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Texas Holdem Poker

SOLID FOUNDATIONS - Part 1


by: Lou Krieger

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.

Starting Standards
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 with.

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!

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

 

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