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Dynamic Strategy - Part 1
Poker Strategy
by Lou Krieger

Most experts agree that a good poker player, with optimal play, should expect to win between one and one and one half big bets per hour. That’s not a bad hourly wage; it’s somewhere between $20 and $30 per hour in a $10–$20 game, and that puts food on most tables. The question is, of course, what constitutes optimal play—and how can it be achieved?

Optimal play goes a lot further than never going on tilt, bluffing and calling at appropriate frequencies, playing the right starting hands in the correct positions, and seeking out the best games. It means that strategy must be considered in relation to the current game situation, in order to be applied optimally. Poker, unlike Blackjack, does not lend itself to a formulaic approach.

Although a thorough knowledge of basic poker strategy is absolutely necessary to play poker well, it’s not all there is, and it’s not enough. An understanding of how and when to deviate from the book play because of changing game conditions is also needed.

But, first things first: Basic strategy is imperative. After all, if you have no basis for making decisions about whether to call, fold, raise or reraise, you might as well play the lottery. While you will win occasionally, you will exercise no control over your destiny as a card player. It is also important to realize that even when you know and understand the basics, this know-how must be continuously applied. Knowledge is not a pill to be swallowed once. It needs to be continuously refined.

That’s not just true in poker; it’s true in most aspects of life too. Andres Segovia, the classical guitarist, reputedly spent four to six hours per day (of his six- to eight-hour practice day) playing scales. Think about it. The greatest classical guitarist of his generation did not spend the majority of his practice time learning new pieces, or practicing his concert repertoire. He did just what beginning music students do the world over. He played scales! He spent seventy-five percent of his practice time on the basics, and he did this every day.

I frequently research poker situations using a tool from Wilson Software called Turbo Texas Hold’em. In one set of simulations, I created a number of players with good poker skills, and injected them into computer-simulated games where all the other players were very beatable. My goal was to see just what kind of win rate good players could expect to achieve.

The beatable players ranged from absolute rocks, who seldom called without a powerhouse hand, to players who called far too frequently. I expected that the good players would absolutely dominate these games, since they never played hands they should not have, could not go on tilt, never got tired or emotionally distressed, nor suffered any of the game-weakening ills that hammer all of us from time to time.

While the solid players always came away the big winner after sessions comprised of 100,000 hands (at thirty hands per hour, that’s equal to more than 3,000 hours of live play), they did not win at the rate I anticipated. There seemed to be three possible explanations for this phenomenon. Although I could have constructed less-than-expert players, I just do not think that’s the case. Second, it may not be possible to average $35 per hour in a $10–$20 hold’em game, regardless of how well one plays. I discarded this hypothesis because some players I know actually have win rates that meet or exceed one and one half big bets per hour. Third, while computerized models apply basic strategy perfectly, they do not make strategic adjustments as well as skilled human players do based on the changing dynamics of the game. This, of course, is the hypothesis with the most validity.

Next issue we will look at some specific examples and you’ll see that even big name poker players, competing for large sums of money in major tournaments, neither play perfectly all of the time, nor recognize when they are confronted with a situation requiring a dynamic shift in strategic thinking.

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