Six steps to better poker

Mar 8, 2005 7:14 AM

What does it take to be a good poker player? That is one of the questions most frequently asked of professionals and so-called experts. Depending on the seriousness of the inquiry, I have a range of answers.

Certainly, the number one criterion is an individual’s emotional stability. No amount of skill can offset an unbalanced personality. After that, talent in a variety of areas such as math ability, sales, management, game playing, and so on produce players of quality. Unaccompanied left side brain skills such as artistic aptitude appear to work against poker expertise. Usually, these are not the type of responses desired. Specifically, what steps does a good poker player take to win? Ah! Now if that’s what you wanted to know, why didn’t you ask that in the first place?

1. Be prepared. This is not just for Boy Scouts. Know what types of hands you want to play for each type of game. Tight games require different starting requirements than loose games. Bring enough money to handle any game and structure in the range of games from which to choose. Besides knowing the selection of hands, mental preparation is just as critical. Arrive ready to play. Get proper rest and food, play when healthy, pick the best time of day for your body, do not schedule appointments that might limit your time, review your strategies, look over the lineup, and assess the player styles.

2. Pick the right game. The right game might be different for each player. Analyze the year’s returns to differentiate between profit margins for each structure and type of game and rank them in terms of percentage of income. If there is a choice between games of the same limit, try to get to the one where the players are having a good time. Serious players usually mean tougher action. If a particular style of action hurts your profit (check your notes), then stay away from this game until analysis deciphers the best method of overcoming that problem.

3. Read the game. Even if the players are familiar, events might have affected their normal styles. Try to pin each player down to the types of hands played in different positions and circumstances)”¦ What range of hands for raised or unraised pots in front, middle, and button, etc. The board information must be integrated into the data stream. Good players will move more with different boards than will bad players. The whole idea of this point is to be able to put each player on a range of likely hands when confronted with a decision.

4. Refine the information. Use the player’s style, position as a base from which to operate. Take the betting history, chip status, etc., to narrow the range of possibilities. Players may read the same books but each will react to stimulus differently. Raises help qualify hands of better players but are not much assistance against weaker players. The best defense against weaker players is to understand the types of hands preferred and assume they are on those hands unless there is contradictory information. Also, players who bet or raise without the best hand tend to do so in the same round every time. A review of finite math truth tables will aid understanding this concept greatly. Once the range is pinned down, assess the likelihood of each hand given the available cards and number of players in the pot.

5. Make the best play. If you have the best hand, raise. You don’t need my help to know that but what if your hand is just as good as your opponent’s? Of course. Raise. How about if you have the second best hand but neither hand is the top hand? "Check-raise" or "raise" depending on position might work against one type of player but "fold" might be better against another type. By understanding No. 4 completely, you are playing the hands as if you could see all cards and your opponents are still in the dark. Sometimes that means playing on an opponent’s fears or by claiming the best hand regardless of changes. There are two parts to making the best play: Developing a strategy and implementing it. Both have to be done within the parameters of the image you have established during the game or the move will not ring true. Knowing a bluff might work is useless if you cannot pull it off. So first ask: "Will it work against this opponent?" and "Is it believable?"

6. Review and analyze. No matter how good a player is, improvement only comes through review and analysis. If you don’t know what you have done, you will repeat your errors and forget your successes.