The Importance of Decisions...
BY: Michael Vernon
Do you remember the Sixties? If you so, you may recognize the lyrics from the Lovin Spoonful, "Did you ever have to make up your mind. Pick up on one and leave the other behind. It's not often easy and not often kind. Did you ever have to make up your mind?.... And then you bet you'd better finally decide"
How many of your correct decisions, made during a casino session, go unnoticed? It is only after a wrong move that we catch ourselves saying, "Why did I decide to do that? What was I thinking?"
In a game of Texas Hold'em, making the wrong decision can cost you all of your chips. If you have any familiarity with the game, you know that there is a laundry list for decision making. It is critical that all of the decisions are made in the proper order. But, before that, the player must take into account the type of game they are playing. This is because Texas Hold'em playing styles will vary depending on the game. A No Limit Texas Hold'em tournament is not played in the same style as a No Limit Texas Hold'em cash game and Limit Texas Hold'em is not played like No Limit Hold'em. Here are a few of the general considerations for decision making in Texas Hold'em:
1. Your playing position.
2. Your starting hand.
3. If you bet first, how much do you bet to get players to call?
4. If you bet first, how much do you bet to get players to fold?
5. Faced with calling a bet, what is the amount of the bet you must call?
6. If you decide to call a bet, will you call a raise?
7. If you decide to raise, will you call a re-raise?
8. Your chip stack in relation to your opponents and the required bet.
9. Who made a bet or raise before you and their position.
10. The number of players in the hand.
11. The number of players yet to decide to play.
12. The characteristics of the players at the table.
13. Your odds for winning your hand.
14. The pot odds.
15. And one that I feel is over looked, "Do I really need to win this hand?"
Table games like craps, blackjack and roulette appear simpler in comparison. The player makes a bet and in a few moments the result of their guess is realized. However, decision making for a table game is just as important as when playing Texas Hold'em. Although the table game decisions are quite different, and most are not as complicated as the ones in poker, making the wrong decision still can cost you all of your chips.
First, let's take roulette for an example. I never lose to the roulette wheel. I only have one quick and simple decision! Since I am not a fan of roulette, a slow game with a 6% house advantage, my decision is not to play!
On to blackjack! In blackjack, there are about 540 different hands making for about 540 decisions. Decision making in blackjack is not that overwhelming, however. In fact, it is like following a recipe from a cook book. All decisions in blackjack start with your two cards and the dealer's up card. Since blackjack is not a team game, how the other players will play is of no concern. There will be exceptions in critical situations and you should be an expert card counter to employ the correct decision.
Your first decision playing blackjack answers, are you "ahead or behind" the dealer? Do you have to improve your hand or are you content with your two cards. Holding pat with your two cards means that you are done for that hand and you do not need to make any more decisions. If your decision is to improve the hand, the decisions follow a logical hierarchy, somewhat like a dichotomous key. You decisions are methodical, step one, step two, and step three. Let me interject here, some of your decisions will be defensive. You must understand that when playing blackjack, you are not always playing to win. Sometimes you will have to make a decision with a hand to protect against a loss. Spitting eights or aces would be an example. It is a defensive play to hedge your original bet... win one, lose one, push. This decision has to do with protecting the bankroll.
If your decision is to improve your hand, there are three considerations and all are answered with yes or no.
1. Do you have pairs to split, yes or no? If yes, then split the hand and refer
back to this question after splitting. If no, then move on to question two.
2. Do you have a double down, yes or no? If yes, then double your bet and tell the dealer "double". If no, then move on to question three.
3. Do you have a hit decision, yes or no? If yes, then draw a card and refer back to this question. If no, wave your hand to the deal or push your cards under your bet to indicate "stand", ending your play.
The choices are in reverse order of probability, but very logical. If you have pairs, do you have pairs to split against the dealer's up card? Yes or No! If you have a possible double down, do you have a double down against the dealer's up card? Yes or No! If you do not have pairs to split or a viable double down, then the only decisions left are to hit, draw a card or to stand pat. After drawing a card, you may still have a decision to draw another card or stand.
The purpose for splitting pairs is to draw a double down hand. It is an aggressive play and very advantageous to the savvy blackjack player. Take note, when playing blackjack, if this rule is not allowed at your favorite casino, they are taking away players' advantage. In many games now, pair splitting is limited to splitting pairs once and no double down allowed. With this rule change, there is no point in playing such a restricted game in my opinion. It is your decision.
Craps, with is macho image of "belly up with the money", appears to be fast and frenzied, and players may think there is little in the way decision making, except to pick a number and toss out some chips. Unlike the decision hierarchy of blackjack, craps is a game requiring the player to be "switched on" all the time with their betting choices. In simple terms, if it is a cold table, point and out, playing $160 across, and $5 on all the hardways, would probably be a very poor decision. I often compare playing craps to investing in the stock market. If a company shows potential it could be a good decision to invest. A craps game has to show potential in order for me to invest. Each bet is an investment. If the game is not producing long paying hands, the decision to continue to invest with Come Bets, Place Bets and unmentionable Prop Bets, will only separate the player from their money more quickly. You decide to either switch to the Don't side or to stop playing all together.
Decision making at the craps table is layered with questions; "Is there reason to invest in this game", "Is there support for this play?" "Is my betting strategy appropriate for the game setting?" In short, you must check-in with your questions constantly regarding what you see and what you have seen in support of your decision making process. Making correct decisions takes a little time. Never hurry a decision. If you don't know... don't go!
No matter what game you chose to play, the two most import decisions, of course, are deciding to play or not play and then deciding when to leave, if you do play. These two decisions may be the hardest for the player, because of emotions, the desire to play, and the excitement of being in a casino. With all the necessary decisions combined, they tend to override good judgment for decision making. ".... And then you bet you'd better finally decide."
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