In Part 3 of this series we looked at recurring poker decisions, as
well as choices that are less commonly encountered, but are costly when
a wrong decision is made. Now we’re ready to examine decision
trees, along with the single most important decision you’ll encounter
anytime you play poker.
Why Risk/Reward Decisions are Tough Choices
Risk/reward decisions are tough because there’s no recipe to follow
— in life or in poker. At the poker table it helps to reconstruct
the play of the hand and betting patterns, and understand your opponents’
playing styles. Without this kind of analysis, how else can you determine
if they are bluffing outright, betting hands worse than yours, or wagering
on powerful holdings?
Playing correctly under these circumstances requires a great deal of
judgment: the kind that comes from experience, not books. No matter
how skilled a player you eventually become, you’ll never reach
the point where you always make these decisions correctly. Don’t
worry; that’s not important. Just be careful about the hands you
decide to play, err on the side of protecting yourself from catastrophic
mistakes, and you’ll be on the right track.
Some Decisions are Important Because They Influence Subsequent
Choices can also be important because of their position on the decision
tree. Those that are first in a long sequence of subsequent choices
are always important, since those that follow are usually predicated
on your initial selection. Make a wrong move up front and you run the
risk of rendering each subsequent decision incorrect, regardless of
whatever else you might do. That’s why the choice of which hands
you start with in poker is generally a much more critical decision than
how you play on future betting rounds. If you adopt an “...any
two cards can win” philosophy in hold’em, or start with
stud hands like 3ß-3™-7® when your cards aren’t
live and there are aces and faces to act after you, you have set yourself
up for a disaster that even the best players can not consistently overcome
on later rounds.
But regardless of how important it may be to choose your starting cards
with the greatest of care, there are even more important decisions you’ll
make at the poker table. They are more important because they are closer
to the trunk of the decision tree.
The Single Most Important Poker Decision
Choosing the right game is the single most important decision you’ll
encounter as a poker player. Choose the wrong game and little else matters.
Choose the right game and you might make money even on those nights
when you’re experiencing a below average run of cards. If you
are fortunate enough to play in Southern California, Nevada, Mississippi,
Atlantic City, Foxwoods, or anywhere else where you have a choice of
games, and you routinely gravitate to the same game without taking time
to evaluate your options, you just might be making your worst poker
decision of the evening — even though you have yet to sit down.
Poker is not mano-a-mano competition like boxing. There’s no
need to go up against the brightest and the best to prove you’ve
got the right stuff. In fact, given your druthers, you ought to seek
out the weakest and the worst. Poker is not about demonstrating your
skills or impressing your opponents at the table. It isn’t the
slam dunk competition at the NBA all-star game. It has nothing to do
with winning the most pots, and there’s no rule saying you’ve
got to call to keep ‘em honest. You’re there for the money.
That’s it. The best way to elevate your chances for success is
to play against inept opponents with lots of discretionary income. If
they’re ego involved fools, believe that poker is all luck and
no skill, and treat the game like a lottery, so much the better.
Unfortunately, all the imbeciles don’t segregate themselves at
one table, waiting for you to come along and take their money. You have
to look around, assess the games and decide which one offers the best
opportunities — and you have to continuously evaluate these games
because what might have been a good game when you first sat down could
be a terrible game two or three hours later. Monitoring the games available
to you is as important as anything else you can do to maximize your
chances for success at the tables.
Think about this. Would you rather be the best poker player in the
world at a table with the eight other players who are ranked second
through ninth, or would you prefer being a good-but-not-great player
at a table full of fish? I don’t know about you, but I’d
much prefer to be the good player who is up against a table full of
passive calling stations. I know I’d win more money — much
more, in fact — than the world’s best player could ever
win against tough competition!
Here’s why. It’s sad but true that most of the money you’ll
win playing poker comes not from the brilliance of your own play, but
the stupidity of your opponents. Never mind that you might be the world’s
best poker player. You’re not all that much better than those
immediately beneath you. And none of your opponents, all of whom are
world class players in their own right, will present much of a target
for you to shoot at. Bad players are another story entirely. They offer
huge targets. They call with weak hands. They stay in hopes of catching
a miracle card. They believe that poker is like the lottery —
all a matter of luck — and it’s just a little while until
everything evens out and they get theirs. And their bad play costs them
money day after day. Bad players simply do not realize the extent to
which they bleed away money. The gap between the good player and the
fool is infinitely greater than the gap between the world’s best
player and that cluster of other top players behind him. It’s
not even close. That mythical journeyman professional poker player —
you know, the kind you aspire to be — may be a mile away from
the world’s best, but he’s ten miles ahead of the fools.
This article wraps up a four-part series. The objective was to help
you construct a framework for examining the kinds of decisions you’ll
face in any poker game, as well as provide some insights into the kinds
of choices that are critical to successful play. If you’re able
to identify these critical junctures by building a warning system of
sorts into your thinking, you should automatically perk up at key moments.
In fact, simply being aware of critical decisions when you encounter
them will go a long way toward helping you grapple successfully with
Whats important in winning poker Part
1 / Part
2 / Part
3 / Part
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