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Poker for Dummies
with Richard D. Harroch
Contents and More Information
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 298 pages
Date: April 10, 2000
Publisher: IDG Books
ISBN: 0764552325

Order online from:
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The Desperate Hours

This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine.

What are your desperate hours? Is there a time during each poker session when you don't play your best? Researchers have long known that people perform better at some times than others, and it varies from one person to the next. Some of us begin the day on a high note and are at our best early in the morning, but we run straight down from there. Others among us are night people, and hit their stride once the sun sets. Still others do well in the morning, lag in the middle of the day, but catch a second wind in the evening.

Poker players are no different. Some are at their best when they first sit down. It takes a while for others to get into the flow of the game. Although everyone's game tends to fall apart when they're tired, some of us can play all day before tiring while others run out of energy after six or seven hours at the table.

My own desperate hours occur when I first sit down. It always takes me a while - usually between 30 minutes and an hour - to get into the flow of the game. Unless I've had an opportunity to scope out the game from the rail while I'm waiting for a seat, I don't know who's on tilt, who's been calling every bet and raise with a weak hand, and I can't tell whether a player's raise represents a legitimately strong hand or is simply the actions of a maniac who's throwing money into the pot more out of habit and ego than anything else.

Oh sure, if the maniac is a regular player and usually plays that way, I won't necessarily credit him with a strong hand when he bets or raises, but even maniacs can go through cool-down phases between periods of intense, unrelenting aggression.

Not everyone plays the same way all the time. Even the same players in the same game go through periods of overvaluing and undervaluing their hands. And it depends on a multitude of factors. If an aggressive player is getting beaten up it can mitigate his aggression . Even perpetual maniacs realize that losing diminishes the intimidating aspects of overly aggressive play. But not always. Sometimes a spate of bad cards and bad luck just leads to more aggression, and you never know which way your favorite maniac is tilting unless you're watching it happen.

Poker games sometimes seem like organic entities with lives of their own. They are a supple, dynamic medium with characteristics that change before your very eyes, even when the players remain the same. And it takes me a while to connect with that dynamic and plug into the game's texture so that I am accurately reading and reacting to the shifting sands and changing winds swirling around me.

When I first sit down in a game and get involved in a pot I have a tendency to stay too long with hands I should have abandoned - and would have, too - once all my antennae have been deployed and are working optimally.

The fact of the matter is this: the first hour I play can cost me money. Maybe I'm even a losing player for my entire lifetime of first hours. I don't know for sure, but I am bound and determined to do something about it.

Becoming aware of a problem is, of course, the first step towards solving it. Now that I'm aware of it, I'll be a bit more judicious when I first sit down in a game. Maybe I'll wind up leaving a little money on the table with hands I win, but I plan to lose my proclivity to call on those occasions when I should have folded, during my first hour of play.

I have another desperate hour too - though it's not that much of an issue for me. It's when I'm tired. My antennae are deployed, all right, but they're working overtime. When I'm on overload I simply cannot process information as well as I can when I'm sharp and on top of my game. This, however, is no big deal for me. I generally get up and go home when I get tired. I beat down that old urge to stick around when I'm losing in hopes of getting even a long time ago.

But other players haven't, and I see their play slip by degree every day. Good players are not immune to this shortcoming either, and I'm not about to tell them - not at the table, anyway. The fact that I play much better once I've been in a game for an hour or so is new information for me. I never thought much about it before, and don't recall seeing anything about it in print either - though I'm sure that somewhere, some other poker pundit happened on this a long time before me. Nevertheless, I'd like your take on this. Is there a particular time of day, or point in a playing session when you are vulnerable - and if there is, what do you do about it?

Do you throw off money out of euphoria when you win a couple of pots in a row? Does your playing style change appreciable when you are tired, and how long does it generally take until your energy begins to lag? What about when you first sit down in a game: Does it take you a while - as it does me - to get a read on your opponents and the texture of the game you're in?

Send me a note. I'll share the best and most unique responses with you in a future issue.

Until then, take heed and remember Pogo's immortal words: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Lou Krieger
July 2000

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