You must avoid
becoming predictable

Feb 20, 2006 4:30 AM

I only have time for an abbreviated column this week, as I am playing in my first tournament this year, a WPT event at the Commerce Casino in L.A. Hopefully, I’ll be there all weekend, knocking out players and advancing to the final table. With a prize pool well into the millions, the L.A. Poker Classic is one of the biggest stops on the World Poker Tour.

In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to our poker lessons scheduled for next Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Green Valley Ranch poker room. There are just a few seats left, so if you’re interested in free, personal lessons, call and register with GamingToday at (702) 798-1151.

The subject I had wanted to cover this week was the art of betting. In poker, especially Texas Hold’em, betting is the essence of the game.

How to bet can often make the difference between winning and losing, despite the draw of the cards and the experience of the players.

A professional will usually tell you he’s playing the opponent, rather than playing the cards, and the way you handle an opponent is through a sophisticated process of betting — calling, checking, raising, check-raising, re-raising, and so forth.

We will get into the nuts-and-bolts of betting next time, hopefully outlining the best strategy for beginners as well as more advanced players.

But for now I’ll just offer some general observations, some of which can be used immediately by some players.

First of all, a great poker player usually mixes up his betting style. That is, he’ll rarely play the same hand the same way twice.

The last thing you want to be is predicable or reveal your playing style, and by playing a hand differently you will avoid being pigeon-holed as a "calling station," a bluffer, or any other kind of bettor.

For instance, most beginning players get so excited when they finally get pocket aces or kings, they immediately go all-in before the flop.

Besides driving everyone out of the hand and winning just a couple of blind bets, this kind of action becomes predictable.

A good player will do the opposite. He’ll most likely "slow play" the hand, meaning he’ll either bet slowly or simply call or check, thus putting the betting onus on other players.

The idea is you probably have the best hand, and odds are it will hold up (though sometimes they won’t!), so try to keep as many players in the hand as possible, thus growing the pot.

Also, if you flop a nut flush or better, don’t bet on the flop; if a pair appears, it behooves you to bet on the turn at this point.

Remember, the object isn’t simply to win hands or win blinds. If you’re to win significantly, especially in a tournament setting, you’re going to have to win some big pots. Slow playing your big hands is one way to do it.

In the above example, if on the flop you check and someone else bets, call, and check again on the turn. Let your opponents do the dirty work for you. On the turn you can expect the betting to increase, so be prepared.

If you believe you have the best hand, the back-and-forth testing may go on until you reach the river, where the final confrontation could come over an all-in match-up.

But you probably wouldn’t have gotten to this point — in which you’ve managed to get all of your opponent’s into a pot you believe you can win — without using a little restraint mixed with a little moxie as you bet along the way.

Hopefully, this strategy will serve me well at the Commerce Casino in L.A.

Since I’m out of town, no tips this week, but we’ll have a pot full of them next time.

And for those coming out to Green Valley Ranch, I look foreard to seeing everyone and playing a little poker.

But you probably wouldn’t have gotten to this point — in which you’ve managed to get all of your opponent’s into a pot you believe you can win — without using a little restraint mixed with a little moxie as you bet along the way.

Hopefully, this strategy will serve me well at the Bicycle Casino in L.A.