October 28, 2010

The Object of Poker

Re-reading some Theory of Poker by David Skalansky, quote from pages 5, 6 and 7: 

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 game is to make money. That's where the profits are. That's where the fun is. That's the way the game 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 game tough: you must play the game to win money. This 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 attempting to win four others, you have a net loss of $20. You may occasionally be in a 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 game 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 game. 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 individual games. Each individual game is part of one big poker game. You cannot win every game or every session you play, anymore than a golfer or bowler can win every match that 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, 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 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 a game. From a money making point of view the only criterion for playing is whether you're a favourite in the game or an underdog. If you're a significant favourite, then it's a good game, and you should stay in it; if you're an underdog, then it's a bad game and you should quit. Never quit a good game as a small winner just to ensure a winning session. By the same token, don't continue playing in a bad game just to get even.

Even for tough professionals, quitting a 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 favourite, you should stay, even if it means using toothpicks to prop up your eyelids. But if the game has changed so that you are an underdog, you should quit whether you are a winner or a loser. When you're stuck you should examine the reasons why you are 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 and distracted? Are you thinking about the football game you bet or the women who've been too "busy" the last few times you asked them 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. 

Posted By Acombfosho at 05:44 AM


Tags: Theory of poker


Mykill posted on October 28, 2010 at 06:41 AM


Just out of curiosity - is it actually 'legal' to quote this much of the book?

Acombfosho posted on October 28, 2010 at 07:45 AM


yes, you can quote from any book so long as it is under fair use - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

I have no intention of selling this work, nor am I claiming to be the author. Just quoting it for my own personal use.

Mykill posted on October 28, 2010 at 17:51 PM


I know you had no intention or had any malicious intent. I was just curious on how it worked. Thanks for the link!


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