Versatility worth plenty when playing at the poker tables

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Most poker experts suggest that players learn several varieties of poker. The idea is to have options so you can switch from one game to another for whatever reason. 

Perhaps the game you prefer is not going when you arrive at your local casino. Perhaps you are not doing well in the game at which you started – a switch to another game may “change your luck.”

There are a wide variety of poker games available in most casinos. Texas Hold’em is the current favorite, but 7-card stud is still played in many casinos. Omaha has gained in popularity. Then there’s the poker game called razz plus several high-low games. 

And, of course, tournaments are very popular. A skilled tournament player must use different strategies than a player who wins at cash games. Factors such as stack size take on added importance. There are games designed for short-handed play – even heads-up in which two players are matched against each other. 

Low-limit games involve somewhat different strategies than high-limit or no-limit games; and, in that important aspect, the games are different. Despite many similarities, different games require somewhat different skills.

In games with “wild” cards, the skilled player gives up some of his hard-earned edge over less savvy players. In such games, luck becomes a bigger factor, while skill loses much of its benefits.  

I do not agree with these experts!

They are “dead wrong!” Interestingly, one of my “Four Basic Poker Rules for WINNING” (Ref. The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners; T/C Press, 5482 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1553, Los Angeles, CA 90036) strongly recommends that you select one variety of poker and become as skilled as possible at that game. 

In poker, problem-solving skills are most important, requiring ability to recognize and define problems, and invent and implement solutions. Such skill comes from intensive study, analysis, and experience. 

The more effort you apply to a game, the more skilled you can become. Dividing your attention and time among several games will detract from that which you would have devoted to the game of your choice. 

Yes, it is possible to master more than one game of poker, but it would really be stretching your intellectual facilities and time. Quoting from my book: Use your assets for your maximum benefit.

To stress the value of specializing in an important endeavor, in our poker classes at the Claude Pepper Senior Center and West Los Angeles College, I use familiar occupations. In the medical profession, a cardiologist concentrates on heart-related health issues; a dermatologist would never consider operating to repair a heart valve. 

In engineering, electrical engineers and chemical engineers focus on entirely different disciplines. Neither would try to perform a stress analysis for a new structure. They specialize for maximum effectiveness – success! If you are a baseball player, it is far better to be a great shortstop than to try to excel in several positions at the same time. 

The same applies to the game of poker. Likewise in poker, to achieve your maximum success, select one game/variety of poker and devote your time to that game. Specialize so you can excel!

What about stakes?

Ideally they should be high enough to be meaningful to you as regards the dollar-value, and permit you to be effective when raising or bluffing – yet not so high that you have “butterflies in your stomach” when you are raised or reraised. As you gain experience and confidence, it is OK to move up in stakes. 

Bottom line: To become a consistent winner at the game of poker, it is best to specialize – become expert at one particular game, not all of them. Specialize and know that game like “the palm of your hand.”  Be comfortable in the stakes at which you play, but they should be high enough that bluffing is a viable strategy.  

“The Engineer,” noted author and poker teacher in greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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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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