Beware poker advice from so-called experts

Feb 24, 2009 5:03 PM
By George "The Engineer" Epstein |

There’s often more than one ‘correct’ play

Experts are not always correct. Think it over; there’s more than one way to play a hand..

Bluffing on the Flop

I read where a poker expert suggested you could win by bluffing on the flop when it has a king and two small cards, all of different suits; but don’t try bluffing when there is an ace or queen on the flop. The idea is that opponents are more likely to hold an ace or a queen in the hole than a king.

So I tried it the other night in a $3 - $6 limit game. In an early position, I bet out on a pure bluff. Three opponents called me; it didn’t work.

Another related suggestion from this "expert" was to bluff on the flop when it has a small pair and a middle card, unsuited. I tried that, too. It didn’t work; I was called down.

The problem is that his advice didn’t consider the type of opponents involved. This table had two players who, I soon learned, were calling stations. The bluffs might have been effective against tight or conservative players, but certainly not when there are loose players at the table. And, it’s loose players you want at your table to contribute to your winnings when your draw comes through. I won’t try those plays again – unless I am sure I have the "right" kind of opponents.

When to Quit

Another poker expert suggested "quit when you’re behind and play when you’re ahead." That makes no sense without lots of qualifications. With eight or nine opponents, it is almost certain that you will be behind at the early stages of your session.

Most playable hands are drawing hands; they usually must improve to be the winner at the showdown. Even A-K connects only one out of three times on the flop. It loses to a pair of deuces.

I might be inclined to take this expert’s advice if he had said something like this: "After playing for two or three hours, you should consider quitting if you are behind; but keep playing if you are ahead so long as you are not getting tired."

If you really think about this advice, it does make good sense with our qualifying statement. When you are winning, you tend to play with less stress and play more aggressive, making it more likely you will win more pots and bigger pots.

On the other hand, when you are losing, it is only natural to either pull in your horns and play more cautiously – or get reckless, throwing all caution to the wind in the hope of getting even as soon as possible. That’s a formula for more losses.

Who said you can’t bluff in low-limit?

Perhaps the worst advice I have read is that you can’t bluff in low-limit games. The fact of the matter is: You can win by bluffing in low limit games.

I can’t speak for others, but my records show that I win between 65 and 75 percent of my bluff attempts when playing $3-$6 and $4-$8 limit hold’em. Break-even is 20-25 percent, so these results are fantastic! Sure, there is both art and science in successful bluffing: knowing when and how to bluff, and against which opponents. As a tactic, the Esther Bluff is powerful! And it’s easier to bluff one opponent than trying against three or four.

Bottom Line: Take what the "experts" tell you with a grain of salt. Think about it before acting on it. There may be ramifications and issues not considered by your "expert." But it certainly is worth thinking about.

Comments? (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 (T/C Press, PO Box 36006, Los Angeles, CA 90036). He can be reached by e-mail: [email protected].