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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Will the Rampant Poker Craze Breed New Gambling Addicts?

15 May 2005

Two years ago, there were about 800 contestants in the annual World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Last year there were 2600 and it's estimated that this year there may be more than 5000!

Why the huge upswing? National television coverage of No Limit Hold'em tournaments has caught the fancy of red-blooded Americans in all age groups. Everybody and his brother wants to sit down at a Texas Hold'em table and go "all in" (bet all their chips). High schoolers are having Texas Hold'em tournaments in their basements. Charity Vegas Nights feature gobs of poker tables where there were few or none in the past. Playing poker on the internet has grown exponentially.

In my view, all this would be fine if new Hold'em players learned how to play the right way. Trouble is, what they show you on TV will make you a terrible poker player if you follow what you see.

That's because what constitutes good, solid poker play and what makes dramatic TV viewing are two different things. Solid, winning strategy in Texas Hold'em is to throw away hand after hand and come into a pot only with premium starts such as Q/Q, A/K, Q/J suited -- and a small cluster of others. But to broadcast players continuously folding hands on TV isn't very exciting. So most of that gets edited out.

What you get to see instead is a player who goes "all in" with an 8/6 and hits a "gut-shot" (inside) straight at the river to beat a pair of pocket 10s. Now that's exciting! Poker novices may not even notice, or remember, that the player went all in with a bad hand because he was down to his last few chips anyway. What they do remember, though, is how exhilarating it looked to play an 8/6 and make a straight with it.

So with that, the seed has been planted in the aspiring viewer to overgamble and play a losing, costly game of poker. I see it all the time at local poker rooms, particularly among new, young players. Many of these newbies will lose tens of thousands before they learn how to play properly -- if they ever do. And I fear many of them will become gambling derelicts in the process.

Last week in a $5/$10 Hold'em game at a local casino, the first player raised before the flop and got six cold callers. Six! Now, the chances of seven people having a hand worth playing to a raise is practically nil.

Anyway, the flop came Q-10-5 and the last two cards were 8-5. There was betting and raising on every card, but almost nobody would get out. You know what won the pot? A young sport in his 20s with a measly 7/5 took down $200 by making trip 5s at the river. The sad thing is, he'll probably lose thousands more playing that same 7/5 in the future before he figures out that it's a bad hand.

The selective focus on gut-shot straights and "back door" flushes in high-stakes TV poker misrepresents what winning poker is all about. The players at that final table didn't get there by playing 8/6s or 7/5s. If they're forced into playing a pooch hand like that after they've already locked up a spot in the money and are almost out of chips, that's an entirely different matter.

Highlighting the times those hands get lucky and win a pot sends the wrong message to somebody watching on TV, especially the younger set. Winning, even merely surviving at poker is a diligent, no-nonsense exercise in observation, deduction and dogged self-discipline. It's anything but a devil-may-care fling with Lady Luck.

There's already plenty of uncontrollable luck in poker, even when you play very carefully and scientifically. But over the long haul, you get pretty much just what you deserve based upon the quality of your play. The skilled tactician grinds out a cumulative profit and the carefree gambler pays for it.

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:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> 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