Maximizing Expectation
by Jason Kirk  

People play poker for many reasons. Some people just enjoy tossing chips around and don't care whether they win or lose. Others enjoy the challenge of matching wits with other players, relishing the rush they get when they make a big bluff or slowplay a monster. Then, of course, there are those players who just want to make as much money as possible. They know that giving yourself the biggest edge possible in every situation is the surest way to make money in the long run, so they look for situations where they can maximize their expectation and exploit them. If you're not playing for pure entertainment, you'll want to adopt this approach for yourself.

Master the Basics

It's impossible to exploit an edge if you don't have one. It's not just worth it to read up on your game of choice to learn the strategies used by winning players, it's an absolute necessity. Poker books are some of the most valuable resources out there for players who take the game seriously. Once you hit a certain level, a knowledge of the most respected poker books is necessary to compete with most of your opponents because they have all read the same books and regularly implement strategies they've learned from them. At lower levels, such knowledge isn't necessary but playing without it most often means leaving money on the table. In 4-8 games and below this is crucial - the rake hits you worse than it does the middle- and high-limit players, so if you want your bankroll to rise steadily you'll have win more often.

Not only are poker books helpful, but there are hundreds of poker message boards and weblogs on the internet today where you can learn about the game as well - for instance, the forum here at Blind Bet Poker is an excellent place to discuss the game with fellow players. In one sense forums and weblogs can be even better than a book because they're interactive - you get to ask the questions you want answered, and you can follow up with more questions. With so many online players writing about the game today, the wealth of knowledge available is sometimes stunning.

Track and Study Your Play

It used to be that there were very few ways of being able to tell if you were actually making the most of the knowledge you gain from reading poker books. Even if your bankroll were to grow steadily, you can have a serious leak in your game that had been covered up by either winning big pots or having your opponents make more mistakes than you do. Today's online players aren't at such a disadvantage. Thanks to software packages such as Poker Tracker, you can track your own play and quickly identify holes in your game by studying your results.

The best way to learn from using such a software tool is to make a habit out of applying it. After every session, take a look at choice hands from the day's play. Look at your biggest wins and losses and try to figure out if there was anywhere you could have saved a bet or made a play for additional value. Often you'll find that your play is solid, but the times that you don't will be extremely helpful because of their educational value. Over time you should see yourself making the same mistakes fewer and further between.

Exploit Your Edge

Once you have an edge, you're ready to put it to its fullest advantage by playing at a loose table. Profit in poker comes from making your opponents pay for their mistakes, and you won't find more opponents making more mistakes more often than you will at a loose table. Sure, your opponents may get odds to call with a draw and hit their hands here and there, but they're apt to regularly make the initial mistake of coming into a pot with junk cards hoping for a miracle. Exploiting your edge here is a matter of table selection - not all wild games are created equal. When you log in to your favorite card room, pull up several tables at your limit of choice and watch the games for a while. Look for games where people regularly cold-calling raises before the flop. Identify opponents who regularly chase draws without proper odds. Look for the table with the greatest number of mistakes being made and make sure to get a seat there. Your bankroll will thank you.

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