Why You May Not Be As Good A Player As You Think You Are, And What You Can Do Today To Become Better One, Part 2.by: Lou Krieger©
World renowned player, author of over 400 columns on poker strategy in Card Player, several poker books and co-author of "Poker for Dummies", Lou Krieger wrote this article. We publish it with the permission of the Royal Vegas Poker room where Lou now works as a host. This is part 2 of the articles - see the beginning in August 2006 news.
The truth of the matter is that most players are average. Some are a little better, others a little worse. But the vast majority of poker players are right there in that great, gray middle ground. And you know what? When you are playing in a casino, where the pot is raked or time is charged to sit in the game, there's always a bit less money coming out than going in. And those in the middle ground will be, by definition, lifelong losers at poker.
It may not be a vast sum of money, and it may be easily replaceable by income that's earned elsewhere and used to subsidize a player's poker hobby. And at the end of the day, the cost of playing poker for fun and recreation may well be a bargain compared to other money draining hobbies, like boating or restoring classic cars. Nevertheless, the majority of poker players - particularly those who play in card casinos where there's a cost of doing business that must be overcome before one shows a profit - will lose money. And even if the money doesn't matter, the blows to the ego that accompany it can hurt quite a bit.
What can you do about it? You can resolve to get better. Poker is a wonderful blend of skills, many of which are difficult to come by, often elusive, and frequently hard to grasp. Many have said that playing against the late Stu Ungar was like playing with your cards face up and his face down - he was that good at discerning his opponents hands. While you're not going to reach Ungar's skill level merely through drill and repetition, there are a raft of other skills that can be learned the way one learns anything else - by study and practice. And if you haven't begun to learn them, it's high time you did. It's the only way you will ever be able to lift yourself above the vast middle ground that by definition is average. And in poker, average equates to a money-losing player.
If you play hold'em, it is really easy to learn most of the math you need simply by memorizing the odds against making hands in certain situations. Sure it's nice to learn how to compute these sorts of things, but if working out probabilities is not your idea of fun, you needn't worry about it. It's already been done, thank you very much, by others. Besides, in the heat of the game, you scarcely have time, and certainly not the availability of a pencil, paper, and pocket calculator, to do these equations while trying to keep up with the game.
If you've flopped a flush draw, the odds against completing your flush are 1.86-tp-1. How hard is that to memorize? It's about as tough as memorizing your zip code, and that's not tough at all. If you flopped two pair and figure it will take a full house to win it for you, the odds are 5-to-1 against that happening.
These are learnable by nothing more complex than rote memorization. And if you want to become a better than average player, you need to learn these basic relationships or else you have absolutely no objective basis for deciding whether to continue playing your hand, or whether you'd be better off folding and saving yourself some money. This skill takes no mathematical ability at all. All that's required is the desire to ferret out these relationships, the will to commit them to memory, and the curiosity to understand their implications.
Mathematical skills aren't the only poker skills you can learn. But they tend to be a bugaboo for most players, and many people seem to fear anything - regardless of how rudimentary it might be - that has to do with numbers. And the numerical relationships necessary to play hold'em effectively are simple stuff. Look, it's a lot easier than memorizing basic blackjack strategy. Yet many of you have done that. You didn't calculate basic blackjack strategies all by yourself. Someone else did the hard work. We just have to learn the rules derived from all those Monte Carlo simulations and apply them. It's the same with much of poker's mathematical parameters.
There are a lot of learnable skills in addition to poker math. You can learn how to run a bluff, and how to catch one. Which hands ought to be played from which position, given the composition and texture of the game you're in, is another requisite skill, and it's also easily learned. While there's a lot of "it depends" that goes into deciding whether to play your first two cards, starting standards provide the benefit of the many theoreticians who have proffered suggestions about which hands are playable from early, middle, and late position. That you might have to deviate from that "theoretical list" of hands is not important. Standards offer a point of departure and you can tighten-up or loosen your requirements depending on your interpretation of game structure. A play-or-fold standard for starting hold'em hands is a stepping-off point. And if you don't have that you're toast. You are flying blind, playing by whim, and probably bleeding money as a result.
I've just touched on the kind of skills you ought to have in your poker toolkit, and in future issues I'll delve more deeply into some of the specific techniques you can work on in order to improve your game. And if the thought of being an average player is depressing to you, and you feel that there are miles and miles to go before you reach the superstar level, you can take comfort in this. One of the grand and wondrous things about poker is that superstar abilities are not required in order to make money at the game. All that's needed is for you to be somewhat better than your opponents - good enough, actually, to overcome their skills and the cost of playing the game - and you can certainly learn to do that, can't you?
About Lou Krieger
Lou Krieger learned poker at the tender age of seven, while standing at his father's side during the weekly Thursday night games held at the Krieger kitchen table in the blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhood where they resided. Always adept at sports and games, Lou's natural abilities enabled him to keep his head above water during the high school and college poker games he frequently played in. But it wasn't until his first visit to Las Vegas that Lou took poker seriously.In the early '90s Lou Krieger began writing a column called On Strategy for Card Player. Aimed squarely at hold'em players, the column is chock full of advice for beginners, low-limit, and even experienced mid-limit hold'em players. When not writing about poker, Lou (who resides in Long Beach) can be found playing $15-$30 or $20-$40 Texas hold'em poker in the card casinos of Southern California.
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