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Poker player 1: How did you do last night?
Poker player 2: I was in the best 30-60 I have ever seen. Every pot was Capped. Nine way on the turn. Three guys played every hand to the river. It was amazing. They had a list a mile long to get in. It was great.
Poker player 1: How much did you lose?
It’ s an old Las Vegas story, one told hundreds of times. And its true. Many lessons can be learned from it. How do you beat a wild and crazy game? Don’t even try. Instead, look around for one that is more controllable. That is, one that you can control. One where your fellow players fear you and give you respect. You need to be feared.
It’s a controversial issue. I’ve never done well in a wild game. I can’t beat the drunk at the table, nor the newbie, nor the stud player playing hold ’em for the first time. There are reasons for this and most of them funny. One incident involved a ‘new’ form of poker.
From the state of Washington, a woman named Gwen brought a new poker game to Vegas called Omaha. It became all the rage. First, it started out at 10-20. But so many people busted out, they dropped it to 2-4 where it became a staple for several years. I can still hear Doug Dalton calling out “there’s a seat open in 10-20, and for those of you who want to play higher we have a 2-4 Omaha game.”
Where do busted out hold ’em players go? To play Omaha. Now they play eight or better, stud or Omaha.
So there I was, sitting in an Omaha game in ’82 trying to get it. People told me, “It’s the game of the future. Look at all that dead money!”
I had my doubts. I didn’t like it because there was no bluffing, no moves. It was strictly showdown UFA poker. Anyway, there was one guy that the deck was running over. He had maybe twelve racks of blue chips – a huge, huge win. There came the pot and he was in it as he had been for the last eight hours. A third diamond hit on the turn and someone bet and a couple of people called including the big winner. A fourth diamond came on the river and he came out firing. One guy, who had been getting killed by the big winner for hours, reluctantly calls. The big winner proudly flips over the ace of diamonds…and nothing else. No other diamond. He has nothing. The reluctant caller is as amazed he won as the big winner is that he lost.
“Hold on!” He yelled as the dealer was pushing the pot to his opponent “I have the nut flush.”
The dealer calmly explained that in Omaha you had to play two cards from your hand. The big winner looked out from over his twelve racks and said “two cards?”
Controlling the game. The guy didn’t know the rules of Omaha but he won because he felt that he was in control and he was. Controlling the game. Can you control everyone? No. There are people that either through trust funds or behavior problems will not let themselves be controlled.
Now don’t misunderstand me. You don’t have to control everyone all the time. There is the total game and the game of the hand that you are playing at that moment. If your controlling factor is high in the total game it makes control of the hand easier. If your opponents know that if you bet and will re-raise if you are raised, then they will only raise when they have a monster. Simple. Does it work all the time? No. But poker is fluid, it changes from moment to moment. The waves may come but if your boat is seaworthy, it stands a good chance of never being swamped.
To survive in poker you have to make the right decisions at the right time. This can take years to understand fully. How do you start? Well, you have to be a reader of people. I can’t stress it enough.
Say there is a high limit stud player who talks non-stop and takes everyone’s money. Players talk about his luck and his ability to manufacture hands. Are they right? No. He makes his money by gleaning so much information from his opponents that he always knows where he is. If he could not talk or look at his opponents he wouldn’t win. Which brings us to Championship Bridge twenty-five years ago.
It was a match between the famous Italian blue team and the Dallas aces. There was so much cheating going on that they put partitions up so that partners could not physically touch or see each other.
Do you still doubt the power of body language or tells? “Sure”, you say, “They knew what to look for.”
Yes, and so can you. I’ve spent more time than I’ve wanted reading players. To me, it’s the main essence of winning at poker. In my next article, I will talk about how to play, with what cards, and what position. It will be far less technical than others you can read. Still, I think it will be helpful. For I think that playing your hands the right way, to win at live poker, is the most misunderstood of all the concepts. In this most muddy of all waters, I hope to guide you through it.
Play hold ’em. Less bad beats than stud and your hands will hold up better. Omaha and 8 or better are basically showdown games and you do not need the skills that I am talking about to the same degree.