In the beginning, we were all bad players — you, me, and the
guy winning all the money at your table tonight, as well as every player
who has ever won the World Series of Poker. We were all bad. Once upon
a time Michael Vick couldn’t throw a football, Alex Rodriguez
couldn’t hit, and Michael Jordan couldn’t dunk. They were
beginners too, and guess what: They were bad — terrible, even.
Raw talent? Sure, they were blessed with an abundance of raw talent,
but they all had to work long and hard to refine it.
So don’t bemoan your current skill level as a poker player. You
can improve, and you will if you’re willing to pay the price.
Every good poker player has been where you are now, and they’ve
improved. To be sure, some accomplished their goals faster than others;
some progressed by leaps and bounds, while others have taken baby steps,
one after the other, until they reached their goal.
You can do the same thing. You do have some innate potential as a poker
player, and if playing winning poker is important, you need to build
a foundation that will help you reach your potential as quickly as possible.
Everyone who has progressed from neophyte to journeyman to expert to
superstar shares one trait in common. They built a solid foundation,
and that foundation allowed them to spread their wings and fly. And
fly they can. But in poker, as in life itself, you can’t fly until
you’ve built a rock-solid foundation and mastered the fundamentals.
If you’re still grappling with fundamentals, you’re not
yet ready to fly. But once those fundamentals are imprinted on your
poker consciousness and you can execute them on cruise control, then,
and only then, can you think about flying.
When you listen to great jazz musicians, you are hearing improvisation
at its best. That improvisation, however, is based on a solid grounding
of music theory. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet,
Sonny Rollins, Gerry Mulligan, Charles Mingus, Thelonius Monk: These
jazz giants are masters of improvisation, but their innovation and creativity
stood on a platform of musical theory, knowledge of time signatures,
an understanding of harmony, skill in ensemble playing, and an ability
to use rhythm to underpin melodic themes and harmony. Without possessing
these basic skills, innovation would not have been possible. The price
wasn’t cheap, either. It took lots of playing, lots of years,
and more clubs, sessions, and after-hours joints than they would want
to count. But the product was sweet, free-flowing music: riffs that
seem to possess a life of their own, springing unbounded from horns,
keyboards, and strings, and filling the night with magic.
Poker is no different; neither for that matter is most of life. When
you see an expert make what you consider to be a bad, even amateurish
mistake, consider this: He probably knows the book move like the back
of his hand. Why did he deviate? While he might be on tilt, it’s
more likely that he is deviating to practice deception. His take on
that confluence of events — the players, the action, the cards,
the texture of the game — convinced him that the move he made
was for the best. However, he had a rock-solid base of technique to
fall back on — then deviate from — based on his assessment
of the situation at hand. Without that mastery of basic poker skills
you have no assurance that you are making the best play. In fact, most
of the time you will be making a bad play, or at least a play that has
a poorer expectation than the textbook play.
Once you’ve chosen the best game, and selected the best available
seat at that table, what’s important to winning play? Since earlier
decisions tend to be more important because subsequent choices are often
predicated — or sometimes obviated — by earlier decisions,
then a key to any form of poker is deciding which hands you will start
Hand selection is one of the most important keys to winning. Most players
play too many hands. I’m not referring only to beginners. There
are players who have played for years, and the single most important
flaw in their game is that they still play too many hands. Some poker
players have it all wrong. They examine a hand and look for reasons
to play. Dealt a 6-6/5 is seven card stud with three face cards to act
after you, or a 9-7 in hold’em with two other players active and
three yet to act, most players will look for reasons to continue playing
those hands. After all, the majority of poker players are recreational
players. They are not playing poker to make their living; they play
to enjoy themselves — and much as they’d have you believe
their goal in playing is to win money, that’s really secondary
to their main objective: having fun. The difference between a player
who has come out to have fun and another who is playing to win money
is that the recreational player will look for reasons to play marginal
hands and to continue playing them even when subsequent betting rounds
are fraught with danger. The money player will look for reasons to release
hands. He will avoid unnecessary danger, and dump his speculative hands
whenever the reward is overshadowed by the risks.
If you’re new to poker, or just grappling with the issue of starting
standards, you’re in luck. There are some fine books available
to assist you, each with plenty of guidance on this topic. The next
article in this four-part series discuss why starting standards are
important in life, and in poker, and we’ll also examine the need
to be selective and aggressive if you aspire to becoming a winning player.
Solid Poker Foundations
by Lou Krieger
Learn how to ensure your poker foundations are solid!
1 / Part
2 / Part
3 / Part
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