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Do you really want to be a winner at Texas Hold’em?

Believe it or not, most people play as if they actually want to lose – and they usually do.

There are rules for winning along every step of the way, even before you invest a single chip. Start with table and seat selection.

Since you will be dealt very few “made” hands (A-A, K-K, and Q-Q) – hands that could win without further improvement, and many more “drawing” hands (extending from premium down to marginal) – hands that most often must improve to be a winner, you are best seated at a table that is not too aggressive; i.e., not a lot of preflop raising, hand after hand.

Those raises make it too costly to play drawing hands. By the same token, tables that are too tight (very few opponents staying to see the flop) are undesirable; you can’t get paid off when you catch a monster hand. (It’s frustrating to catch Aces-full on the flop and there’s only one opponent to see the turn; and then he folds when you bet on the turn.

Remember, our objective is to win money – not just hands. A loose-passive table is best. You can size up your table even before sitting down, while waiting for a seat to become available. Just stand to the side and observe.

While you do so, you can also evaluate the players who may soon be your opponents. Is the player in seat No. 1 very tight? He hardly ever stays to see the flop. Plan to be cautious against a tight player. Believe him if he raises from an early position. Is seat No. 2 very aggressive, often raising and re-raising?

Two such players make that table too aggressive. You may not want to play at that table. Check out the other tables, too, while you are waiting. Pass on the less desirable table when called to it. Just tell the floorman, “I’ll wait for the other table.”

After being seated: As you get seated, the dealer asks, “Shall I deal you in?” Calmly reply, “I’ll wait for the button to pass me.” Meanwhile, carefully observe the game and the players. What kinds of hands does each opponent play? What kind of player is he – tight or loose, passive or aggressive? Is he a calling-station?

Don’t try to bluff him out later. A timid player – folding to a bet unless he has a big hand? He’ll be easy to bluff out. A maniac who raises and re-raises often? If he is to your left, plan to be cautious, playing only hands that can stand a raise. Move into a seat on his left when one opens up.

Even before being dealt in, at the showdown, observe what holecards each opponent called to see the flop. Does he follow the teachings of the Hold’em Algorithm? (See GT ad). Players who fail to do so are Poker Pigeons; they will be great sources of chips as you outplay them hand after hand.

Those who do abide by the Hold’em Algorithm are likely to be Poker Sharks. It’s best to avoid them unless you have a strong starting-hand and/or improve substantially on the flop.

Starting out: Plan to play fairly tight and selectively aggressive when first starting out at the table. That’s easy if you use the Hold’em Algorithm. Otherwise you may be guessing too often. There are a few exceptions you should learn.

Selective aggression simply means you should raise when it is to your benefit. Suppose you are dealt pocket kings; it’s wise to raise preflop to thin the field (best to play against two or three opponents) and (hopefully) force out an opponent holding Ace-rag; then, if an Ace falls on the flop, you may still be in the lead.

If the maniac raises just before you, then your re-raise can protect your middle pair or isolate the maniac – all to your advantage. We will offer other examples of selective aggressive play in a later column on the rules for winning at poker.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and 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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