Poker Lesson 32

"Poker is not a game for optimists"
In my line of work, not only have I played tournaments and cash games for many years, both online and long before that also in live games, but I have also co-hosted five seasons of a TV poker show in Sweden: "The Poker Million", so named after the size of the first prize in Swedish money.

Seeing not only every bet, every raise and every call, but also in the control room thanks to the "spy cameras" seeing every player's hole cards, is very revealing. For five hours or more, the time it takes to tape one show, I can study closely exactly how the invited pros act against each other and against Internet qualifiers and celebrities at various skill levels, and get a glimpse of the continually shifting strategies that they employ against each other. And one important truth that stands out in the long run is this: it is not your cards which are your primary weapon in poker, it is your chip stack.

In the control room, we also write down every starting hand and every move by each of the players, resulting in fascinatingly exact statistics. How many of the hands in this particular TV poker show do you think go all the way to the finish = are not settled until the river card has landed on the table? The answer is 18%; and even then, about 1/4 of the times one of the remaining players will put in a bet threatening enough to make the other(s) fold in the last betting round. Or, to put it another way, about 6 out of 7 hands are won by on chips and betting strength alone, without the winner having to show down his or her hand.

Let's repeat that again, so it sinks in: about 6 out of 7 hands are won by on chips and betting strength alone, without the winner having to show down his or her hand.

(This figure is fairly representative of live play among strong players. Note however that what is eventually edited down and shown on TV, just like on the World Poker Tour or the European Poker Tour TV shows, is far from representative of the actual play that took place. In the interest of "good entertainment", almost all of those commonly occurring hands which were won pre-flop or in the second betting round due to one player betting or raising, whereupon all the others fold, are edited out. While they represent a lot of what REAL poker is like, there is no "TV drama" in them.)

In online play, at the lower limits, more like 1/3 of all hands go all the way to the river and a showdown with the winner exposing his or her hole cards. It is clear that the online poker rooms are filled with hopeful amateurs, who optimistically and up to the last possible moment hope for miracles to save them.

Do not make that same mistake yourself. Those times you decide to play a pot, do not do so passively; instead recognize the right combination of starting cards, position and remaining opponents, and go for it early and aggressively – in the first betting round even before the flop, or right after the flop hits the table.

Another interesting statistic from this Poker Million show which deserves to remain in your mind, is that 6 out of 10 hands are won pre-flop, by one player betting so much that the others decide to fold.

Learn therefore to use your chip stack as a weapon when you decide to go to war: as a dagger, a cutlass or a sledgehammer, depending on the situation. Don't meekly wait until after the river card to make play for the pot, it may be far too late by then! Poker is definitely not a game for optimists or those who chase dreams: they will in the long run pay heavily for such a playing style.