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Dynamic Strategy — Part 3
Poker Strategy
by Lou Krieger

This is the third and final installment about the need to apply strategy dynamically in order to become a top-notch poker player. Last issue you learned what could happen even to a world-class professional poker player in a major tournament when he bounds a problem incorrectly, losing a good deal of money as a result. While you may never play in stress-filled, big buy-in, no-limit hold’em tournaments, let’s look at something familiar, something you probably encounter each time you play.

Is this familiar? You’ve read all the good poker books and understand the strategic concepts they contain. Now you want to improve your skills by applying these concepts at the table. So you sit in at a game with familiar faces, and you know you’ll love it; it’s full of weak players. You’re dealt A-K in seat seven. You raise and are called by the big blind and another player in seat five. The flop is J-5-9. “Fantastic,” you think, “I’ve got position, two over-cards, and a draw to the best flush possible.”

The big blind bets on the flop and is called by the player in seat five. You raise again and they both call. The turn (4th Street) brings the 4, and your opponents both check, suggesting their hands are weak. “Maybe they’ll fold and I can win it right here or catch a card I need on the river (5th Street),” you think. So you bet. Poker players call that kind of wager a semi-bluff—you can win if you get lucky and catch a card you need, and you can win if your opponents fold. Maybe you actually have the best hand and would win in a showdown right now. Perhaps a heart will come on the river. And if you happen to catch an ace or a king, that’s likely to win the pot too. But, you are up against two players who never allow anyone to steal a pot from them! The river is no help. It’s the 4. Both players check to you again. You still might have the best hand if you show it down. But you bet, and you’re called, and you lose to one of the perpetual callers who flips over 5-6 for a weak two-pair win of fives and fours.

“What went wrong?” you ask yourself. “I had a golden opportunity. I could have won if I caught a heart or paired my ace or king. I could have won if my opponents folded when I bet, which they probably should have done.” Unfortunately, your hand was not golden against those particular opponents. Semi-bluffing is usually not a very good idea against players who always call. You generally have to show them the best hand in order to take the money. While there is nothing you could have done to win that pot, you certainly could have saved a bet on the river. There was nothing wrong with the strategy itself. It would have worked if the cards were the same but your opponents were different.

The point is that strategy is situationally dependent. A situation can be structural, like the finals of the no-limit hold’em event we discussed last issue. It can also be one in which the strategy you would ideally choose, based solely on the cards at hand, must be modified by your knowledge of your opponents. The key to dynamic strategies is this: Not only do you have to keep thinking about poker, you have to keep adjusting and modifying the dimensions of the problems you encounter at the poker table to make the best possible play. It requires big-picture awareness while simultaneously paying attention to the smallest of details. Once you are able to do this, you will find that you have become not only a better, more solid player, but a more creative one too.

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