Philosophy 101: Starting hands simply happen

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Don’t play the losing hands. It’s easier said than done.

How can you avoid hands that would lose, and play only the hands that win? The famed German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) once wrote:

“You have your way. I have my way.

As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

You don’t have to be a brilliant philosopher to understand there is no way (short of using a magic crystal ball) to be certain your starting hand will be the best at the showdown. (That’s the fundamental precept of Basic Poker Rule No. 3, discussed at length in my first book, The Greatest Book of Poker for WINNERS!; T/C Press, Los Angeles, Calif.)

But you can give yourself the best chance of ending up with the best hand. And, in that case, you are more likely to avoid getting involved with a losing hand.

Using charts

Many Hold’em books provide charts or tables that can help you to decide whether your hole cards are worthy of your investment to see the flop. Remember, when the flop comes down, you are able to see over 70% of your final hand. That’s a powerful inducement to stay to see the flop.

Starting-hand charts and tables list the hands that have the best chance to fulfill your hopes, based primarily on the rank or value of your hole cards and your betting position.

Have you ever seen a player at your poker table whip out a chart and study it before making his decision: Hold’em or Fold’em? Of course not, even though that is undoubtedly the most important decision you will make during the hand.

Should I make the initial investment? If the flop doesn’t help your hand, folding is relatively easy to do, so there would be no further cost to you. In theory that seems correct, but so often, you will decide to stay for one more bet to see the turn. After calling to see the turn, there is a raise. Now you toss another bet into the pot and, almost without realizing it, you have already invested heavily in that hand.

Suppose the flop does improve your hand; it will happen one out of three times on the average. Now you stay in to see the turn and perhaps the river. Second-best hand could cost you lots of chips, especially if there is any raising along the way.

If you stayed in every hand, sooner or later, you would find you had lost all your chips. (That includes your cost-share of the house’s rake that really adds up over time.)

Many astute poker writers provide starting-hand charts in their books. It’s a good way to help their readers, but rather cumbersome to drag your book to the poker table with you. Have you ever seen anyone do that? More convenient would be a copy of the playable-hands chart, but I haven’t seen anyone use that.

Hold’em Algorithm

Much more effective is to simply learn the Hold’em Algorithm. You need to remember just two numbers that define the starting hand criteria for each of the three betting positions. That’s really easy! What’s more, the Hold’em Algorithm goes beyond what the charts offer.

The algorithm provides means for addressing other important factors in making the key decision: Have there been any raises – or are there likely to be? How many opponents are seeing the flop? (Is it a multi-way pot?)

Other factors: the types of opponents as well as the texture of the game. (Much of this is incorporated into the “Hold’em Caveat” concept, as described in the third edition (upgraded) of my book, Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision. (See GamingToday ad.)

“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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