Change in Poker Over the Years; Interesting Decisions; Let Go of Bad Incomes


Completing poker’s basic changes
by George Epstein

We complete our discussion of Four Basic Rules for Winning at Poker and changes that have occurred over time.

Our primary goal has been to explain significant changes that have occurred over the years.

Lack of focus?

How often do you see players who are distracted from the game as it is being played? They may be more interested in the basketball game being shown on the big TV screen mounted on the wall.

It may be an exciting basketball game, but watching it is bound to reduce your information about the poker hand in play. After all, poker is a game of partial information – the more information you can gather, the better your chances of going home a winner.

Pay close attention! Observe! Focusing on the game and on your opponents is the only way you can gather information that soon may be key to winning a hand. Any distraction can only hurt you.

I love to play at a table where my opponents are having a wonderful time – laughing, joking, drinking beer, flirting with the pretty cocktail waitress. They are there to have a good time; winning is secondary. That suits me fine! I’m there to win.

In that regard, your best option is to pay as much attention as you can to each opponent, especially when he remains in the hand. Note when he folds and raises and how often. Is he a PokerPigeon or a PokerShark? (Do you know the difference?) Is he a “maniac?” (What would you do if there was a maniac at your table?) Everyone is bound to have some tells. Look for them.

Taking Notes

There is the way to augment your focus on the game and improve your attention as well as retention of pertinent information. Recall when you were in school – note taking was essential to getting good grades. It will also help you now – at the poker table. A small piece of paper, 3×5 in., and a pen or pencil is all you need.

Along the left side, in small letters, list your opponents by seat position relative to the casino dealer. Using a code of your own creation, make note of each opponent’s traits and actions – notes that will later help you in making smart decisions as you play against each of them.

Speaking of your school days, here’s a very pertinent question for you: Which kid in your class got the good grades? One student focused on the teacher, her words and what she wrote on the blackboard; the other kept staring out the window – apparently anxious to get out and play in the schoolyard. To help his focus, the “smart kid” took lots of notes; the other kid’s desk may have been bare.

Improving with time

The more you play and take special efforts to focus on the game, the more adept at it you will become over time. Be wise. Take advantage of this opportunity.

Good luck!

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at



Poker Strategy With Gavin Griffin: Interesting Decisions

Focus On Interesting Decisions, Not Interesting Results

by Gavin Griffin
I write notes for these articles often while I’m playing and here’s one I wrote the other day: “Instead of focusing on interesting results, focus on interesting decisions.” This came up after everyone was talking about a hand from a few months ago where two people got all in preflop and decided to run it three times. One had K-K and the other Q-Q. On the first board, the Q-Q made quads. Then, on the second and third run, the boards ran out 8-9-10-J to give the Q-Q a straight both times. They discussed the probability of the hand for several minutes and passed a picture of the board back and forth many times. I’ll admit, it is an interesting result. I figured out the probability of it coming out that way with Q-Q winning all three times and factoring in the card removal on each run. It turned out to be 25,684-to-1 to run out that way exactly. It’s obviously considerably less than that for Q-Q to beat K-K each time when running it three times, about 1500-to-1 in that case.

Barring this incredibly interesting result, most of the time, people discuss hands at the table that have less interesting endings. But that’s the problem, discussing the results. I had been trying to figure out why these people that I have played with for years, who have been playing for much longer than I have been playing with them, would be stagnant in their poker playing and I suddenly realized it. They don’t think about the decisions in the hand, they think about how the hand played out.

I thought back to how I developed as a poker player. I remember my first strategy group. We played at a private game in the Fort Worth area. The game would usually start around 5pm but the guys who became my strategy group would all show up early. I would show up early because I was the dealer and they would show up early because they didn’t have anywhere else to be I guess. Before the regular game would start (usually $1-$2 no-limit hold’em or $4-$8 limit) we would play a sit-n-go for $20 or so. We would play different games, sometimes pot-limit Omaha (PLO), sometimes no-limit, sometimes limit hold’em or Omaha-eight-or-better. After interesting hands, we would talk our way through the decisions and discuss the merits of different lines and strategies, not the results or possible results. Then, after people showed up to play the regular cash game, we would put away the tournament chips and play the cash game. I’d deal and they would play until the game broke. Then the others would leave and the strategy group would stay to talk about hands that happened throughout the cash game. Sometimes we’d play another sit-n-go. That was probably the toughest $3-$6/$4-$8 limit hold’em game ever and we learned from each other by talking about interesting situations instead of interesting results.

My next strategy group was a virtual one. A tournament strategy forum started on a well-known poker community site. I was one of the original members of the group and we again focused on interesting decisions in interesting hands, going so far as to not include results in original posts in order to avoid influencing everyone’s advice on how to play the hand. You see, if you take the results out, the only thing that matters is the decision. We developed tournament poker strategies that were very effective for quite a few people in the poker industry. Like my first strategy group, many of them no longer play poker but the ones that stopped finished as lifetime winners and the ones still playing are making a living doing it, many as well known tournament pros.

My most recent strategy group is one that I often lead. When I teach at poker schools or with my students, we don’t discuss results, we discuss decisions. In fact, at the WSOP Academy, we do a thing called hand labs. The pro is the dealer and there are nine students at each table. We play a hand all the way out in a specific tournament situation and when the decisions are over in the hand, everybody turns their cards up and we talk about how the hand was played. If there is an all-in before the river, I stop the action, talk about the hand and then split up the pot based on how I feel is appropriate. If there are cards remaining to be dealt, they don’t come out. I’ve taken the results out of the discussion completely in order to ingrain in these students that the results truly don’t matter.

