Ways of starting off well

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Before getting into action in a Texas hold ’em poker game, there are steps you can take to enhance your chances of winning. Starting out at the casino, you have just signed up at the desk to play your preferred game.

While waiting for an open seat, take a casual walk around the tables featuring the game/stakes you will soon be playing. Unobtrusively, observe the players at each. Based on previous experience, are there any you would rather not compete against? What is the texture of the game? Many of us favor loose-passive games. With that information, when you are called to a table, if it’s not one you would favor, simply tell the floorman you will wait for another table.

Subsequently, when directed to a preferred table, buy in for considerably more than one rack of chips – perhaps three or four times the minimum. This will get the attention of other players at the table, and serve as an unspoken message to them: “This is a guy with whom to be cautious.” They respect, and may fear you – all to your advantage.

As you get seated, when the dealer asks if you would like to be dealt in, simply reply: “I’ll wait until the Button passes.” While waiting, observe how your opponents play their hands. What kind of player is each – tight or loose, passive or aggressive? Is there a “maniac” who raises almost every opportunity? Plan to move to a seat to his left; meanwhile, playing only starting hands that can stand a raise. Are there “chasers” or “calling-stations” who will call all bets to the end? (Don’t try to bluff them out.) Make note of your observations.

The Button has just passed you. Now you are dealt into the game. I prefer to start off playing tight and selectively aggressive. Play only hands that exceed the Hold ’em Algorithm starting-hand criteria, depending on your hole cards and position. Your tight image will make it easier to pull off bluffs.

Be selective; have a good reason for playing aggressively – betting out and raising. When you start with a pre-flop made hand (A-A, K-K, and Q-Q), bet/raise to thin the field. Whatever your starting-hand, if the flop improves it to either a made hand or gives you lots of good outs, raise to build “your” (hopefully) pot; that’s “betting for value.”

As we said before, many of us prefer loose-passive games: Loose – When four (or more) opponents consistently stay to see the flop. Passive – There is relatively little raising, especially pre-flop.

You have a good start. For one thing, your opponents (the “enemy”) now have an image of you as a tight player who bets/raises when he connects with a strong hand. Using the Esther Bluff your attempts to bluff and steal the pot more likely will be successful.

After playing for a while, you have added another rack of chips. Pile up some more chips in front of your racks. Your opponents are wary of you. Several have left the table, and others have joined the game. They too observe all the chips in front of you, and plan to play cautiously against you. You win even more bluffs.

The time will come when an opponent catches a big hand and calls your bluff. Now your opponents know you are a deceptive player. It’s wise to cut back on your bluffs – at least for several orbits. This is a good time to reevaluate your opponents and the texture of your table. If the game has turned substantially more aggressive, consider changing your seat or table.

This may be a good time to take a break. A brisk walk in the fresh air is refreshing. Perhaps you are hungry. Time for dinner. It’s best to leave the game, cash out your chips, and relax as you enjoy a leisurely meal. Later, you can buy back in for a second session, repeating your starting-out procedure… and, hopefully, winning more chips.

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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