The big secret? Don’t lose

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Today, I want to reward my loyal readers by sharing “the secret” to Winning at the poker table: Don’t Lose. In a few words, the idea is simply to minimize the number of hands – and reduce the pot size – that you lose. Yes, that may well be easier said than done; but here is the recipe. (I suggest we keep this secret among ourselves; don’t tell your opponents. They are “the enemy.”)

Note: If you fail to use this advice, you are trusting to luck. On that basis, even if you win your fair share of hands, the cost-to-play will ensure you will be a loser in the long run. That cost consists of the casino rake, the drop for the Bad Beat Jackpot, and tip to the dealer.

In this week’s column, we will describe the highlights of the Secret to Winning. In subsequent columns, we will get into some of the important “nuts and bolts.”

• Even before starting to play, give serious thought to game selection and table texture. It’s best to play only your favorite game at stakes with which you are comfortable; focus on that variety of poker. Don’t be a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

As for table texture, I prefer to play at tables that are not extremely aggressive with lots of raising before the flop. That often makes it too expensive to stay to see the flop. In my opinion, a loose game with limited raising preflop is best.

• Perhaps most important is to avoid starting hands that are losers. Invest your valued chips only in starting hands that have the greatest potential for leading to winners. My Hold’em Algorithm makes this easy to do.

• Having selected a suitable starting hand, the next step toward avoiding the losers, is to continue in that hand only if it improves on the flop. That means it becomes a strong hand or, at the very least, has lots of good outs – at least seven. (Of course, if everyone checks on the flop, you get a free card.)

• The Hold’em Caveat is a valuable concept when you are dealt a marginal (borderline) starting hand. Call to see the flop if it is a multiway hand (three or more opponents staying in) and there are no raises.

• Know when and how to bluff using the Esther Bluff with Reverse Tell. Don’t try to bluff out “calling-stations.”

• Be sure to use all the skills you have developed. (And never stop learning as long as you are able to play poker). These include:

1. Know “the enemy” – how they play their hands – and always be alert to spot their tells. Use that information whenever appropriate, such as what hands they are likely holding.

2. Protect your hand when necessary by betting out or raising and using the Esther Bluff to thin the playing field.

3. Build the size of the pot when you catch a monster.

4. With a drawing hand, use the number of good outs to quickly assess whether the pot odds (approximate) are high enough to warrant calling.

5. Take breaks from the game/table to avoid going on tilt after a Bad Beat, and to refresh yourself.

6. Be the one to control the game whenever possible. (Keep your opponents guessing.)

If you do all of these things properly, you are certain to lose much less often, and lose fewer chips when you do lose. That will make you a winner in the long run.

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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