Reading Opponents a Great Skill; Lessons Learned; Hold’em or Fold’em

reading someone

Reading opponents among the greatest skills of poker players

by Robert Turner   LESSONS LEARNED – Part 1

While I was reading an article from the Boston Globe titled “Lessons Learned in a Pool Hall” by Carlo Rotella, the last line in particular stood out to me.

Rotella writes: “If you pay attention, you can learn something of value from whatever and whoever you find in front of you.” His words inspired me to write about the lessons I learned at the poker table over the years.

The first thing I learned is all players are in control of their destiny; a bad run cannot be blamed solely on bad beats. If you are managing your bankroll properly, a string of bad beats will not affect your bankroll because you are playing within your limits and making adjustments as necessary.

If you have a bad session, you may need to drop down in limit until you make it up before moving back up. The decision is all yours. That is one of the beauties of poker – you are in charge, but it is also one of its pitfalls. If you make mistakes in money management and get completely broke, you have only yourself to blame for playing above your means and jeopardizing your whole bankroll.

This leads me to my second point. I learned the hardest thing in gambling is dealing with your own demons. We all have a dark side that affects our play, and controlling those demons is such an important part of gambling.

I have seen sports betting and other forms of gambling take a toll on many poker players’ lives throughout the years. These players get tired of grinding at poker and give in to the urge to do something more exciting. They seek the adrenaline rush games of chance such as craps and blackjack give them. If poker was that easy, there would be many more successful poker players.

One of the greatest skills a poker player can possess is the ability to read opponents. An extreme example of this happened in a home game I was running. I had two players who kept needling each other. Both were drinking.

All of a sudden it got out of hand, and one of the players named Wayne reached across the table and slapped the other player called Doc. He got up without a word and left to go home, or so I thought. As I was addressing the issue with Wayne, there was a knock at the door, and to my surprise Doc was standing there. He walked back to his seat and said, “Let’s play poker.”

I went to get a towel to wipe the blood from his face, and as I walked back to the table, I noticed he had a gun under the table with the hammer back aimed at Wayne’s stomach. I was in shock. I walked over to Wayne and whispered to him, “Wayne, you better go. Doc has a gun under the table pointed at your stomach.” Wayne said, “I’m not leaving. If he was going to shoot me, he would have already shot me. Let’s play poker.” I learned that night that reading people might not just win you a pot but save your life.

The most important thing we all should remember is nothing is as important as family and friends. One of my best friends, and among the greatest people I have ever met at the poker table, was an attorney who sometimes let poker interfere with his family. He was always making comments about the time like, “I should have left a long time ago. I don’t know why I’m still here. My wife is going to be so upset.”

We didn’t take it literally until one night about 11 p.m. he was involved in a big pot when all of a sudden two diamond rings were thrown into it. Everyone was startled and looked up to see his wife standing behind him. She said, “You guys want to win it all? You might as well win these.”

It created quite a problem for the dealer. Of course, we gave the rings back, but after that we were always looking over his shoulder for his wife. We saw her one more time. She suddenly appeared and slapped him across the face and turned around and left. Blood was streaming down his face. He didn’t miss a beat and just kept on playing. He always struggled balancing his real life with what he loved to do, which is play poker.

Poker can be exciting and life changing, for better or worse. You can meet some of the best people and some really bad actors. In my next article, I will share more stories about life lessons from the poker table.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter @thechipburnerRobert can be reached at


learn your lessons


Personalities change away from the poker table

by Robert Turner www,   LESSONS LEARNED – Part 2

In my last article, I discussed the life lessons I learned at the poker table. You can read it at along with my previous columns. Because I have been playing poker nearly 50 years, I have a few more stories to tell.

You meet some of the best people at the poker table. However, you cannot judge a player by the persona he projects at the table. Many players are completely different away from the table.

One great example is Phil Hellmuth. His image at the table in no way reflects Phil off the table. He is a caring, sincere gentleman and a devoted family man. He is nothing like the man at the table. Of course, there are some bad actors, and what you see at the table is what you get in real life, but that’s rare.

Poker is filled many wonderful characters, but it can also put you in dangerous situations, and one extreme example almost cost me my life.

