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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Unlike blackjack, poker is a game of mistakes

1 December 2006

Practically speaking, blackjack and live poker are the only two "beatable" games in the casino. But the tools you need to win at each game are different as night and day.

Winning strategy at casino blackjack is quite an exact science. When you have 14 against the dealer's 5 up, for example, you should definitely stand every time, no matter what dealer you're up against. You know proof positive that the dealer will always take a card, even if she turns up a 10 in the hole and already has you beaten with 15. Also, most blackjack bets are for even money. With such concise variables to consider, determining the optimum play is nothing more than a lengthy mathematical problem. Once that's worked out, though, blackjack's proper strategy is gospel.

Poker, on the other hand is much more complicated. Basically, that's because you play against the other players. You see, in poker, you often don't know how your opponent will play his hand. It's the equivalent of your blackjack dealer turning up that 15, looking around the board and saying, "Hmm, should I take a hit here, or should I stand?"

That's how your opponents' free will in poker creates a whole new set of problems for you. When you bet into him, sometimes he'll fold, sometimes he'll call and sometimes he'll raise. And when he does raise, he'll occasionally be bluffing. Besides that, each player has his own set of standards for when he'll do each. Combine that with continuously varying pot sizes and correct poker strategy becomes a very inexact science. Actually, it's more of a personal art.

It's fine to know the mathematical principle that you shouldn't call a pair of Aces with your pair of Kings. But how do you know your opponent has that pair of Aces? I mean, what if you have a pair of pocket Kings in Texas Hold'em and on the turn, the board is:

6s-8c-3d - As

You bet, and the next player raises. Some opponents will play their hand as though they have Aces when they actually have a 4-flush. See what I mean?

Here's the thing. Poker starts out as an "odds game" and ends up as a "mind game", while all other casino games are strictly odds games. In the end, winning poker boils down to a combination of reading your opponent's hand, guessing how he'll play it, and measuring your chances of beating him -- either through deception or by making the best hand. Handling such diverse variables perfectly is virtually impossible.

A blackjack pro executes his plays according to a complex, but completely "cookbooked" procedure, and because of the close percentages involved, he must play virtually mistake-free to win. But poker is, in fact, a game of mistakes. Everybody makes them. The good news is that the players err against each other. When you make a mistake in a hand, your opponent gains an edge. Later on, when he makes a mistake against you, you gain an edge back. In the end, the player who makes the fewest mistakes wins the money.

So how do you not make mistakes in poker? First, you need the fundamental knowledge of what hands are worth playing against what other probable hands. Then you try to determine which hands you're up against, so you can apply that fundamental knowledge.

The best way to develop these "reading" abilities is to pay close attention when you're out of the hands. Focus on one player each hand, and try to figure out what he's holding. Learn which players have what tendencies.

Does Bulldozer Bruno like to raise on a 4-flush? Will Loose Louie call your bet with a weak hand? Does Tight Tommy ever bluff? Observant judgment can make it correct to raise Loose Louie with the same hand that you should fold against Tight Tommy. And if you blow an occasional "read" here or there, shake it off. Remember, you just have to make fewer mistakes than the next guy.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey