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Strategy for Making Something Happen in Poker

I’ll leave it to others to discuss whether poker is a sport or not. However, there are many similaritiesDavid ApostolicoDavid Apostolico is the author of 'Machiavellian Poker Strategy', and 'Tournament Poker and The Art of War,' and his latest title 'Poker Strategies for a Winning Edge in Business.'  David's website is  between poker and sports. In this article I want to explore some of those similarities and the lessons that can be learned. 

Managing a baseball game is often referred to as a chess match in the late innings when managers (at least in the National League where this is no designated hitter) have to manage their bench and bullpen and try to find favorable matchups by staying one step ahead of their counterpart. Certainly, a good poker player tries to both anticipate and induce moves in their adversaries. There is another aspect of baseball, though, that I find more analogous to poker – at least no limit Hold ‘em tournaments. 

During the course of a long season, baseball teams and players are going to hit some dry spells. The hits just won’t drop and runs are scarce. It’s the baseball equivalent of being card dead. In a baseball game as in a poker tournament, players do not have the luxury of waiting things out. They must try to make something happen or they will lose. Players and managers will resort to some time honored strategies to stir things up during those droughts. Poker players can do the same. When the infield is playing back, a smart player will try a bunt to break out of a slump. Poker players can also take what the opposition is willing to give him by going after those small pots that are checked around.

More aggressive managers will try a hit and run which can stimulate a rally but also cost the team an out if it fails. A poker player can use late position to raise an unraised pot no matter what cards he holds. Even if called, he’ll have position the rest of the hand. He’s willing to risk some chips in order to make something happen and take down a pot. Of course, there is also the straight steal in both baseball and poker. Finally, there’s the sacrifice where you give up an out to advance a runner. In poker, you must sometimes call a bet from the big blind in order to slow down your opponents. You sacrifice some chips for future opportunities. All of these strategies, have the same end goal – playing to win. 

Poker tournaments are unlike cash games. You should not be playing to win a few pots and stay ahead. You should be playing to win. That means taking some chances and not playing to lose. With the start of football season, let’s take a look at one of the best games of last bowl season for a lesson.

Last year’s Sugar Bowl between West Virginia and Georgia was a classic. It was high scoring with a lot of big plays and it came down to the wire. Most importantly, West Virginia played to win and it is the primary reason many pundits are picking them to win it all this year. Ahead by three points with just a little over one minute to play, West Virginia was looking at fourth down with 6 yards to go. It sure looked like Georgia would get the ball back for one last drive. Not so fast, though. West Virginia faked the punt and ran for the first down and secured the victory. That was a big time call. 

How many football games have you watched a team sit on the lead afraid to make mistakes? They are forced to punt the ball back to the opposition and then play a prevent defense that allows the other team to march right down the field and score. That’s no way to play football and it’s no way to play poker. You have to play to win. In no limit hold ‘em, the first person to make a play for the pot usually wins it. You can’t sit back and hope your opponent doesn’t want it. Compare the end of a poker tournament to the end of a football game. Down the home stretch, checking and calling is the equivalent of running the ball up the middle being afraid to risk an interception. Betting and raising is the equivalent of going for the first down and the win. Many coaches think it’s too risky to put the ball in the air just as many players think it’s too risky to commit their chips to the pot. The bigger risk, in my opinion, is giving the ball back to your opponent (or checking to him and giving him the opportunity to control the betting). That’s playing not to lose. If you are going to play, play to win!

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