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Let’s examine wherein playing poker is much like going to war. The Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese general, may be the greatest book on war.

The following statement by Tzu serves to focus our attention on the application of war strategies and tactics to the game of poker:

“Warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life and death… It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed.”

That leads to the need for strategies and tactics for fighting the war. Strategy is concerned with the broad aspects of the battle, the overall plan of action.

During the Civil War, General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s battle strategy was to “get there firstest with the mostest.”

Forrest wanted to catch the enemy unprepared and to overwhelm him with the strength of his forces. That was his strategy. His plan gave him an advantage over the enemy.

Likewise, in the game of poker, we need viable poker strategies to gain an “edge” over our opponents. Your strategy might be to start at the table – the poker “battlefield” – playing tight and selectively aggressive.

After opponents have formed their “image” of you, then try bluffing. After your bluffs are being called, shift gears and go back to playing tight. That strategy has well proven its worth.

There are many other sound poker strategies. For example: Use the poker odds to gain a positive expectation of victory.    

Tactics are important as well. It’s not enough to just have a strategy – a plan – for waging war (or playing poker). Battle tactics also are important: How best to use available resources to execute your strategy to realize your objective.

Tactics are essential in implementing the battle strategy –  and require considerable thought and analytical skill. To achieve General Forrest’s battle strategy – “firstest with the mostest” – effective tactics were needed:

What weapons are best used against this enemy? How to communicate and coordinate activities during the battle? How to ensure availability as needed of armament, transportation, food, housing, supplies? What is the best time of day and from which direction(s) should we attack?

Skill in making these decisions is essential. Likewise, in poker, our tactics should consider the types of opponents, betting position, our “image” and psychological aspects:

Is my opponent on tilt? If he has been losing, is he “gun-shy” or careless? The Esther Bluff is an excellent tactic for bluffing in poker. Holding the nuts, how should I play my hand? Should I slow-play or check-raise? That takes skill.

Battle strategies change

Planning the battle strategy, the General and his staff consider all relevant factors, especially his troop’s strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the enemy forces. Other factors may include the weather, the terrain, availability of weapons and supplies.

Having fought one battle today, there are others to come. What can you learn from the previous battle? Changing conditions must be taken into account in developing the battle strategy and tactics for subsequent encounters.

Players come and leave the poker table, thus the battlefield changes. Your poker image is now transparent…
“Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” – Sun Tzu

The objective is not just to win one battle – one poker hand — it is to win the war and accomplish your goal. As a poker player, each hand is a battle. You may not win them all, but, inevitably, your goal is to go home a winner.

Win the War!

(EDITOR’S NOTE: “The Engineer” conducts Poker Labs at West Los Angeles College and at the Claude Pepper Sr. Center in L.A. Epstein has written two unique books on poker which utilize his engineering expertise – guaranteed to make you a winner. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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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