Playing like a pro

Sep 21, 2004 2:04 AM

As the popularity of poker continues its meteoric sweep across the country and around the world, many players are beginning to wonder whether they have what it takes to make the leap to playing tournament poker or even playing poker for profit.

It’s a large leap, from social poker to professional poker, and there are several factors to consider. One of them is determining which hands to invest money in.

Some decisions are easier than others. The very best hands should be played and the very worst hands thrown away. Recognizing this precept is how players make the leap from social poker to poker for profit. Exacting the last dollar from the best hands allows for fine tuning of one’s style, and in the long run, might factor into whether that player is a lifetime winner or loser.

But I do not subscribe to the theory that every player receives an equal distribution of hands and those that make the most money are the best players. We are talking about poker, not duplicate bridge, and some players are just luckier than others.

If a million players were included in the figures and an average of hands played to the most profit produced a scale of good or bad play, a case could be made for maximum profit per hand. However, good hands will make money and bad hands will lose money on the average so nitpicking extra bets can be left to those technicians of the game who pride themselves on squeezing the last dollar out of each hand.

The real money is made in the play of marginal hands. Why? Because on a distribution curve, the good hands and bad hands account for only a small part of the total hands played while the marginal hands make up the bulk. Therefore, a player who can average a profit with marginal hands will become a winning player.

Eliminating those marginal hands that are bad risks can save a player money. Not every draw is equal and the player who can differentiate between draws is ahead of the game.

In seven card stud, for instance, players can process more information. For example, with an opening hand of 10, jack, queen (up), many players would stay for the fourth card. But if a nine raises and a king re-raises, this hand has very little reason for continuing. The best draw allows for only six cards since a nine and king are out, and if one assumes the nine and king are paired, that leaves only four cards — which is not enough to warrant staying.

In a mid-sized limit game, if a tight player raises with an ace up and your hand is a pair of kings, is your call mandatory? Many players have a difficult time releasing that type of hand. In most instances, calling is a terrible play. What factors would improve one’s chances of winning? The kings are hidden and no other king is exposed, the tight player might fold if your up card is paired and bet out, you are the last player to act and will be head’s up, the tight player has only a few chips left in front of him, and so forth. There are cases where a call or even a raise might be profitable but the majority of times indicate a fold.

Flop games have fewer exposed cards which means a player must rely on other clues such as past style and betting to provide the information necessary to screen out marginal hands.

King, queen suited is normally worth a call but what if a very tight player raises in the seat next to the blind and another player re-raises him and you and the tight player just call. Now the flop comes 10, jack, three and your suit is nowhere to be found.

The tight player bets out, the other player raises and you must decide. Actually, you should not have been in the hand because, if you hit a king or queen on the board, you would probably have been beaten by either or both hands.

A flush is not a strong enough draw by itself and the straight is even harder to hit. So having lucked out, should you continue? You need an ace or nine. At least one or two aces are probably in the other two hands so the best you can hope for is about six outs. Given the cost of staying and the redraw for your opponents if an ace hits, this hand is still a loser.

A good player can use his knowledge of other players to "put them on a hand." This is done by selecting a range of hands that might be possible and then by eliminating those that are not consistent with the past betting style. (If a player would have had that hand, he would have raised so he does not have that hand.)

Once a hand is pinpointed, your draw calculations must include your opponent’s "known" cards with the pot odds being returned.