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Playing poker, our goal always is to win as many pots as possible — the bigger, the better. But there are obstacles in our path — sometimes just too many. 

Recently, those obstacles got the best of me. It would have been worse had not my bluffs been so successful earlier in the session (Note: I always follow the teachings in The Art of Bluffing, especially the Esther Bluff).

We all know that starting-hand selection is extremely important. Play weak starters, then you are depending on luck — strictly gambling. Then, in the long run, you are bound to be a loser. But what do you do if you are dealt very few decent starting hands?

Recently, after a good start at $4-$8 limit hold’em, I found myself mucking hand after hand. It seemed like forever.  “Be patient,” I mumbled to myself. “It will change.” 

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Sure, but in the meantime, each of us must pay the two blinds once every round, so it costs even when you don’t have a playable hand. With 30 hands dealt per hour at a full table, that cost will add up. That figures to be roughly three rounds per hour. Playing $4-$8 limit, with blinds of $2 and $4, that costs about $18 per hour — even more at a short-handed table.

I bought into the game for $60 (the minimum is $40) and built my stacks up to $100 after one hour of play. Then the losing streak struck me down. I went broke after about several additional hours of play. So, I bought-in for another $60, hoping for the best.

Patience alone may not save the day. You must win enough hands to catch up.

I wondered if I should change my seat. As I looked around the table, studying each opponent, I decided I was already in the perfect table seating-position — two seats to the left of the most aggressive player (a “maniac”) and to the right of the two tight-passive players.

To make matters even worse, when I finally (it seemed forever) was dealt decent starting hands and improved on the flop, I found myself being rivered oh so often. Too often in fact. 

When I played them aggressively, hoping to thin the playing field, too many opponents stayed all the way to the end — too often catching one of their few outs on the river.  Frequently, it was a bad beat where my opponent had few outs — but he got lucky. 

Don’t laugh. This happens to all of us. And it hurts.

As I thought about my situation, it occurred to me that having observed my plight, my opponents now considered me a perpetual loser, and were determined to call my bets all the way to the river. In hindsight, maybe I should have changed tables, hoping for somewhat tighter opponents (Note: Too tight a table is also a no-no. In that case, you can’t build a big pot when you finally catch a monster hand).

At that point, I decided to take a break from the game. Certainly, I did not want to risk going on tilt. That would make matters all the worse. But I felt I was headed that way. 

I went for a brisk walk outside the casino, took deep breaths of the fresh air, and thought about the situation. It was time to have a light snack, and then start over — at a different table. 

Fortunately, I could well afford it. And I had several hundred dollars from previous big winning sessions, stored at the casino cage, that I could draw on when I encountered such a bad losing streak. As I relaxed and enjoyed my snack, I decided to accept my loss, call it a night, and go home to wait for another day.

A few days later when I again visited the casino, the Poker gods decided to smile down on me. I won two huge sessions in a row, plus a $100 bonus for Aces cracked. Patience pays after all.

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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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