In this article, we will explore each of the variables that contribute to a poker decision, in relative order of importance. How can you use this to your advantage next time you sit down at the poker table?
One of the unique aspects of poker (as opposed to other
gambling games) is that it allows the players to break down how each hand
played out and analyze their own strategies and tactics. Beginning players
start with analyzing their hand value and their desire to fill a flush or
straight, while more experienced players will criticize their opponents for
missing such “obvious” factors as position and pot odds.
In real estate, the saying goes that the three most
important factors are “location, location, location”. In poker, the three most
crucial elements in making the best decision are “position, position,
position”. The player that acts last will have the most information on which to
base his/her decision. In any decision-making process, especially one as
pressure-packed as a poker table, information is power. Players in position can
also use their position to put their opponents on the defensive with big bets
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know your enemies
and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” While you
may not always know your opponent's favorite color or his dog's name, you can
track his betting patterns. Regardless of the facial tics and flinches the
Hollywood glorifies as “tells”, betting patterns are the biggest indication of
a player's tendencies.
“Is it worth it?” “Is the risk worth the reward?” Too many
beginning players, as well as a few veterans, view the size of the pot as the
measure of risk and fail to consider the odds of taking that big pot home.
Players must understand the concept of pot odds, as we explored in an earlier
article, before they can adequately weigh the risk against the reward. Players
who fail to understand this concept (or disregard it) may as well be playing
slot machines in hopes of taking home a big jackpot, rather than playing
intelligent, strategic poker.
Many poker players like to throw out the term “+EV”. A play
with a positive expected value means that the player should earn a long-term
profit with that play. As anyone who has suffered a bad beat can tell you, a
+EV play does not win in every circumstance. Players must have a deep
understanding of all of the above concepts before attempting to grasp the idea
The most important factor that beginners consider when
making their decisions may be the least vital for those who truly comprehend
the game. Unlike in casino video poker games, the relative value of a hand
matters little when making a crucial decision at the table. Players can (and
often do) win huge pots with king-high and lose with a full house or quads.
Remember, “poker is a game of people played with cards, not
a game of cards played with people.”
Play hard, play smart and have fun!