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Statistics , Analysis and Pot Odds in Poker

Like the song says, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." Sure, that line from Kenny Rogers' The Gambler has become a cliché, but it accurately sums up one of the primary skills every poker player must master: the ability to figure out, right off the bat, whether your hand has a realistic shot at being a winner.

Knowing how to to do that is a skill that comes with experience. Veteran poker players can calculate, as soon as their opening cards are dealt and before the flop, whether they'll want to stay in the game. This process is called statistical analysis. In seconds they can assess their chances of winning -- the pot odds -- by mentally juggling fixed numbers (such as the number of suits and card values in a deck) and variable numbers (such as the number of players in that particular game). They'll also factor in the playing history of their fellow players: Is Jim Bob a chronic bluffer? Does Mazie always play tight? Is Jackson a rank beginner who will play anything?

Some poker players can do it because they're mathematical wizards. Others are just have an instinctive feel for numbers and a quick grasp of human nature. But even if you don't fall into either group, it's easy to appreciate the lure of poker: it's an engrossing, exciting combination of luck, skill and psychology that just might bring you a nice whack of cash.

Let's get to some basic poker tactics.

The important thing to remember is that unless a hand is at least marginal, you shouldn’t bother playing it. Even if it is marginal, it's still worth considering carefully. Sure, it’s a bit deflating to fold right out of the gate, only to see the dealer lay out the cards you needed for that full house in the flop. But that doesn’t happen too often, does it? The most common problem with new players is that they want to play too many hands, forever hoping that the card they need will turn up. Make no mistake: the odds are against them. Instead, the best strategy is to play only those hands that have a chance of winning from the start.

Keep an eye on the stats for the tables: tables with high-flop player percentages are the ones where more players are staying in to see if their cards will improve with the flop. High percentages here are a good sign that there are a lot of new players at the table.

A low average pot size means that many of the players are folding to bets on the flop; this can be good or bad. You can probably get away with betting on a relatively weak hand, scaring off many of the players. The downside, though, is that the players with genuinely good hands will stay in. Pay close attention to the Turn (or Fourth Street) and River (Fifth Street) bettors in this case.

The opposite of this are the tables with a low flop percentage, meaning the players are tight and playing only the hands that are smart bets. This is a good place to try to scare away players by betting pre-flop, and take the antes and blinds. However, if they do stay in and play out the hand, because of their tight playing style, you can be pretty sure that they’ve got a great hand.

Tables you should avoid are those with high pre-flop percentages and large average pot sizes: these are tables where the players stay in a long time, raise wildly and generally cannot be bluffed. It’s tough to make hands work at tables like these, even good hands, without a lot of luck.


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