Play poker to win money, not just hands

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Playing poker, your main objective should not be to win hands. Of course, winning hands is highly desirable. “The more, the merrier.”

But, keep in mind: You are playing to win money! Your primary goal is to win as much money as possible. Win better.

Rhetorical question: Would you rather win, say, 10 percent of the hands with which you stay to see the flop, and be lucky to almost break-even for the session; or, would you prefer to play half of those hands, and go home with considerably more money in your pocket than when you arrived at the casino?

Win better! How can you enjoy bigger pots when you hold the best hand? From the start, be sure the texture of your table is conducive to achieving this goal. Toward that end, you prefer: A loose-passive game or a loose game with occasional raising.

In fact, most of the time, you should be the raiser – when it is to your advantage, of course. If there is substantial raising/reraising by your opponents, hand after hand, request a table change.

Likewise, if the table is too tight (only two or three players staying to see the flop – then the pots are small when you flop a monster), have the floorman move you to a different table.

With a maniac at your table, try to be seated to his left. Then, when he raises, you can easily get away from your drawing hand at least cost. Otherwise, the card and pot odds are bound to be against you.

Furthermore, you can use the maniac to your advantage: Seated to his left, holding a made hand, for which you prefer no more than three or four opponents (including the maniac) seeing the flop, reraise him to force most of your opponents to muck their hands. Then the odds likely favor your hand. Getting heads-up against the maniac is OK too, should all the others fold to your reraise – a three-bet.

Being seated: While waiting to be seated, you can observe several tables at your preferred limits. If directed to a table that is too aggressive or too tight, just tell the floorman, “I’ll wait for a different table. Keep my name on the board.”

The same applies if your table becomes too aggressive or too tight after a while. Smart players often change tables several times during the course of a session, or take breaks, hoping for a favorable change in the table texture while gone.

Poker: A game of limited information.You need information to make sound decisions. Use every possible source to gain an edge over your opponents. We often read and hear about tells, but few players actually see them while playing. They are so wrapped up with their own hands!

The easiest tells are those that occur as the hole cards are being dealt out. Instead of peeking anxiously at your own hole cards, observe the reactions of your opponents – especially those to your left who will be declaring after you.

You can look at your own cards after observing your opponents’ reactions as they examine their hole cards. Many will inadvertently “tell” you if they intend to fold, call or raise. If your hand won’t stand a raise, why invest precious chips in it? The chips you save may be quite significant – as 30-35 hands are dealt per hour.

Other easily observable, valuable information is roughly how many chips each opponent has in front of him. A player about to go all-in cannot be bluffed out. A player with racks full of chips is probably well ahead. He is likely to call your bet/raise – and is more prone to raise other players’ bets.

Equally important: You can’t win much money from opponents who are low in chips.

Yet another easy tell is whether an opponent is drinking alcoholic beverages; he may be drunk and more careless as he chases. Then, you can win even more money. (Interesting that only highly skilled players seek such information.)

Always play to “win better” by gaining more information.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and 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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