I was playing in Alabama at a friend’s game in Guntersville – a beautiful city located on a lake. The idyllic setting is in stark contrast to what happened next. I had played poker all day in a small hotel suite and quit around 9 p.m. to play gin with a guy on the bed next to the door.

A few moments later, there was a knock at the door but it sounded unusual, so it caught everyone’s attention. It sounded like someone was tapping metal on the door. The gentleman running the game asked, “Who is it?” The man identified himself as Johnny. The door didn’t have a peephole, so the host of the game opened the door a crack.

As he did so, the person tried to push the door open. My friend pushed back, but a shotgun barrel came through the door near my shoulder and fired. It was so close I could smell the gunpowder. As everyone dove to the floor, the suspect ran off. Someone hollered, “Is anyone hurt?” One of the players was shot in the arm and lost its use.

After this close call, I kept asking myself, “Why, with a young daughter at home, did I put myself in this situation?” In Alabama poker players feared three things: the police, cheats and hijackers. I determined right then I would move to a place where poker was played in a structured, safe atmosphere, so I went out to California. It was the best decision I ever made.

On a lighter note, the money you make in poker can sometimes seem like play money. This story puts it back in perspective. In one of my regular games a player named TJ normally lost every day. He owned a construction company that generated a lot of money.

On this particular day, he won a huge pot, around $20,000. In those days when you left the table, you took your money with you when you got up. TJ folded up the wad of $100 bills and said he was going to the bathroom. We kept playing and about 20 minutes later we noticed he hadn’t come back. I went looking for him and couldn’t find him. He actually slipped out the door and left.

About an hour went by, and we heard someone honking a horn outside. I looked out the window, and there was TJ in a brand-new yellow Cadillac. He said, “Get Ray Hall out here.” Ray was the one he beat out of the money. He said, “How do you like this new Cadillac you bought me, Ray? Would you like to go for a ride?” Ray didn’t mind losing to TJ because he usually won it back. But not this time.

Every day from then on he would say to Ray, “Look at this car you bought me.” And every day he would lose, but we never forgot the day he locked up his winnings.

The Cadillac story illustrates how quickly fortunes can change in poker. This next story shows how actual fortunes are won and lost. James Roy, one of the best No Limit players nicknamed Shany, was a good friend of Jack Binion’s and travelled with another player nicknamed Chicken Man.

James would often tell the story that Chicken Man’s daddy left him a sawmill and he turned it into a toothpick. James continued, “I only used to have a toothpick, now I have a saw mill.” That shows how dramatic the swings at the poker table can be.

Like I said in my first article, you can learn from whoever or whatever is in front of you in poker and in life. I have many other stories to tell. Share your stories with me at

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter @thechipburnerRobert can be reached at



holdem or foldem

Just extending this Texas hold’em Poker caveat

by George Epstein

When I introduced the Hold’em Caveat as a new poker concept in the 3rd edition of Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision, the focus was on holecards that barely meet or slightly exceed the starting-hand criteria of the Hold’em Algorithm.

These are marginal drawing hands. (Note: We distinguish between “made” hands that can win without improvement, and “drawing” hands that usually must improve to win the pot on a showdown.) In developing the original concept, we considered only non-pair holecards.

With experience, I am now prepared to extend the Hold’em Caveat to small pairs in the hole. In particular, this applies to 7-7, regarded as playable in middle and late positions, and pairs from 6-6 down to 2-2 that are playable only in late positions.

Review: To remind you, the original Hold’em Caveat requires that the following two key conditions must be satisfied to warrant calling to see the flop when you hold a marginal drawing hand as your holecards: (1) the pot is not raised – nor likely to be raised; and (2) it is a multi-way pot with three or more opponents staying to see the flop.

Explanation: A raised pot makes it too costly to pursue marginal starting-hands; you will not win often enough for it to be a sound financial venture. And, with two or fewer opponents staying to see the flop, the implied pot odds are not likely sufficiently attractive to warrant you making that investment. (You would have a Negative Expectation.)

