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THE OBJECT OF POKER

Whether you are playing \$1-limit poker at the kitchen table or pot-limit poker at the Stardust in Las Vegas, whether you are playing poker for fun or for a living, once a week or every day, you have to understand that the object of the games is to make money. That's where the profits are. That's where the fun is. That's the way the games is scored. Jack Straus, 1982 poker champion, has said he'd bust his own grandmother if she was in a pot with him, which is pretty much the only attitude a serious poker player can have when he or she sits down behind a stack of chips. Whatever the environment and whoever your opponents happen to be, you must play the games tough; you must play the games to win money. That does not mean you cannot joke or socialize, whether at the kitchen table or in a Las Vegas card room. Quite to the contrary. In a public card room people seem to mind losing their money to a sociable person less than losing it to a mole. However, when the cards are dealt, you are no longer a grandson, a friend, or a nice guy; you are a player.

To say a poker player is out to make money does not necessarily mean he is out to win pots. Of course, you can't win money without winning pots, but attempting to win every pot or too many pots is a losing proposition. If you win \$100 in one pot but lose \$120 trying to win four others, you have a net loss of \$20. You may occasionally be in game where the best strategy is to win as many pots as possible, but such games are exceptions. In most games the bets you save are as important as the bets you win, because your real goal is to maximize your wins and minimize your losses. Ideally you want the pots you win to be as big as possible and the pots you lose to contain nothing more than your ante. You must remember that reducing losses - by not making the calls, for example, that a weaker player would make - adds that much more to your win when the games is over.

Many players don't follow this precept, however obvious it may seem. They play as though they want to win the pot, an individual pot, at all costs. The worst of them, to put it bluntly, are the suckers in the games. On the other hand, a good player develops the patience to wait for the right situations to play a pot and develops the discipline to release a hand he judges to be second-best.

Just as it is important not to think in terms of individual pots - not to chase money you have contributed to an individual pot so it is important to realize you are not playing in individual games. Each individual games is part of one big poker games. You cannot win every games or session you play, anymore than a golfer or bowler can win every match he or she plays. If you are a serious poker player, you must think in terms of your win at the end of the year or the end of the month - or, as sometimes happens, of your loss at the end of the year or the end of the month, which, of course, you want to keep as small as possible.

Thus, whether you are winning or losing on a given night is not in itself important, and above all it must not affect your play. It's easy to get steamed, or disgruntled or discouraged, when you're losing. However, you must be disciplined enough to play every hand correctly, regardless of how you are doing.

Similarly, you should not allow the fact that you are winning or losing to affect your decision to stay in or quit game. From a money making point of view the only criterion for playing is whether you're a favorite in the games or an underdog. If you're a significant favorite, then it's a good games, and you should stay in it; if you're an underdog, then it's a bad games which you should quit. Never quit a good games as a small winner just to ensure a winning session. By the same token, don't continue playing in a bad games Just to get even.

Even for tough professionals, quitting game, particularly when they're stuck - that is, when they've lost money - is sometimes a hard thing to do. So long as you remain a big favorite, you should stay, even if it means using toothpicks to prop up your eyelids. But if the games has changed so that you're an underdog, you should quit whether you're a winner or loser. When you're stuck, you should examine the reasons why you're stuck. It may be just bad luck, but it may not. Are there too many players better than you? Is there cheating going on? Perhaps you yourself are playing worse than you normally do. Are you tired or distracted? Are you thinking about the football games you bet or the woman who's been "busy" the last four times you asked her out? Are you shaken up over a bad beat earlier in the session when someone drew a fourth deuce to beat your aces full? Making money is the object of poker, and making money involves saving it on bad nights as well as winning it on good nights. So don't worry about quitting a loser. If you have the best of it, you will win in the long run just as surely as a roulette wheel will win for the casino in the long run.

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