We’ve all done it. I’ve done it myself, I let the results of a hand effect how I think about how a hand played out. Only when I remove the results from my mind do I have an effective thought process about whether I played that hand correctly. Then and only then is it possible to learn from an interesting hand. ?

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG


let go
Poker Strategy With John Vorhaus: Well, That Happens

Vorhaus Explains How To Let Go Of Bad Outcomes
by John Vorhaus
You’re dealt pocket kings and get all raisy-crazy preflop — as you should — only to face the dreaded ace on the flop. Well, that happens.

You flop middle set and get meatgrindered by set-over-set. Well, that happens.

Your A-2 in Omaha eight-or-better holding goes down in counterfeit flames when the river comes deuce to kill your low. Well, that happens.

Your nut straight dies an agonizing death at the hands of a runner-runner flush draw. Well, that happens.

Bad outcomes happen to everyone every day. The question is not, How can I avoid bad outcomes, for bad outcomes are inevitable. The question is, What do I do about it now? For years I have mostly just said, “Well, that happens,” and let those words be my mantra. When the words are working — when they’re feeding me the tranquility and perspective I need to stay off tilt — they’re worth their weight in gold — or chips, as the case may be.

Take those pocket kings. Sure, they’re a terrific hand — but no longer terrific when an ace hits the board and World War III breaks out in raises. If you’re holding those kings at that point, you’ve got two choices. You can curse the awful unfair unfairness of it all, pretend the ace is not an ace, and let your own pocket kings plunder your own stack, or you can say, “Well, that happens,” make the fold you know you have to make, and glide on into the next hand with a peaceful smile on your face.

Are you capable of saying, “Well, that happens?” By that, I mean can you really, genuinely, let go of bad outcomes? Many players think they can, but they can’t. They pay lip-service to the idea of tranquility, but they don’t really have it. When a foe draws thin against them and gets there, they know enough to say, “Nice hand, sir,” and keep their anger and resentment hidden. That’s good, but it’s not enough because there’s a world of difference — and it makes all the difference — between keeping your anger hidden and not having any anger to hide. When you can correctly bet the best hand into some yahoo who catches a three-outer to beat you, and genuinely feel no pain at that outcome, then you’re living in the fluffy pink world of “Well, that happens.”

Believe me, it’s where you want to be.

People get so bent out of shape when they lose. They get caught up in a negative-feedback loop of:

Bad outcomes, generating
Bad outlook, begetting
Bad play, and leading to more, yes,
Bad outcomes.

They put themselves on tilt by not being able to take setbacks in stride. We love playing against these people because we know that they are our secret allies in the conspiracy of their own destruction. But it’s vital that we not let ourselves get similarly bent out of shape. It’s crucial that we just stay cool. “Well, that happens” helps with that. “Well, that happens” trains us to push past the past.

So how do you acquire this mindset? How do you manifest not just the appearance of tranquility but the fact of it? First, acknowledge that the anger is there and it’s real. Acknowledge that you hate the bad beat, and resent the suck-out artist, and revile the dangblasted dealer who seems to give everyone the cards they need but you. Don’t pretend these feelings don’t exist; they exist in all of us, save the Buddha (and even Buddha had his bad days). Accept that your play is colored by emotions. This is the first step toward neutralizing the toxic effect those emotions can have.

Next, practice an alternate strategy. For me this means writing the words, “Well, that happens” on a note card and placing it behind my stack of chips. Every time I look down, there it is, reminding me that the road to perfect poker, at least in an attitudinal sense, is really only three words long. I like to say it out loud. No matter how big the pot nor how bad the beat, I require of myself to say only and exactly, “Well, that happens.” It’s my shortcut to stability, and it’s yours to use, free of charge.

The “Well, that happens” way is a slow change, but it can happen. Let your attitude shift by slow degrees. Know that your temper and your righteous indignation won’t magically vanish overnight. But keep at it. Keep saying and thinking and trying to believe, “Well, that happens,” until eventually the phrase, and the attendant emotional state, become second nature to you. Somewhere along that line you’ll leave your angry old self behind and became a person who no longer struggles to take bad beats in stride.

Eventually you won’t even see them as bad beats. You’ll begin to see them as exciting opportunities to practice your well, that happens mindset. This is perverse, I know: rooting for bad beats just so you can prove to yourself that bad beats beat on you no more. But you know what? It helped me and it’ll help you. Try it and see.

Then again, maybe “Well, that happens” aren’t words that resonate on your frequency. Okay, fine: What strategy can you cook up to defeat the enemy of your own emotion? It may be some different useful reminder written on a note card, or some cold water on your face, or a timely phone call to a friend. Whatever your strategy is, I encourage you to take the time to think one up because poker only seems to be about cards and odds and bets and pots. It’s really about head and heart and fortitude and spirit. Above all, it’s about tranquility. Dial that in, and everything else pretty much takes care of itself. ?

John Vorhaus is author of the Killer Poker series and co-author of Decide to Play Great Poker, plus many mystery novels including World Series of Murder, available exclusively on Kindle. He tweets for no apparent reason @TrueFactBarFact and secretly controls the world from


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