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Texas Holdem Poker


by: Lou Krieger

If that eminent philosopher Yogi Berra had played poker rather than baseball he might never have uttered those sage words, “It’s never over ‘till it’s over.” Instead, he simply may have said, “It’s never over!”

And where poker is concerned, he would have been right: Absolutely, positively and unalterably correct. As long as you are playing in a ring game, not a tournament, the game never does end. You might leave, go home and not come back for a month. Even if you decide to return to a different game in another casino in a state 3,000 miles away — the game never ends. And those segments of time over which most players assess their results are just that; they are arbitrary divisions with no real, lasting utility other than as a corral in which one gathers and records information.

How did you do last night? Did you win, or are you stuck? How you did this month, this year, or even this decade, are only proximate measures of a work in progress. The game ends only if you decide never to play again, or you die. As long as a game is ready and available when you are, it hasn’t ended.

This concept, this understanding of the extraordinarily long time frame over which poker results need to be evaluated, has important strategic implications for your game. Here are just a few of the more significant ones.

Whether you win or lose today is absolutely meaningless: If you’re playing in a tournament, winning today is of the utmost importance. It enables you to stay alive and continue your quest to finish in the money. But if you are playing in a ring game, winning or losing today is insignificant. Moreover, you have little control over any short term results you achieve because luck plays such a major role. Don’t worry about winning. Instead, concern yourself only with those factors you can control. Concentrate on making good decisions at the poker table. After all, from a strategic viewpoint that’s really all you can do. In the short run, if the cards fall your way you’ll win; if they don’t, you’ll lose. It’s that simple. But in the long run, when every last dollop of luck has been squeezed out of the equation and skill alone becomes the sole determinant of the results you achieve, you’ll find you have made more money on your good hands and lost less on your bad ones than you would have if you were not playing optimally.

Forget about money management: The notion of whether to quit when you’re ahead, or quit once you’ve lost some predetermined amount of money is closely related to the idea that the results you achieve on any given day are of no lasting importance. If the game is good and you’re ahead, why not keep playing? If you’re a favorite, chances are you’ll win even more money. If you’re losing but haven’t let your losses get the better of your emotions and you’re still making good decisions at the table, there is absolutely no reason to quit. On the other hand, if the game is bad and you’re an underdog, you ought to quit or look for a softer game regardless of whether you are winning or losing. When you’re not a favorite, chances are you’ll lose if you keep playing.

If you want to be a long-term winner, make good decisions: Staying in a bad game just to balance your books at the end of the day is an incorrect strategy. Instead, you should be concerned solely with making good decisions. If you are able to make better decisions than your opponents, you will be a winner in the long run. Just how long it takes to get into that long run is subject to interpretation, but computer simulations I’ve done have convinced me that even a year’s worth of playing holds no guarantee of getting there. That’s right. Even if you were to play eight hours a day, five days a week, there is no assurance that the effects of short-term luck will have been eliminated by the end of a year in which you would have played approximately 2,000 hours of poker. Regardless of how long it may take to get into the long run, one fact remains unalterable and abundantly clear: Poker is a marathon, not a sprint.

Understanding this can stagger the imagination. A good player can go for a year, playing his best, and still lose. That’s enough to throw most players off their game and on tilt. But it’s not beyond the pale of predictability. It can happen. It probably does happen, and although playing well and losing for an entire year is certainly not commonplace, it is probably happening now, to someone, somewhere — and statistically speaking, it isn’t unexpected.

To become a winning player, you must make better decisions than your opponents, and keep making them until your results begin to mirror your knowledge, skill, and effort. While it will, I assure you, sometimes seem as though life at the card table is unfair, the only sane view worth taking is the long one. If you’re playing well and losing, you need to emblazon this in your memory: The bad times will pass. Regardless of how long you’ve been playing and the results you’ve achieved, take this tip from Yogi, and take it to heart: It’s never over ‘till it’s over. Keep playing well, take a very long view of things, and watch your results eventually equal your abilities.

life, and in poker, and we’ll also examine the need to be selective and aggressive if you aspire to becoming a winning player.

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