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Play tight while you learn and perfect your game

19 April 2007

Dear Mark: You description of smart "tight" play while playing poker doesn't jibe with what we see on television. What I see is player after player making "all-in" moves with lousy opening hands. Wouldn't your advice be more appropriate for us small-time players to follow the pros, instead of your recommended conservative play? David F.

On television poker, some players at the final table play opening hands that, most, if not all, books on poker would recommend they fold. That coverage, showing the guts-and-glory hands, is to keep you watching the plethora of poker on the telly, but in fact, the pros are playing plenty more hands than you are viewing, and a whole lot more conservatively than the "all-in" Jack/four off-suit cowboys you cite.

Additionally, for the typical casino or home game player, bets tend to be a whole lot smaller, so my recommended strategy remains the same; play very "tight," and fold most of the two-card starter hands you are dealt.

My advice is to play only when dealt one of the 10 best two-card starting hands, those being a pair of 7s or higher, or an ace-king or ace-queen. Once you get these starting hands, always raise or re-raise, and don't just call a bet.

The exception to this rule would be if a conservative player like yourself has made a decent sized bet in front of you, and you happen to have a pair of 7s through 9s; then you should fold.

I really don't know how well you have honed your skills in poker, David, but I do know that when you play only quality starting hands, you'll be at the table far longer than the pugnacious players you think you're seeing on TV. And — mark well — once you earn a reputation for playing only great cards, that occasional bluff we all love to make will be much easier to pull off!

Dear Mark: When is it appropriate to slow play a pair of aces? I'm usually a very tight player, but I do at times get a little too excited when I have the rarity of two aces in the pocket. Sandy A.

Most players when getting a two-card starting hand of kings or aces, tend to raise, then re-raise with either of these hands. But, Sandy, slow playing the occasional big hand is a very smart move, especially when you've been identified as a tight player. If you have a pair of kings or aces, just call before the flop. Your fellow players used to your betting big only on big starting hands, will equate your slow playing to another weak hand, and you'll end up winning a bigger pot because of it. Faking out your opponents when you have ace-ace or king-king doesn't always guarantee a bigger pot, but it will make it harder for them to figure out what you're good for later.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The ATM is like the coach's pep talk. "Here's another hundred! Now get out there and fight! It ain't over till it's over!" – Frank Legato

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.