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Poker columnist Ed Miller wrote a recent piece called “Specialize Your Game” and it led me to give serious thought to this subject, which I now share with my readers. Going one step further, I offer my own perspective on specializing when you play poker.

Miller provided an interesting analogy: Just as basketball and baseball are both games of sport, the skills required to succeed in each are quite different. I would add that I regard Miller as a really savvy poker guy! An MIT graduate (I got my M.S. degree there), Miller has written many highly regarded poker books and columns, coaches the game, and is a poker pro.

There are a wide variety of poker games to choose from. Texas hold’em is by far the most popular. Others include Omaha, 7-card stud, draw, razz, and even Chinese Poker and games called Crazy Pineapple, and Three-Card Poker where you play against the house rather than the other players at the table.

There are various forms of Texas hold’em. These include cash games such as low/middle limit games, preferred by most recreational players. High-limit and no-limit games offer the opportunity to win much more money (chips). Less popular are pot-limit games where you can bet as much as there is in the pot at that time. These variations are quite widespread in many casinos. Meanwhile, poker tournaments, mostly no-limit, are growing in popularity. Each of these is different in many respects than the other games – especially in their optimum strategies.

Decisions made in low/middle-limit games often are different than those in high-limit, under similar situations. The same applies to the other varieties. In recent years, the poker game known as H.O.R.S.E. has been introduced in tournaments. Five different poker games are played in rotation: limit hold’em, Omaha/8, razz (often referred to as low-ball stud poker), and seven-card stud high and low. (The “E” stands for 8-or-better). Talk about the disadvantages and concomitant dangers of not specializing – five different games all wrapped up in a single tournament!

In teaching my seniors poker groups, I have long advocated specializing in whichever variation of poker you prefer. The skills for winning often differ to quite an extent. It’s no different than when engineers specialize in various fields, such as electrical, chemical, mechanical and civil engineering. Likewise, medical doctors develop special skills for careers in different aspects of the medical profession. A brain surgeon must develop unique capabilities (skills) that are substantially different from those essential to a doctor focused on treating diabetic patients. Poker players should follow suit – so to speak.

According to Miller, “If you are good at tournaments, there’s really no reason to think you will also be good at cash games. And vice versa.”

Absolutely! I fully agree. His parting words are: “If you want to make money, mostly be aware of your specialties and stick to them. It’s the best way to keep your bankroll healthy.”

Going one step further. There’s a good reason why we often refer to the “practice” of medicine; or the frequent training during the active life of a professional athlete. Likewise, to maintain your poker skills and improve upon them, it is wise to perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly and regularly.

Take every opportunity to learn ever more pertinent skills – how to read your opponents and their possible hands, how to look for tells, how and when best to bluff, the importance of position, how to estimate and use the poker odds. In this regard, my own books can help you.

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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