Learn the rules
of the road

Feb 14, 2006 12:32 AM

Carol, it sure is good to get home to Las Vegas, where it looks like spring is coming early this year. I really want to thank all of you folks who have said so many kind words to me about this column, The Seniors World Championship of Poker, and my book, Gentleman Gambler.

As you folks know, I do not very often write "how to" columns. I usually write stories about us older poker players, or about how poker was years ago. However, I have been receiving lot of requests about how to win and how to play various poker hands.

In the future, from time to time, I am going to share with you some of the tips that have served me well over the past 70 years of playing the game of poker.

When I was 17 years old — during World War II — I played in the California card barns. I was too young to drink in the bars, but with my military uniform on, I was allowed to play poker with the older guys. It seems a bit strange, doesn’t it, that I was old enough to die fighting for my country, but was not old enough to have a drink. But that’s another story for another time.

First, let me tell you that being a good poker player is a lot like being a good driver of a car — learn the rules of the road.

Sure, you have seen the hot-rodder who drags off from a red light or a stop sign, or comes through the caution light late and gets away with it, but, unfortunately, you have also seen the tangled mess of the tragic wrecks that result from such action.

The hot-rodder poker player also has his share of wrecks that do severe damage to his poker bankroll.

Learn all the rules of all the games that you play — ring or tournaments. Be careful, as the rules may be different in different poker rooms, so learn the local rules and variations.

I am reminded of a little story about the traveling salesman who was playing poker while away from home. He was a good player and played very carefully. He made a full house and bet all of his money, and got called. He turned over his hand as if it were a winner. The other player did not even have a pair; he had 10-8-6-4-2, but won the pot.

The salesman asked how this could be, and was told the house rule at that time was that a perfect "skip" straight beat all other poker hands.

So, being a good player, he adjusted his game and played very carefully until a few minutes after midnight, when he finally made a perfect skip straight. He bet all of his money and got called. He turned over his hand and said, "I have it — I have the perfect skip straight."

But the other player turned his hand over, showing two red deuces, and said, "No, I have the winner."

Now, the salesman was a little upset, and the floorman had to tell him to go read rule No. 5 on the wall.

Rule No. 5 stated that after midnight and before 8 a.m., two red deuces beat all other hands.

So, learn the local rules.

But do not become a poker lawyer or pot sergeant who knows everything about everything and insists that all of the rules must be followed to the letter all the time.

Remember that the floorman is in charge of the room, and that he has complete authority and his decision is final.

During the past 70 years of playing poker, I have developed many rules of thumb that have been of help to me in winning and enjoying the game. I have about one rule for every year that I have been playing.

But I have narrowed down the number of rules for winning a tournament to just three:

1. You must have enough money to get into a tournament. You cannot win unless you have the money to play.

2. You must have enough courage to go broke on every hand. I could have, or I should have won the hand will not get it done; you must have enough courage to play the hand.

3. You must get lucky, so that when you have the best hand, it will stand up and win the pot for you — or when you do not have the best hand, you can outdraw the other player.

Yes, I believe in luck! I just seem to get lucky each time I try very hard to win and am focused on winning.

Yes, I believe we all have the same amount of luck. It is just that some of us get our lucky ice in the winter and some of us get our ice in the summer.

To win a poker tournament, you must be lucky and get your ice when you need it two or three times in each tournament.

Good players get lucky. And moreover, good players stay in the game until luck can find them!

Before I go, here is the Oklahoma Johnny Hale Poker Tips of the Week:

1. Stay focused. Keep your mind on the game ”” do not be lazy. Be aware of all that is going on around you.

2. Develop a can-do attitude, and be comfortable with yourself. In some circles, self-love is thought to be bad, but if you do not like yourself or your play, no one else will. Believe that you can win.

I remember the story of the little red engine that had to climb a mountain that looked like Mount Everest. All the way up that very steep, steep incline, the courageous little red engine kept blowing its horn, tooting, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

Sure enough, the little red engine made it all the way to the top of the mountain, where the air was clean and fresh.

You also can win a poker tournament if you think you can, if you think you can, if you think ”¦

Until next time, stay lucky!