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Don’t play any hand, play the right hand

By Jim Feist


One of the biggest mistakes sports bettors make is to wager on too many favorites. They don’t believe an underdog has a shot, either in baseball or football, so they always play teams that are supposed to win according to oddsmakers. This is a mistake, as dogs offer tremendous value in football (getting points) and baseball (plus-money on money-lines).

Similarly, one of the biggest mistakes hold ‘em poker players make is they play too many hands. Many times, the experienced card players make their decisions during the pre-flop while novice players fail to pay attention to their position in relationship to the dealer. To play in early position you really need to have a strong hand because players who act after you will raise and re-raise bets.

When you play in the early position it makes sense to raise with the strongest hands, such as ace-king or a pair of queens, or to call with weaker hands like a pair of tens and to fold any other hand. And if you play in the middle or late position it is better to call having even a small pair or a combination of cards like ace-king orjack-10.

One of the oldest arguments in football is whether coaches should be aggressive or to stay conservative with a lead, such as using a “prevent defense.” I’ve always been a believer that the winningest coaches are the ones who aren’t afraid to lose, ones who will be aggressive on offense or defense with the game on the line.

This can be argued in football, but not so in hold ‘em. If you’re in the late position and have a strong hand pre-flop it makes sense to go ahead and play aggressively. You have a lot in your favor so you might as well push things and go for it, putting pressure on your opponents. Your main goal is to pull more money in the pot as well as to force those who have weak hands to drop out.

This is effective strategy for players with strong hands because if there are small cards on the flop, players with weak hands will already be out of game. A four is flopped! Great, see you later, small fry, and thanks for sweeting up the pot.

Also, be cognizant of patterns – and don’t allow yourself to be too predictable as others are watching. There’s a famous football story about the 1958 NFL title game between the Colts and Giants, the first (and only) overtime game with the final contest of the season in NFL history. On the final TD run to Alan Ameche, the ball was on the right hash mark and the prevailing wisdom would be to run left because if you fail to make the TD at least the ball is lined up in the middle for the coming field goal. Instead, Colts QB Johny Unitas called a run offtackle right, a bit of an unorthodox gamble, but he was guessing that the opponent would be anticipating a run left, so he subtly chose the opposite way. Ameche plunged over for the TD.

In poker, always remember that you are being watched by good – and sometimes better – players. They are looking for trends and consistencies to forecast your future moves, so don’t be afraid to mix them up. If you will play differently in the same situations it will be more difficult for them to match up against you.

In addition, there are many tips which can be useful during the flop, such as not to hope for a straight draw having its lower end. Be careful of similar suited flops because opponents can get straight or flush which will blow away your high pair or a set.

Finally, review your hand histories and be tough on yourself critically. Session reviews allow you to check hands you won and hands you lost to see if you played them correctly. Winning poker is about making the right decisions as often as possible so reviewing and analyzing previous hands will teach you what you need to gain from each session and even each hand. Like any good football coach knows, success does not come overnight or in one game; it requires practice, practice, practice!


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