Poker, by the (Good) book

Feb 10, 2009 5:01 PM
The Inside Straight by Joe Awada |

Following the 10 canons of expert poker

As I pointed out last week, there are some key attributes you should have to be successful in playing poker: skill, heart, patience, stamina and luck.

Except for luck, a player usually has control over the other qualities, and they can be learned over time.

Toward that end, I’ve compiled a list of tips or suggestions on how to play Texas Hold’em, the game of choice in virtually every poker room and tournament in the country.

Like most guidelines, there will always be exceptions, so you needn’t be religious about these "10 commandments" of poker. But they should serve you well in most situations.

1. Be tight and aggressive: Despite the apparent success of modern day maniacs who descend from the Internet poker rooms like locusts, patience pays off for the tight and aggressive player. Remember, the player who wins the most money doesn’t always win the most pots. The key is to be selective (tight) and only play with good cards such as high pairs or high cards with flush or straight potential. When you do enter a pot, play the hand aggressively.

2. Raise or fold: Unless you have the "nuts" and want to suck players in, you should rarely just call another player’s bet. You should ordinarily raise or fold your hand.

3. Study your opponent: Watching other players’ actions – how they bet, respond to bets, etc. – will give you insights into how they play, and whether they are strong or weak, bluffing or playing possum. The actions may be subtle, but make the effort to get a "read" on your opponent.

4. Strong usually means weak and weak usually means strong. Generally, an opponent who acts aggressively, staring you down, forcefully pushing chips into the pot, means he could be trying to intimidate. The player acting disinterested, conversely, might be trying to entice you into believing he’s weak when in fact he has a monster hand.

5. Take advantage of your position: When you’re first to act, you should be more selective in choosing which hands to play. When you’re last to act, use this advantage to play more aggressively.

6. Keep track of the pot: When you know exactly how much money is in the pot, you can calculate pot and implied odds, making it easier to make those tough decisions.

7. Keep a cool head: Bad beats occur and you can’t allow yourself to go on "tilt" when you’re hit by one. You must be able to get past a tough losing hand and play the next one without emotion.

8. Quit when you’re behind and play when you’re ahead. The road to gambler’s ruin is chasing lost money, so take a break when the cards aren’t falling. Likewise, use your momentum when you’re on a good streak.

9. The long and short of winning: If you’re skilled, you will win in the long run, whatever that may be. But be aware there will be plenty of short term fluctuations – good and bad – so don’t go against sound play in response to these short term events.

10. Be flexible: While many poker strategists offer winning formulas and guidelines for playing, don’t lock yourself into a set of rules. Constantly evaluate the situation and respond to the specifics of a hand. Just like skinning a cat, there’s often more than one way to play and win a hand.