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Recognizing Online Poker Tells

Folding is the key to winning. There I’ve said it. Now let’s open up the floor to debate. Wait, this is a magazine article. There can be no active two-party debate; the flow of information only travels in one direction, from the page to the reader – at least until the letters to the editor start flowing in.

In that case, I had better explain. Folding is indeed the key to winning. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It sounds contradictory and oxymoron-ish, putting it in the league with other questionable cardroom parlance such as “fine casino food” or “intelligent gambler,” but I assure you, it is a valid axiom and one that can change your game – and thus your life – for the better.

How can you win if your object is to fold? Simple. You don’t fold every single hand, of course – just most of them. Playing good cards is, if not the most important rule of poker, at least the very first rule. Becoming impatient and frustrated and, as a result, calling with crappy cards (J-9 offsuit, A-7 offsuit), and so forth can only lead to disaster in the long run – even if, by some stroke of luck, every once in a while you’re able to knock out those rockets with two cheesy pair or a backdoor flush or whatever, and manage to win a hand or two. In the long run, and by “long run,” I mean a time period as short as the length of one session, by calling with these weak hands, all you’ll end up doing is building a bigger pot for a player with a real hand and scratching the felt below you wondering what happened to all your chips.

Of course we all know what a painful time it can be when you’re sitting there for what seems like days (or maybe it actually is days, in which case it seems like years), watching the blinds go round and round like a chip-sucking lazy Susan and not playing a single hand. Suddenly, Q-8 looks like a monster. “What could it hurt?” you ask yourself. “I’ll just see the flop then I’ll toss it …”

Indeed, and that’s how it starts. Then the stinking small blind raises and you figure, “Well, I’m in this far already and who knows? I could flop the nut straight …” Then you catch the eight on the flop with two overcards, one of them an ace, and figure you could easily turn trips, so you call three bets, and by the river, the pot is so big you have to call. “Oh, three aces? Does that beat my eights? I’ve got a queen kicker …!”

So, what to do?

Try playing the game from the other direction. Instead of chomping at the bit to throw money in the middle, try to force yourself into believing all you want to do is fold. When your cards are running cold, instead of getting angry, just come on, get happy, like a poker-playing member of the Partridge family. Why? Because every hand you fold brings you one step closer to those good cards you will win with – and not just from blind luck, but because you are a better player than your opponents and you have a stronger hand. And those are the type of victories that will build your confidence and your bankroll.

The cards have to change eventually and when they do, your stacks will still be tall and full, undiminished by chip-burning bad plays, and ready to punish all those jokers who have limped in with rags. By being patient and persevering, you will live to fight on a winning side instead of going on tilt and throwing your money away, chasing pipe-dreams of gut-shot straights and second pairs holding up with no kicker. That way, when the wins do come, instead of just working on breaking even, you’ll be safely ensconced in the most dreamy of realms: the profit range.

Sing along with me for a moment if you will: “Home, home on the profit range, where the new clothes and car payments play …”

The easiest way to whittle your bankroll down to nothing in no time is by playing bad cards. That’s a solid fact. (A close number two is overtipping attractive cocktail waitresses, but that’s another story.) Invariably, you catch a small piece of the flop and kid yourself into thinking it may be a winning hand. Take it from me, an expert (my name isn’t Chip Stax for nothing): be patient, even through prolonged droughts of pocket paint, and learn to love folding. It’s a relationship that will bear barrels of fruit – or at least barrels of fruity-colored chips.

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