When playing poker, always play your ‘A-game’

I suspect every poker player has heard the solid advice to “Always Play Your A-game” if you want to be a winner.
According to Weisenberg’s Official Dictionary of Poker, it means play the very best you can. With that criteria scoping the playing of each hand, I believe every player usually has his own version of his A-game – if he has thought about it.
I was curious as to how my poker buddy and co-columnist, George “The Engineer,” would describe his A-game. So, being upfront, I asked him. He was glad to share his philosophy with me. But first, he insisted I tell him my own A-game.
What’s the best way for me to play? Like most poker players, my A-game has changed over the years. Today, I realize starting-hand selection is very important. Stay in preflop with poor hands, and you are almost certain to go home a loser.
After George introduced me to his Hold’em Algorithm, it’s become very easy for me to make that decision. That includes making allowance for betting position and the number of opponents to see the flop with you.
A raise by a tight player before I have to declare will often get me to fold a marginal or borderline drawing hand before the flop, even if it meets the starting-hand criteria. Why look for trouble! (Don’t feel bad if it would have connected. You still made the best decision under the circumstances.)
George listened intently, occasionally nodding and smiling. I assumed he agreed with me.
“What about the flop?” George asked. I responded: “My hand must improve on the flop. If not, I muck my cards unless I get a free card. That’s my A-game.”
Again, he nodded. “Almost perfect,” George said. I looked into his eyes. “What do you mean?” I asked. George explained, “With the flop, you have now seen over 70 percent of your final hand.”
Then he added, “About 75 percent of the time, the best hand on the flop will take the pot.” I hadn’t thought of that before. George continued: “So, to play your A-game – your best game – means you have to elaborate on when you will stay beyond the flop. It’s not enough to simply say your hand must improve on the flop.”
I stared at him, questioning. He coninued: “If you started with a ‘made’ hand, then you already hold what might be the best hand. But it’s vulnerable; so protect it by betting or raising.
“Start with two picture cards that failed to connect on the flop (happens two out of three such hands). Depending on the flop, how many opponents are staying in, what kind of player each is, and your betting position, plan to stay to see the turn unless there is a lot of betting and raising before you.
“If a tight player is involved in the betting and raising, it will pay to muck your two overcards.”
“Wow,” I exclaimed!
He continued: “Sometimes – rarely – you will flop a monster. Now, your A-game should lead you to try to build as big a pot as possible. Slow-play; check-raise on the turn or river. If you make the nuts, set the bait for your victim. Assuming he too has a big hand, we will bet out; you raise and he re-raises. With only two players remaining in the pot, there is no limit on the number of raises. Play fast, and he’ll follow along – until one of you is all-in.”
“Well, Irene,” he smiled at me. “Now you know my A-game too. But there are two more requirements: (1) Don’t play if you are tired; you won’t think as clearly as you should. (2) Be in a good frame of mind. Be confident in your knowledge and skills. You are a WINNING poker player.”
So, what is your A-game? A prize to the best response.

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