of the mistakes made by beginning players lies in their quest
for a strategy applicable in some formulaic fashion during
a poker game. In their search for rules, for a methodology,
for a strategic model to apply in all situations, many new
players ignore one of poker's core characteristics that's
missing in so many other gambling games: while strategic lines
of reasoning seldom change, tactical methods are subject to
realize this sounds terribly abstract, so here are a few concrete
examples. Betting when one has the best of it is a strategic
line of reasoning that the vast majority of good players believe
in and adhere to. And every credible authority will tell you
that selective and aggressive play is a key to winning poker.
It's when you get down to deciding when, and under what circumstances
to be selective and aggressive that tactical admonitions can
it's core, selective play suggests that one ought to have
a set of standards governing which hands are playable and
which ought to be thrown away. But beginning players -- as
well as more experienced players who, for one reason or another,
begin to take the game seriously -- all too frequently look
for an immutable set of standards to guide them in deciding
which hands to play and which ought to be released. While
rules can be applied and the boundary lines between playable
and unplayable hands can sometimes be crystal clear, they
are often gray and fuzzy. After all, anyone -- even if he
or she is playing for the first time -- can quickly learn
to always play aces but never to play seven-deuce. That's
not an issue. But whether to play a hand like K-10, A-9, or
Q-J, or whether to raise, call, or even fold with a pair of
sevens, are often questions without clear answers, even to
the best of players.
each of my two books on hold'em
contains a chart depicting playable hands from early, middle,
and late position, and despite the fact that most poker theorists,
practitioners, and writers have all offered advice on this
topic, tactics often have to be adjusted for a variety of
reasons. These reasons include position, how many players
have already entered the pot when it's your turn to act, whether
the game is passive and characterized by lots of calling but
little raising or whether it's aggressive, with frequent raises
by players whose hands don't really justify that kind of action.
The size of one's bankroll, and willingness to assume a much
high variance in return for a relatively small increase in
winnings, all enter into this equation, as do such factors
as your current image at the table, and the relative difference
in your playing skill compared to the skill level of your
opponents. Remember, we're just talking cash game limit poker
here, and relatively full ones at that. If the game is short-handed,
or you're in a tournament, or playing big-bet poker -- half-pot,
pot-limit, or no-limit -- there are a raft of other factors
that should be considered too.
why the answer to so many questions is "
The choice of tactic can vary dramatically from one player
to another, even as the overall strategic objectives remain
unchanged. I know at least one outstanding poker player and
theorist who eschews starting standards as unnecessary baggage
that beginners tend to tote around with them. He's not advising
indiscriminate play, mind you, he's suggesting that players
learn to analyze situations and make decisions based on facts
and circumstances rather than by recalling rote responses
to given situations.
our objective is probably the same. Where we disagree lies
not so much in what ought to be learned, but in how best to
learn it. I believe that starting standards -- to be used
as guides rather than fixed and immutable rules -- makes it
easier to learn how to deal with the majority of situations.
Starting standards can be a useful tool while one learns to
recognize those situations in which an alternative to the
book play is correct.
believe there is a sufficiency of technique that needs to
be learned in poker before a player can comfortably and confidently
deviate from the book play. Just as a painter must master
brush technique and a musician needs to practice scales before
improvisation and creativity allows them to bend the rules
they have been taught, so does a grounding in generally accepted
poker theory make it easier for a newcomer to quickly come
up to speed. Only when familiar patterns begin to repeat themselves
can one comfortably make adjustments for skewed and anomalous
situations. That's the art of poker, and the reason so much
of strategy -- or to be more precise, tactical decisions --
comes down to an "
it depends" kind of answer.
vast array of influencing factors make it impossible to construct
a set of charts dealing with every possible contingency --
never mind the difficulties in dealing with each possible
contingency in combination with every other possible influence
-- and come up with a tactical solution representing the "best
play" for each possible situation one might encounter
in a poker game.
that leaves you, dear reader, is right here -- with a map
and a compass that are at best a bit murky and unclear --
and a reliance on what you may have gleaned from study and
experience, along with a willingness to assess your actions
accurately, with neither ego nor rose colored glasses to skew
your view. There are guidelines available for you too. You
can adhere to them slavishly, though in the long run you'll
be better off learning to interpolate and deviate from book
play whenever a particular set of circumstances presents that
kind of opportunity to you.
all you'll receive at the starting line. The rest is up to
you. Although experts are frequently at odds regarding the
correct play in given situations, that's no reason to shun
their suggestions. Listen instead, and synthesize all the
different views you can find. Decide which hold water and
look for common threads running through those. Once you have
a handle on commonality -- after all, most experts differ
only on a tactical, not a strategic level -- you can integrate
these ideas into your play and deviate from what heretofore
was probably a tactical skill set based on rote or whimsy.
Once you cross that Rubicon, you're on your way to playing
quite well indeed.
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