Recognize poker mistakes and learn from them

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There are all kinds of mistakes in poker. Some result from practices players should avoid. Key is to recognize your mistakes and errant practices and avoid them thereafter. They can cause confusion, disrupting the game underway. And they can be costly!

One of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group – we call him X – has moved up from limit to no-limit hold’em. He played in his third no-limit tournament at a local casino, and made the final table. Wow! (I am proud of X and expect him to keep moving up in stakes, winning often. He knows what it takes to be a winner; he thinks, analyzes situations and learns fast).

Based on this experience, X shared with me several practices/mistakes to be avoided. With his permission, I now share these with you. (I have added two others.) These can be applied to other varieties of poker, but are most applicable to no-limit hold’em tournaments.

With the variety of colors used for chips, it is possible to baffle the dealer. X cautions, “Do not confuse the light gray USD 100 chips with the dark gray USD 25 chips. Such bets will befuddle the dealer,” and could hamper the game.

As you make a big bet or call, “do not make one stack of chips of different denominations.” Keep the different colored chips plainly visible, making it easier to tally. Otherwise, X explained, a big chip may not be seen until after others declare. And, why frustrate the dealer?

Card guards are a good idea. They serve to protect your holecards from accidentally being pulled into the muck. Many players often use one of their chips. But, as the tournament progresses, X cautions, “do not retain a USD 25 (smaller) chip to be used as a card guard through successive color-ups. It irritates the tournament director no end.”

It is to your advantage to understand the payout structure before the tournament begins “so you can be aware when you have reached the bubble and can adjust (your) play accordingly.” No one wants to be knocked out of the tournament – especially just before the bubble. Take appropriate precautions to help get past the bubble and share in the prize money.

Bluffing is a very important strategy in every game of poker. I believe you cannot win if you never bluff. A good time to test-bluff is right after you are seated at a new table, before anyone has gotten a read on you. Your bluff may well succeed – especially if you use the Esther Bluff tactic.

Also, you can learn who are the calling-stations; and who are the timid players. This information can help you later in the tournament. I always recommend starting any game, tournament or otherwise, playing tight with selective aggression – when it is to your advantage. Interjecting a very early test-bluff or two is a great idea.

A bit later, after you have developed a tight image, bluffing is bound to be more effective. Once you are caught bluffing, change gears to your original tight and selectively aggressive mode of play.

Let me add two suggestions as you enter no-limit tournaments:

In a cash game, you can change your seat or move to another table if it’s in your best interests. Not so in a tournament. All the more reason to study your opponents from the start and learn their playing traits. For example, if you find yourself seated just to the right of a maniac, play only your best hands – those that can stand a raise.

If you are fortunate to be seated to his left, take advantage of his raise by reraising to force out opponents behind you. Then you might be able to play heads-up against the maniac (who usually has a weak hand), or gain betting position for the rest of that hand when your other opponents fold.

Tournament or otherwise, starting-hand selection is critical to being a winner. The best way to do that is to use the Hold’em Algorithm or use tables available in several poker books.

“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].

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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