Recreational Player vs. Pro

I have been playing poker for several years now, and would consider myself to be a good player, but then again who wouldn’t. Everyone who sits down at a poker table thinks “I’m going to win.” Think about it, have you ever sat down at a tournament or cash game and said “I’m here to lose,” no.Maybe you lost last time, but this time you read another chapter in your poker book, or this time “I’m only going to play premium cards,” or “I’m going to play more aggressive.” The main point here is, that is precisely the main difference between a professional poker player, and a recreational poker player. A professional poker player approaches the game with a whole different train of thought. After all, this is how they make their living. Luck really plays no part in their game, because in the long run, the odds are with them. Just like the casino gets beat sometimes with some lucky guy who hits 13 four times in a row on the roulette table, overall the casino has the edge. There is nothing the professional poker player can do when he gets out drawn with his pair of aces vs. nines, but play that same hand 8 more times, and he wins all of them. In all my years of playing poker, there are three things I have learned that I would like to share with you:

The best thing that I have ever read in a book was this: “ What is the difference between a professional poker player and a recreational poker player?”

- Recreational poker player – Looks at his cards and looks for a reason to play

- Professional poker player – Looks at his cards and looks for a reason NOT to play

After reading several thousand pages in too many books to count, this was the most profound thing I ever read. I thought about it for a while, and said “I do that all the time. I actually look for an excuse to play crappy cards.” I might have Q 7, but hey - it’s suited, so I’ll go for the flush. Never mind the fact that I only have a 6% chance of getting it, I’m going for it. The fact is Q 7 suited is a crappy hand, and should only be played if you are on the big blind and it doesn’t get raised. The only other situation is if it’s down to just a few people in a tournament or you are bluffing. Make sure you know the odds of every hand you play.

The next thing I have learned is that you only need to win one or two big hands an hour. The average poker player is there to have fun, and to most people it is more fun being in the hand than actually winning money. Whether it’s a cash game, or tournament, you only need to win one or two big hands an hour. The rest of the hands simply do nothing but cut into your stack. If it’s not there, just fold. Limit the number of hands you are “drawing” for and protect the size of your stick. The best example I can give you is this. Lets say you buy in for $200 in a no-limit cash game. You pick up 8c 9c (suited connector). Not a bad hand to limp in on in a no limit cash game. The flop comes Ac Qc Qh, and you have four cards to your flush now. You are in middle position, but the bet has been raised twice before it gets to you. You have a 35% chance of making that flush, but you have a 65% chance of not making it. Not to mention that there is a full house possibility on the board. Now lets say that bet to you is $20. The chances of you having the best hand at this point is zero taking into account the fact that the lead out better bet, and it was raised. You have a 35% chance of improving your hand at the same time the other two players have an equal or greater chance to improve their hand, depending on what they are holding. If you fold, that is $20 that is still in your stack. If you make this one change, just once per hour, at the end of a 5 hour day of playing poker, you will have $100 more in your pocket. Think about it.

Finally, the last thing I want to share with you is “playing the part.” If you walk into a poker room to make money, then you have to play the part. Every single thing you do from the moment you sit down can be clues for the other players at the table. The way you hold you cards, play with your chips, blink your eyes, anything! The best thing is to a) do the same exact thing every hand, or b) change your style every couple of hands throughout the game. I prefer style b myself because I can’t sit still that long. I’m always thinking about every move I make, and before I look at my cards EACH time, I have a plan in my head no matter what the cards are. If you are going to give tells to other poker players, make sure you are lying! The other day I was playing in a NL hold’em tournament. I was dealt Q 10 spades. I limped in and the flop was Js 9s 5c. I kid you not, I had open end straight flush. The second I saw the flop, I knew I would call an all-in if I had to. The guy bets 200. I sat there and thought about it for a while (or so I made him think), and then motioned to muck my cards. Then I brought them back, motioned one more time to muck, then placed my chip back on top of my cards. “Fine, I call” I said. Fourth street brought the 2s. I just made my flush. Now this time he check, and so did I, with a big sigh. The river was 8s, which made my best hand ever, a straight flush to the queen. Now, this time the other guy bets 300. I though about it for a while and said “I’m all in”. HE CALLED ME with trip 5’s and the 5 of spades. The guy next to him at the table said “why the heck did you call that with just the five?” His response – “I didn’t think he had it because he almost folded.” PLAY THE PART!