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Recently, in the weekly poker column in the Los Angeles Times, a pro (whose name I will not mention), wrote about the wide variety of games he played during the WSOP in Las Vegas – no-limit hold’em, stud hi-lo, stud hi, Omaha hi-lo, and razz.

That’s five poker games! Each has different rules and strategies. Only in razz did he finish in the money (4th place).

I don’t doubt that this gentleman is a capable poker player. Apparently others agree. Some people invested in him for the WSOP events, putting up cash for his buy-ins. My question is whether he might have been more effective if he chose to focus on one game – rather than five.

I don’t know about you, but I have enough to challenge me by just learning all the relevant strategies for one game. Some years back, I had become quite effective in seven-card stud, but I realized that Texas hold’em was fast becoming the “people’s choice.” So I switched games.

After reading books (especially Lou Krieger’s) on hold’em, I made the change while vacationing in Laughlin. I won my first time out, and was “hooked” on hold’em. It’s been over 10 years. My focus is on low-limit cash games (not tournaments), $3-$6 and above, which are best (in my opinion, at least) for recreational players.

I am still learning winning strategies and tactics for playing hold’em and my A-Game has gone through several phases. I measure my results by whether I win or lose at each session. To date, despite the high rake by the casino, I average over 70% winning sessions! My next goal is to get up to 75% and then 80%.

I know I can achieve those goals by eliminating one mistake I often make. Yvonne Thomson, one of my top students from the Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group is focusing on no-limit hold’em tournaments, especially in Las Vegas where she explained the competition is weaker than in the L.A. area casinos).

Using the Hold’em Algorithm (see ad elsewhere in GamingToday), she does real well, finishing at or near the top in her tournaments. Recently, she won the Ladies WSOP Circuit Event at Harrah’s Rincon.

Case for specializing

With all the different poker games available, and many variations within each, it makes good sense to focus on one particular game and variation. It’s much easier to win when you can specialize and become as proficient as possible in that game.

Of course, I am assuming your goal is to be a winner – whatever game you select. If you are just playing for the enjoyment, and the challenge of winning is not important to you, then – by all means, be my guest – play whatever game strikes you at the moment or there is an open seat. Just don’t complain that you hardly ever win.

But, if you really want to be a winner, specialize in one game and variety – whatever you choose. Stick to it as you continue to learn by reading, discussions with your poker buddies, and playing experience.

There’s nothing really new here. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists have been specializing for ages. So do tradesmen. That’s why we have plumbers and electricians and construction workers. The “jack of all trades” is never as expert in a particular field of endeavor as the specialist.

Would you call on an electrical engineer to do the architectural design of a new building? Is a teaching certificate enough to put a teacher in the classroom to teach Algebra when he/she barely passed the class in High School? Would you ask a general practitioner to perform brain surgery?

The game of poker is no different. For best results, focus your efforts – specialize – in one game and a particular variety of that game. My guess is that the poker “jack of all trades” is a persistent loser. He may complain but, if he doesn’t change, his fate is predetermined. Specialize to become a consistent winner.

“The Engineer,” noted author and teacher of poker in the greater Los Angeles area, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Reach him by e-mail at [email protected]

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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