors and key subcontractors formed a team to identify and understand the mistakes and their causes, and then establish concomitant strategies to prevent recurrence.

There is synergistic benefit in a team effort. The MP3 has saved the U.S. untold dollars plus helping to maintain often vital defense capabilities over the years (and earned me several commendations and awards).

Back to the Poker Table

Having suffered several losing sessions because of my own mistakes while playing non-tournament low-limit hold’em, I decided to do an experiment at the Poker Lab. I had given a lot of thought to understanding my own mistakes, and took appropriate steps for preventing them. But what about other players’ experiences – and observations?

We spent part of two Lab sessions on the project. First we identified the “mistakes” each of us has made (of which we are aware) and those we have seen others make while playing non-tournament low-limit hold’em.

In the following Lab session, we rated these. In future Lab sessions, we will discuss how we can best avoid making these mistakes:

So I thought I should share our findings to date. You may not agree; perhaps there are other mistakes even more frequent or costly.

Nonetheless, here are The Most Significant Mistakes Players Make (highest rating first):

• Playing Too Many Hands

• Playing A-Rag Offsuit

• Neglecting the Poker Odds

• Not Betting for Value

•Unable to Throw Away “GOOD” Hands that are Losers

• Money Management Failure

• Poor Table Selection

• Lack of Focus

• Over Confidence

• Reading Opponents’ Hands

Now, my offer to you: Submit your most significant (costly) mistake in non-tournament limit hold’em, and how you would avoid making this mistake. The best responses will receive a copy of my Hold’em or Fold’em? booklet. (It’s powerful!) Please include your name, address and where you play poker; we may publish your comments in a future column. E-mail your response to [email protected].

Meanwhile, good luck at the poker table and don’t make any mistakes…

You can try out your strategy by playing our free live online poker.

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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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