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1 Connect to the Internet newsgroup rec.gambling.poker through this Deja.com link.

2 Read about Morton's Theorem.

3 Use Wilson Software's Turbo Texas Hold'em.

4 Read all the books.

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Five Quick Ways to Better Your Hold'em Game

This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine.

The hours before dawn are bad times for the sleepless. I had played poker too long, so I drove home, turned on the television, and started channel surfing, but all I could find were infomercials and bad prints of old movies - the kind in which the sound is nearly unintelligible and the once-shimmering black-and-white tones have long since faded to mottled gray. The infomercials weren't much either, but at least they were watchable, and when you can't sleep, that's good enough.

Those infomercials all had one thing in common: They promised instant results. Wanna lose 15 unwanted pounds, build abs of steel, get rid of that ugly cellulite? Never mind what the problem might be, each product promised results instantly. If it's good enough for late-night television, I figure it's good enough for me. If you want to improve your Hold'em game in a New York minute, here are five ways that will jump-start your game and improve your play.

1 Read the newsgroup: If you don't have a computer, now is the time to go out and buy one. When you get that box home, connect to the Internet and read the discussions and poker news on the Internet's rec.gambling.poker (RGP) newsgroup. While you'll find lots of social chatter and collateral postings, the Internet is the source of some incredibly creative ideas about poker.

These ideas, for the most part, are not circulated outside the newsgroup. It's not out of secrecy, mind you, it's just that RGP attracts very bright, creative, and insightful folks who enjoy talking poker. As a result, it's fertile ground for new ideas and concepts. Ideas are posted, and comments are swiftly fed back to the author. It's information at warp speed: That's what the Internet is all about. You can follow the growth and development of ideas as they are molded and shaped by some of the poker community's brightest thinkers and theorists. The Internet is a medium that you cannot ignore if you are serious about keeping up with the game's most current critical thinking and concepts.

I learned about Morton's Theorem on RGP. I witnessed its birth, saw it grow and develop, and made some adjustments to my game because of it. Only Andy Morton's untimely death led me to write a piece for Card Player about it. Andy was a friend, and the best way I knew to celebrate his life was to bring his ideas to an even wider audience. If Andy were alive, his theorem still would be known to RGPers, but probably not to the general poker-playing population.

2 Practice with computerized software: No matter how many hands you play at the table, using Wilson Software's Turbo Texas Hold'em to practice against lifelike opponents and run simulations that will test your own theories is almost a requirement if you want to jump-start your game. Computers can do things that we never can, simply because simulations run so much faster than real games can be played. I've run experiments in which I've simulated a lifetime of Hold'em. I suppose that I could have tested a hypothesis or two by playing eight hours a day, five days a week, for 30 years, but what good would the knowledge have been to me when I concluded my research? It might be helpful, I suppose, if poker is played in the afterlife, but I'm more concerned with earthly uses for my know-how. Wilson's software is simply terrific, and using it will improve your play. If you are not using this product to better your game, someone else is - and he's gaining an edge as a result.

3 Read all of the books: I hear players eschew books all the time at the poker table. "I've played 20 years," they grumble, "and I don't need books to teach me about the game." Yet, it's these very players who think that a deck change is going to improve their luck, or that a certain dealer has it in for them. Sheeesh! These guys have been making the same mistakes for the past 20 years, and their know-nothing attitude ensures that they will repeat this unproductive, mindless behavior for the next two decades. There are lots of good poker books out there - mine among them - and I'd suggest that you read them all. If you get just one good idea from a book, it will return the cost of its purchase many times over. Poker books are not an expense, they are an investment - one that's absolutely critical for improving your game.

4 Think about the game: Think when you're at the table, away from the table, and whenever you're not involved in a hand. Watch your opponents. Remember what kinds of hands they are willing to enter pots with in early, middle, and late position. See if they are calling stations or are susceptible to bluffing. Learn their proclivities and patterns, and plan your strategy accordingly. You won't be very successful bluffing someone who calls all the time, and you only hurt yourself if you fail to bet for value against someone who calls far too often with weak hands.

Think about your own play, too. Review hands that you've won and hands that you've lost. Determine whether there were alternative plays that would have resulted in a bigger win, or saved a bet or two if you lost. The line between winning or losing one big bet per hour is a fine one. Concentration may be all that's required to become a winning player. After all, I'm thinking at the table, and so are most of the other winning players you'll encounter.

5 Focus on things that matter: If you pay attention to the wrong things, the very best you can hope for is to get lucky. Getting a deck change won't help you win. It won't cause you to lose, either, but why concentrate on something that is of absolutely no value at all?

Poker tables are full of bad-beat stories. By now, you've probably heard them all. Why waste time grousing about the fact that your opponent got lucky? We all take turns getting lucky. That's not the point. Instead, think about what you might have done to knock him out of the pot so that he wouldn't have had a chance to draw out on you. That matters!

So, your opponent took the worst of it and got lucky - so what? In the long run, you'll take his money most of the time. Don't fret. Think about how you played, and think about what you might have done differently to influence the outcome. Thinking about luck, a deck change, or a dealer who's always bad news for you is completely unproductive. It's like howling at the moon. It may feel good to do it, but ultimately, it's silly and self-indulgent, and it won't help you win.

Face it, nothing will make you an expert overnight, but there are a number of shortcuts along the road to poker excellence. Some of them require investments. Computers, software, books - none of them come cheaply. But you will lose much more than you would ever invest in your own skill-building and development if you fail to invest in these tools. If poker matters to you - if you really want to become a winning player, and not just wish you were - you owe it to yourself to take the steps that matter.

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