About Small Pairs: Starting with a pair in the hole, the odds are 7.5-to-1 against flopping a set. At the same time, an opponent with two non-paired holecards, has odds of only 2-to-1 against pairing one of his holecards. If you hold a small pair, say 4-4, and two opponents call holding two higher holecards – for example, 6-5 suited or 10-9 offsuit, then quite likely, one will be ahead of you after the flop – leaving you a huge underdog with just 2 outs. At that point, you would be chasing by calling bets on the turn or the river – almost a sure recipe for losing your chips.

It is true that you are a small favorite against a single opponent who does not hold a higher pair in the hole. Problem is, unless it is a very aggressive game, you cannot win much money playing against a single opponent. If he does not improve on the flop, and you bet, he probably will fold, leaving you with a very small reward for your investment. And, if the flop has two or more overcards to your small pair, you would be wise to fold if your opponent bets out – unless he is a very loose or deceptive player.

Best way to play small pairs: All things considered, it makes good sense to apply the Hold’em Caveat to small pairs in the hole. If the two key criteria are not satisfied (see above), muck your small pair and wait for a better hand. Be patient. It is that simple. . . The few times you improve to a small set on the flop (1 out of 8.5 times) just is not worth the investment.

(If only you had a crystal ball!) In the long run, small pairs are losers – unless the Hold’em Algorithm and Hold’em Caveat are satisfied. It takes a good-size pot to warrant investing many chips in such holecards. In a limit game, that can only happen in a multi-way pot. You might consider staying to see the flop in a no-limit game against one or two opponents, provided that there is no raise preflop. In that case, plan to see the flop; then fold if you do not connect – unless you get a free card on the turn. . .

“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 odds key to success and easy to figure while playing

by Irene Edith   What do we mean by “odds?”

Odds – the likelihood of a particular event – are essential in any game of chance, including life and the game of poker.

What are the odds of walking across a busy street without being struck by a car? (Best they are much in your favor.) What are the odds of making the nut flush when you catch two more spades to go with your A-K of spades in the hole?

In poker, we are concerned with the poker odds, which consist of two sets of odds:

Card: What are the odds against making the nut flush after you flop four spades while you hold, for example, the Ace and King of spades?

Pot odds: How many chips are in compared to your cost to call to see the next card or two?

It’s really easy to figure the card odds. You can do it in your head. For example, with four-to-the-nut-flush, start by counting your outs – how many unseen cards are there that will make the flush for you? In this case, there are nine more spades, one of which is waiting for you (hopefully). That gives you nine good outs.

There is also the chance another Ace, giving you top pair, or another King may do the trick as well. That would give you six more outs, for a total of 15. But, how sure are you a pair of Aces or Kings would be strong enough to take this pot?

What if an opponent caught two-pair or a set on the river; or a straight? So, let’s give half value to the 6 outs for another Ace or King. Now, we total up 9 + 3 = 12 outs.

Knowing the number of outs, we can easily calculate the card odds: After the flop, there are 47 (that’s 52 – 5) remaining, unseen cards. Twelve of these help your hand; so 35 don’t. Your card odds, then, are 35/12 or approximately 3-to-1 against making your hand.

If you expect to stay to see both the turn and river, then you have two chances to connect; so the card odds are about half of that (1.5-to-1 against). Note: You can also estimate these card odds by using the 4-2 Rule, which we will address in a later column.

By the way, in case you need it, there are lots of tables available that list the card odds for each value of outs.

Estimating the pot odds is even easier: Make a rough count of how many chips are in the pot after your opponent has made his bet; then divide that number by how much you will have to “invest” to call that bet. For example, let’s assume it’s a $4-$8 limit game, and there is $20 (chips) in the pot after your opponent bets $4. Your pot odds, then, are $20/$4 = 5-to-1.

Pot vs. Card Odds: Now, simply compare these numbers: the pot odds of 5-to-1 are higher than the card odds of 3-to-1 against. So long as the pot odds exceed the card odds, you have a Positive Expectation and, by calling, will win money over the long run.

By analogy, it’s like a coin toss where you are paid $5 when you win, but only pay $3 when you lose. What a great Return on Investment (ROI)! How can you beat it.

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