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Darwin’s Theory of Evolution explains how mankind has evolved over the millennia — from ape-man to caveman to modern man. “Survival of the fittest” was how the Charles Darwin explained the changes over time and the mechanics of natural selection as applied to successive generations.

We can apply Darwin’s theory to the world of poker. As a good example, it is generally accepted that most poker players are losers in the long run — perhaps 80-90 percent of those playing in casinos and cardrooms. Some experts would lower the estimated number of losers to 60-70 percent.

Considering the rake and other costs to play, adding up to about $25 per hour, even highly skilled players find it difficult to overcome that burden. Then, too, there are bound to be some players more skilled than you and tilting is a common mistake. And there is always the matter of luck over which you have no control.

So, what can you do to improve your chances of joining the small percent who manage to win — to survive?

My immediate response is “Do Not Lose.” How? One way is to minimize your losing hands.

• Be sure your starting hands are worthy of investment to see the flop. If, on average, you are playing more than 20-25 percent of the hands dealt to you, reconsider your starting choices. (If you use the Hold’em Algorithm, you can do that by simply increasing your hand-selection criteria.)

• With a marginal (mediocre) starting hand, call to see the flop only if there are no raises and three or more opponents stay to see the flop (multi-way). We label that the “Hold’em Caveat.”

Another way is to reduce the size of the pots you lose.

• Call fewer raises before the flop with weak starting hands.

• Game texture is a big factor. A loose-passive game is my preference — lots of opponents staying to see the flop with weak or marginal hands, and with few raises. (Consider changing tables.)

• Avoid short-handed games with half of the seats empty.

• Position is important. Try to be seated to the left of an extremely aggressive opponent, so you can see how he bets/raises before you must act.

In the small blind, many players will complete their half-bet to see the flop. Do not do it — unless you have a decent starting hand. (Those extra chips add up.) What’s more, should you be lucky and improve on the flop, it may not be enough to win the pot; more likely, it will cost you to see the turn and the river.

Third, the other side of that equation is building a bigger pot when you have the cards and the opportunity.

• Apply your deceptive skills — slow-playing, check-raising, baiting, and trapping your opponents — to get more chips into the pot when you catch a monster.

• Do more bluffing when the situation is right.

• Look for more opportunities to play aggressively. Examples: Preflop, from a late position if no one has raised, open-raise to steal the blinds. Semi-bluff more often with a strong draw — preferably with fewer opponents still in the pot.

• If there are several tight players in your game, consider a table change.

In all these cases, reading your opponents and observing their tells will provide meaningful information so you can make better decisions. Try to guess at their most likely hands based on their traits and actions.

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Always be on the lookout for tells. The best time is preflop when there are players behind you; before making your bet, glance to the left to see if an opponent is planning to raise. And do not give any tells.

Now you know how to better survive at the poker tables — at least for the present time. Looking ahead, imagine to where man and poker will evolve.

Life/poker quote of the week

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, famed German writer and statesman

Read the poker books. Read poker magazines. Learn the poker skills. Be willing to take your chances investing your poker dollars. But that may not be enough to make you a winner. We need to apply those lessons — carefully, meticulously — and gain the necessary experience to reinforce our lessons as we seek perfection.

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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