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BEYOND BEGINING POKER

The beauty of poker is that on the surface it is a game of utter simplicity, yet beneath the surface it is profound, rich, and full of subtlety. Because its basic rules are so simple, anyone can learn poker in a few minutes, and novice players may even think they're pretty good after a few hours. From the expert's point of view, the veneer of simplicity that deludes so many players into thinking they're good is the profitable side of the game's beauty. It doesn't take long for pool players or golfers to realize they're outclassed and to demand that a match be handicapped, but losers in poker return to the table over and over again, donating their money and blaming their losses on bad luck, not bad play.

It's true that in any given session the best of players can get unlucky. Going into the final day of the 1981 world championship of poker, Bobby Baldwin of Tulsa, Oklahoma, had a substantial lead over the eight other surviving players. Within a couple of hours he had two hands beat when his opponents outdrew him on the final card on 21-to-1 shots. Suddenly he was out of the tournament. Coincidentally, in both hands Baldwin's opponent needed one of the two remaining queens among the 44 unseen cards, and he got it.

However, it is more likely for a good player like Baldwin to suffer these bad beats, as they are called, than for an average player or a weak player to suffer them. "I've heard good players complain to me about how they get drawn out on all the time," Baldwin said after the 1981 tournament. "But if they want to better their game and better their emotional state while playing, they should realize it's a mirage. If you are an excellent player, people are going to draw out on you a lot more than you're going to draw out on them because they're simply going to have the worst hand against you a lot more times than you have the worst hand against them. There's no way you're going to draw out on anybody if you don't get all your money in there on the worst hand."

As Baldwin implies, expert players do not rely on luck. They are at war with luck. They use their skills to minimize luck as much as possible. They figure they're getting the best of it, and they leave lucky draws to their weaker opponents. To the extent that they are getting the best of it, they will win more often than they lose. Over the long run everybody gets the same proportion of good and bad cards, of winning and losing hands. Beginning poker players rely on big hands and lucky draws. Expert poker players use their skills to minimize their losses on their bad hands and maximize their profits on their big hands. They also are able to judge better than others when a big hand is not the best hand and when a small hand is the best hand.

Whatever your level of play, the succeeding pages will introduce you to theories and concepts of poker that will eliminate your reliance on luck and lead you to become an expert who relies on his skills. For above all, you must remember that poker is not primarily a game of luck. It is a game of skill.

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