This is the wrap-up to a four part series on solid foundations for
successful poker play. Earlier we discussed why solid foundations are
necessary, and how starting standards are absolutely essential for winning
play. You learned why it is important to be both selective and aggressive
with hands you choose to play, and why patience is a virtue at the poker
table. We also discussed that position, in poker, equals power. But
even if you do everything right, sometimes it still goes wrong. It’s
the element of luck, and that’s something you can’t control.
There are, however, steps you can take to deal with life’s little
emergencies. So when it seems like all the poker gods have conspired
against you, here’s some assistance in managing your play.
Coping When All Goes Wrong
I get mail from poker players all over the world. Most don’t write
to celebrate their successes. To the contrary, many of the letters I
receive recite some variation of the following tale of woe. “I
did everything right,” they begin. “I picked the right seat
in the best game, and played quality starting hands in proper position.
And you know what, my aces got cracked. Not only that, I’d flop
a set and lose to someone who caught two running cards to a straight.
That happens time after time, and I lose when I really should have won.
It seems like the fates are conspiring against me. What can I do about
Unfortunately, I have no magic elixir that eliminates the short-term
fluctuations everyone experiences when they play poker. But it’s
little consolation when you’ve been buffeted by the vicissitudes
of fate to realize that you’re not the only poor soul tossing
about in the same boat. You want out, and you want out now. But when
all seems lost, you need to remember this: There is opportunity in adversity.
In fact, losing provides the best opportunity to examine and refine
your own game.
Let’s face it. Most players do not spend much time in careful
self-examination when they are winning. It’s too much fun to stack
the chips and revel in the money that’s rolling in. Ah, but when
we lose, that’s when we tend toward introspection. We go over
and over each decision we made, wondering how we could have improved
it. “What could I have done differently,” we ask over and
over. Losing turns us from expansive extroverts into brooding introverts
whose inner-directed thoughts dredge us back over the same ground time
and time again, in search of reasons and strategies that will prevent
losses like these from ever happening again.
While no guarantees about future losses are available, there is one
course of action I’d recommend to any player mired in a losing
streak. Just change gears. We all change gears during a poker game,
sometimes consciously, as a planned strategy, and sometimes we just
wind up playing differently than we began. When you’re losing,
consider gearing down. Way down. This is a time for lots of traction
and not much speed; a time for playing only the best starting hands.
Not marginal hands, not good — or even very good — starting
hands, but only the best hands. That means you’ll be throwing
away hand after hand, and it takes discipline to do this, particularly
when some of these hands would have won.
When losing, most players want to minimize fluctuations in their bankrolls
and grind out some wins. Gearing down accomplishes this, since you are
not playing any of the “close call” hands you normally might.
By playing hands that have a greater chance of winning, you are minimizing
the fluctuations that occur with speculative hands. Of course, you’re
also cutting down your average hourly win rate, but it’s a trade-off,
since you are less apt to find yourself on a roller coaster ride. You
can still win as much; it will just take more hours at the table.
Gearing down also prevents your opponents from kicking you when you’re
down. When you are winning, your table image is quite different than
when you’re losing. Win and you can sometimes bluff with impunity.
You simply can’t do that when you’re losing. After all,
your opponents have watched you lose hand after hand. They believe you’re
going to keep losing. When you bet they’ll call — or even
raise — with hands they might have thrown away if you had been
winning steadily. Since every hand is totally independent of hands played
before, this kind of strategy has absolutely no validity, but try telling
that to human nature. In many games, especially low limit games, players
are heavily influenced by what they’ve experienced lately. Never
mind that you may be the biggest winner in that game over the past year.
If you’ve lost the last two times they’ve played with you,
and you’re losing now, they’re going to take a shot at you.
In the eyes of the beholder — their’s — your table
image is shattered, and it doesn’t pay to begin rectifying this
image until you’ve won a few big pots. Once they begin to perceive
you as a winner, you have once again opened up the door to the psychological
ploys in your arsenal. Then you can bluff, and begin to play some borderline
hands, because to a certain extent it is the way your opponents perceive
you that provides the necessary face validity to these ploys that enable
them to work often enough to show a profit.
Gearing down works in real life, too. Consider Richard Nixon. He resigned
the presidency in disgrace — the only president ever to do so.
Yet he was able to return to California, hunker down, and begin to rebuild
his image ever so slowly. He started small, and focused on the one area
where he was strongest — foreign affairs. In other words, after
suffering a sequence of really bad beat and going on tilt — the
unfolding and subsequent cover-up of the Watergate scandal — Richard
Nixon geared down and played nothing but aces, kings and queens.
He became statesmanlike, an oft used term to be sure, but in his case
it was true. Gradually he rebuilt his credibility, used his unique historical
knowledge and insight to write a few well-received books, and by the
end of his life had resurrected his image. In poker terms, Mr. Nixon
ceased playing long shot draws and small pairs from early position.
He played solid cards and strong starting hands. Playing nothing but
a aces, kings, and queens eventually allowed him to expand his repertoire
to include some other pairs, along with good connectors. By the end
of the game, he was winning steadily and built his bankroll back from
being all-in, to the point where he had a sufficient number of chips
to compete in the game.
First learn the basics and know them cold. Lay down a solid foundation
for strong play. Be selective about the hands you play. Build a set
of starting standards you can rely on, and stick to them — even
when your intuition is shouting loudly to do something else. Regardless
of the game, if your goal is to win money, then don’t look for
reasons to play hands or you’ll talk yourself into playing too
many of them. Instead, stay away from troublesome, marginal hands. But
when you do get involved in a hand, play aggressively. If you’ve
got the best of it, make your opponents pay to draw out on you. Sometimes
they will, but most of the time they won’t — and that extra
money in the pot will wind up in your stack of chips.
Be patient. Wait for good starting hands and then play them aggressively.
But avoid getting trapped because you played a troublesome hand from
early position, and then are forced to call a raise with a hand you
suspect might not be the best hand even if the flop hits it. If you
lose or lack patience you’ll stray far afield from your goal of
Play position. Remember, in poker, position is power. Take full advantage
of it. And when all is going wrong, hunker down, play solid cards and
nothing but solid cards, and wait for the storm to blow over.
Solid Poker Foundations
by Lou Krieger
Learn how to ensure your poker foundations are solid!
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