I read a lot of poker books and articles. While some authors have unique contributions, all authors seem to agree on some basics. These basics constitute the Universal Truths of Poker (UTP). They are rarely if ever challenged. They have become so much a part of our assumptions about poker strategy that they are seldom even examined.
Here are a few:
UTP#1 Don’t play when tired.
UTP#2 Don’t ever drink while playing poker.
UTP#3 Don’t play beyond your bankroll.
UPT#4 Bluff more in a shorthanded game.
UTP#5 Play tight in a loose game and loose in a tight game.
UTP#6 Never draw to an inside straight.
Let’s look at them. There’s not enough space in this article to examine them all closely, but I’d like to start with the first three.
UTP#1 Don’t Play When Tired
Sure, this is generally a good rule of thumb. When you’re tired your thinking is impaired. Your reactions are slowed and your judgment is reduced. In general, it makes much more sense for you to leave the poker table when you are not feeling alert. In fact, among the good (but not great) players I know, continuing to play when tired is probably the largest factor in their losses. That being said (and there is much more to be said on the subject) there ARE situations when it makes sense to play even if you are tired. Here are a few that come to mind.
Stay when tired if the game is very, very good and if the players seem to be as tired or more tired than you are. You’ve probably seen games like this. There are a lot of bad players who are at the end of their gambling session. They are holding Slot Gacor on just to try and win back what they have lost. Some are literally falling asleep at the table. Others are just in that zone of calling loosely waiting for a huge hand.
If you’re in that type of game, even if your skills are somewhat diminished, it is sometimes profitable for a good player to stay. I was in such a game just a couple of weeks ago. Though I was very tired, my skills were only slightly diminished. But my opponents were playing as if their cards were exposed. They were not picking up on anything but their cards, were easily manipulated, and were awfully passive. I stayed and cleaned up. I’d recommend that to you as well in similar situations.
A word of warning. It is easy to fool yourself into thinking you are in a good game when you are tired. So beware.
UTP#2 Don’t Ever Drink When Playing Poker
I confess to being reluctant to examine this UTP. I know how risky it is to drink even a little for most players. Even so, since we are examining even the most sacred of UTP, let’s look at this one.
Alcohol is a sedative. And it impairs your thinking. Even small amounts can do that. So avoiding these impairments, since it’s completely in our power to do so, seems to be the best course. And, nearly all the time, it is.
That being said, there are times when some alcohol consumption makes sense. In fact, in some settings it is almost imperative for the excellent player to do so if he wants to maximize his edge in a good game.
First of all, some players ARE more relaxed when they’ve had a beer or a glass of wine. They have been playing for years while drinking moderately and have a winning record. What they are giving up in clarity of thinking they are gaining with peace of mind. If you are someone who can’t calm down enough to settle into a game, take possession of yourself, play carefully and thoughtfully and just relax without the drug of alcohol — and if you have experience playing good poker while drinking moderately — then I say do what has worked for you already.
But that’s not the best reason to violate this UTP. The best reason I’ve found, and the one that really can make a difference in a game, is if you will not be welcomed back to a great game if you’re not drinking. This is unusual I know. And, in the ideal world this should never be. But we play poker in the real world. And in the real world, sometimes it pays to drink some to stay in a game of drinkers.
I’ve played in games where it’s important to fit in by, yes, having a beer or two. If you’re the only player drinking water or, even worse, coffee, while everyone else is downing beer after beer after scotch after beer, etc. you may be seen as a guy who is only in the game to win money. And many bad poker playing gamblers don’t want to play with a guy like that! Better to give in a little and have a beer or even two, drink it very slowly, and not make an issue of yourself by adhering to the no drinking rule.
(I’m adding this part very quietly because I’m really not sure it will meet your ethical standards. But I should tell you that I have ALSO had a beer or two when I thought it would induce my opponents to drink a lot more than me. If I’m with a bunch of guys who normally drink while playing poker but who know that I absolutely won’t — well sometimes they smarten up and drink nothing but Diet Coke. But if I go for the Sam Adams early in the evening they tend to follow suit and then some, and some more and some more. Get my point?)
Again, a word of caution. You don’t want to literally let this go to your head. If you’re not someone who can drink very carefully and in moderation if you drink even a little then make sure to avoid a game like this. But if you want to keep all of your options open then be ready to violate this UTP when you’re in a game with drinking fish.
UTP#3 Don’t Play Beyond Your Bankroll
Once again, there is a good reason why this UTP has become so well known and commonly espoused. It’s usually a big mistake to be playing with what has become known as “scared money”. If you can’t really handle the swings of the game you’re in then you are at a terrific disadvantage, having to play defensively, not being able to take advantage of excellent opportunities because you can’t stomach the possible loss — even when the bet is in your favor. Generally speaking, it is a big mistake to play in games that are over your head. Much better to play within your means so you can be the aggressive and gambling player that optimum strategy demands. But this rule can be applied too stringently. Sometimes, sometimes it makes sense to play in a game that is at least slightly beyond your means.
Let’s say you’re a $10/20 Stud player. You have about $4,000 for playing poker, you can beat the $10/20 game, and you’re well on your way to accumulating the $15K you want to take on $15/30. Frankly, I’m not sure what bankroll you really need to feel comfortable playing in $15/30. Only you really know that. But let’s say you decided that it was about 500 big bets.
And you’ve only got $4,000. UTP says to stay away from the $15/30 game. In fact, it may also be indicating that you really shouldn’t be in the $10/20. But you feel comfortable, are a winning player, and have been doing well since you stepped up.
But you’re reluctant to take on $15/30 for bankroll reasons.
Well, you win a couple of large pots at $10/20 and now you’re up over $5,000. Still well shy of your $15K goal, but also the highest level you’ve ever been at.
The players at your $10/20 stop giving you action. You play an hour more and realize that you’re now in the land of rocks. So you take a break.
While you’re walking around the poker room you notice that the $15/30 game is full of loose passive players. You’ve played with them before at $10/20 and even $5/10 and they are BAD. You can take a stab at that game.
You can take a stab at that game.
Sure, you can’t make a steady diet of $15/30. But commit a rack of reds and maybe a second rack if you want to to take advantage of those loose bad players. You can tighten your starting standards and play a game with slightly less than optimum risk taking. You won’t win as much as you would if you could play with complete abandon; but then you won’t lose as much either. You’ll be folding more and sometimes folding a round earlier than you might otherwise in $10/20, but you can still be as aggressive as you wish.
But because the game is so GOOD this slightly sub-optimum play may very well still be worth your investment. And while it’s also true that you might bust out with a string of bad luck — you may not be able to withstand such a string — the chances are small enough to warrant your investment even though the game is slightly over your head.
Again, I’m not suggesting you make a habit of this. In general it DOES make sense to play within yourself. But on occasion, though you’re violating a UTP, if the higher stakes game is especially good, take a chance at it…without guilt!!!