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POKER STRATEGY

Poker is a game of money played with cards; it's not a game of pots played with money. It's also a game of skill, not of chance, and poker players who go at it solely by the seat of their pants stand no more chance of winning at poker than they do at roulette. Without a solid poker strategy for making decisions about whether to check, bet, call, fold, raise, or re-raise, you might just as well play the lottery. Winning poker players understand poker strategic concepts, and they apply them with precision and discipline. Let's look at some of the poker strategies:

POKER STRATEGY I: WIN MONEY, NOT POTS:

Anyone can win pots, but winning money is the aim of poker. Pots are only incidental. If your goal is to win the most pots, that's easy. Just play every hand and call every bet until the bitter end, and you'll win every pot you possibly can. But you'll lose a ton of money in the process. The very best poker players engage in few hands, but when they get involved they're usually aggressive — they maximize the amount they win when the odds favor them.

If your goal is winning money, the best poker strategy is not to look for reasons to play hands or you'll talk yourself into playing too many. Money saved is just as valuable as money won, so knowing when to release a hand that appears to be beaten is just as important as knowing when to bet. Remind yourself of this every time you sit down to play poker!

Remember: When it comes to poker, only losing poker players hang in there hoping. Hope springs eternal, and the hope of poor poker players is the meat and potatoes of every poker pro's livelihood. While it's wonderful for many of life's endeavors, hope is the kiss of death in poker. Play a solid game and hope for hopeful opponents.

POKER STRATEGY II: BE SELECTIVE AND AGGRESSIVE:

Selective and aggressive play separates winning poker players from consistent losers. There's not a single consistent winner who fails to practice this poker strategy. Odds shift as cards are dealt across the table or across the Internet. Winning poker players recognize when they have the best of it, and they're determined to get more money in the pot when conditions are favorable. By the same token, they're extremely reluctant to commit chips to a hand when the odds don't favor them.

Aggression and selectivity generally don't walk hand in hand, so you'll need to learn when to come in with guns blazing and when to hunker down. If you're too aggressive, particularly when your cards don't warrant it, your opponents will eventually recognize your tendencies. They'll then wait until they have better poker hands than yours, allow you to do their betting for them, and raise on late betting rounds to collect double bets when they have the best of it. On the other hand, if you're too passive, you won't win enough money with your good hands to overcome the hands you lose, the blinds, and the rake.

Remember this: Aggressive poker players have two ways to win a hand. The first is to wrest control of the pot by forcing opponents out. Your bet or raise might cause someone to release the hand that would have beat yours, had the hand been played to conclusion by all. Passive poker players — those who check and call most of the time — have only one way to win: presenting the best poker hand at showdown.

POKER STRATEGY III: PLAY ONLY THE BEST STARTING POKER HANDS:

If you're playing correctly, you'll release all of your weak starting poker hands unless you're bluffing in a short-handed game. Poker is all about minimizing losses with weak poker hands, and maximizing wins with good ones. Since the cards figure to break about even in the long run, if you're not selective as well as aggressive, the best you can hope for is a lifetime of breaking even -- which really translates into a lifelong loss since you have to overcome the cost of the rake. Poker is like any other for-profit venture in that you have to overcome your cost of doing business in order to turn a profit. The way to do this in poker is through selectivity and aggression.

POKER STRATEGY IV: WHEN PLAYING POKER ONLINE, USE THE INTERNET'S CLOAK OF ANONYMITY TO STUDY YOUR OPPONENTS:

Winning poker players scout playing styles of opponents as diligently as football coaches study film of upcoming opponents. On the Internet, an important the strategy is to full advantage of anonymity by playing spy. Observe any game before taking a virtual seat. The players won't even know you're there, and you can take lots of notes while you're watching the game. Some poker players even sit there for extended periods of time, not playing, but checking out the opposition and gathering information.

When hands are turned over at showdown, notice who's holding what, and try to recall betting patterns earlier in the hand. With a little practice -- OK, OK, with a lot of it -- you'll be able to characterize opponents after a round or two. Got ‘em nailed? Got plenty of notes in your hard drive? Great! Now jump into the game and put that knowledge to work!

POKER STRATEGY V: USE POSITION:

In poker, position means power. Acting after opponents is valuable because you garner clues about their hands while giving out minimal information regarding your own. Also, against one or two opponents, you can often take the pot with a mere bet if they've checked to you. In most things in life, you hate being last. In poker, you'll learn to love it.



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