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Poker News: June 28, 2007

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Copyright © 2007 Daniel Negreanu

HEADLINE: Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Have Faith in Your System

Author: Daniel Negreanu

Watching other players take wild chances that pay off big can tempt you to try similar plays despite the fact that these gambits would completely contradict the proven system that makes you a winner.

Even to this day, I need to remind myself to have faith in my system. I’m not against the idea of adding new weapons to your poker arsenal, as long as you’re aware of what you are doing. You must be careful, though, not to pick up bad habits from your opponents. Creative experimentation is okay, but if has its limits.

I like to watch Tiger Woods play golf on television; his swing is a thing of beauty. But I can’t play like that, and no golf teacher in the world would dream of telling me to set up and swing the club like he does. His upper body is so strong; mine is, well, not quite as developed. I simply couldn’t be successful in golf using a swing like Tiger’s.

Poker is similar to golf. In golf, you need to focus on your strengths, stick to a game plan that you know works for you, and stay within your comfort zone. In tournament poker, an often effective strategy is to avoid playing large pots in marginal situations, emphasize the importance of position, and bluff sparingly.

However, when you watch televised poker tournaments, you’ll occasionally see a wild and crazy player have great success utilizing a highly erratic style of play. One player immediately comes to mind -- 2006 World Series of Poker Champion Jamie Gold. His win was an amazing accomplishment, but duplicating such a feat using that same type of system, even in a much smaller tournament, would be a long shot.

Lucky for Jamie, he’s a smart player who has adjusted his play. He’s added more texture to his game and is now playing nearer to optimal poker. That being said, like a leopard that can’t change his spots, Jamie Gold is still a big time bluffer all the way!

Poker is a long-term proposition that seems unfair at times, especially when bad play by others is continually rewarded, and your fundamentally sound play leaves you losing hand after hand. How a player handles adversity, or bad luck, tells a lot about his skill level.

Great players have faith in their systems. They continue to play their game, fighting through bad streaks, never veering from what they know to be the right approach.

Most players, however, go on tilt when bad luck comes their way. Losing causes them to play erratically. They attempt long shot plays that are out of character. They chase hands to the river rather than make calculated decisions based on the fundamentals of the game.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “I had to try something different. Waiting for good cards isn’t working so I figured I’d play the 9-2.” Well, a statement like this is merely an admission that the player has lost his cool; he no longer has his wits about him. He’s watched other players win with trash hands and now feels justified in playing bad, risky poker.

If that sounds like you, wake up and smell the coffee!

There is no rhyme or reason to card distribution. A player who loses three times in a row with a pair of aces is no more or less likely to lose with them the fourth time around. Past luck, good or bad, has no relevance on the current situation. Just because a nine appeared on the last three flops doesn’t mean that you should suddenly play a hand like 9-4 since nines are hot. They’re not.

The best way to play successful poker is to approach the game as a science.

Develop your system and stick with it. You have to have faith. If you don’t think you’re playing your best poker, experiment with some changes later on, but not during the game.

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