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Don’t Think About Turning Pro if You Have Ever Thought …

Flawed thinking

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Nov 26, 2010


There are several ideas, thoughts, and concepts that I hear over and over again. They are wrong. Not only are they wrong, they reveal mistaken patterns of thinking about games and gambling. My advice to anyone who believes in these ideas is to gamble only for entertainment. If you ever expect to survive as a professional gambler, you cannot allow these ideas to influence your actions. The very fact that you believe them is a sign of flawed thinking. What are some of these ideas?

I Can’t Win in Games Where Everyone Plays Badly

This idea is usually accompanied by some additional thoughts: They play terrible hands and always get lucky against me. I can’t figure out what they’re doing. I do better when there are a few good players in the game.

I can assure you that it is much better to play in a game with all bad players. Other good players are earning money, and what they can win from the losers reduces what’s left for you. Perhaps you haven’t learned how to win the maximum from really bad players. In general, you must be more patient and play better hands — and play those hands strongly. Don’t worry about being tricky and running some cunning bluffs. There is a good chance that your opponents will miss the inferences that prove that you must have a big hand, and will continue to call with mediocre holdings. If you’re bluffing, you’ll lose. If you’re betting for value, you’ll win.

I Should Have Folded Aces Before the Flop

This mistaken concept comes in a variety of flavors: I should have folded kings, even though no one showed any strength, because they are unlucky for me. I flopped top set and reraised all in, knowing my opponent had a flush draw. They never miss against me, so I could have just called and folded on the river when a heart came.

If you are in a cash game or a tournament and have a hand that is almost certainly the best hand, and you can get all in, do it. If you end up losing, try to comfort yourself with the fact that you played the hand well.

There are a few exceptions: Late in a supersatellite, when you have a large stack, it may be right to fold aces in order to make sure that you win a seat. (There are 21 players left and 20 seats to be won. You are third in chips, and three players have very short stacks. A big stack goes all in from in front of you; fold your preflop aces.) Games other than hold’em, like pot-limit Omaha, frequently produce situations where the current nuts are not the favorite. (You have the A♦ J♦ 10♦ 3♣ and the flop is 9♠ 8♠ 7♥. You have the nuts, but no redraws. Unless a large percentage of your stack is already in the pot, fold.)

I was actually afraid to mention these exceptions, because some misguided soul will seize upon them to make a horrendously bad laydown. You have a small bankroll, and are getting close to the bubble in a big tournament. You have an average stack and decide to play very tight to make sure that you cash. A loose player to your right makes a big raise, and you have aces. Go all in and hope that he calls. Don’t think about folding. If you have any thoughts of folding, you should not be in the tournament in the first place. You should not be gambling for serious money. You should get a day job. And if you already have a job, you can afford to make the right play.

You might be thinking that no one could possibly consider making a play that is so horrendous. In Atlantic City on two separate occasions during a World Poker Tour event at the Borgata, players tried to explain why they had made a mistake in getting it all in with the nuts at the time. (Yes, they were knocked out, but so what?) I was talking about this with a couple of people in the bar at the Borgata, and one woman, who was a dealer, asked if there was a similar thing I could say about dealing. So, I will finish with this:

You Don’t Know the Basic Procedure for Shuffling, Cutting, and Pulling in Antes
Don’t even think about becoming a professional dealer until this procedure is automatic for you. First, gather the cards and shuffle. A normal shuffle consists of riffle, riffle, box, and riffle, but some slight variations are practiced in different venues. Then, place the deck on the table and release it completely. You should remove both hands, for two reasons. First, it is easier to pull in the antes. Second, it allows everyone to see that there is no crimp in the deck (in the old days, crooked dealers would stack a deck and then cut to the crimp). Then, pull in the antes, making sure that you get one from everyone. Then, cut and deal. Remember:

1. Shuffle
2. Release
3. Pull in the antes
4. Cut and deal

If these steps aren’t second nature to you, don’t become a dealer — or at least practice them first. I am constantly amazed at how many dealers haven’t learned this fundamental routine, even at such prestigious tournaments as the World Series of Poker. Some shuffle, cut with letting go, and then hold the deck in one hand as they struggle to pull in the antes. This is like trying to pull on your pants after you have already tied your shoes. It can be done, but it is awkward and wastes time. ♠

Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at many major tournaments and playing on Full Tilt, as one of its pros. He usually spends much of the fall hanging out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s and The Library near Houston, and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City.