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Byline: By Peter Sharkey

ULTIMATELY, I suppose it is experience that tells us how to interpret the advance signals that life frequently flashes at us.

Such indications are constantly evident in most areas of our everyday lives - from sport, where you can bank on a footballer leaving as soon as he pledges his future to his club, to politics, where once we're told that tax will definitely not rise... well, you know the rest.

The veteran poker player and writer, Mike Caro, insists that the easiest and perhaps most profitable advance signal to spot at the poker table is the opponent who makes a point of checking his chip stack as soon as the cards are dealt.

Nine times out of 10, players who do this either already have an outstanding hand or have been dealt a card that significantly strengthens their position.

According to Caro, "average poker players could be big winners if they did nothing but look for this 'tell' and then play their normal game".

Experience also tells us that there are a handful of other obvious mistakes of which poker novices are guilty, especially evident in face-to-face encounters.

Not surprisingly, uncertainty heads this list. Novices can have a phenomenal hand but they will often hesitate about putting a large bet on at an early stage because, in short, they do not know how much to bet.

Another readily identifiable action that signifies the novice is his propensity to keep checking his cards after he has drawn a good hand.

Excitement overtakes him and, instead of behaving as casually as he may have done earlier, he starts acting differently, providing a useful signal that serves to prod experienced players into folding.

It can get worse, because the regular combination of these two mistakes creates the most frustrating aspect of all for a relative newcomer - namely a sense that he's gradually being worn down.

Unaware of how much to bet, he avoids playing risky hands and, as a consequence, tends to fold too easily.

This results in his chips gradually being whittled away so, when a good hand does present itself, he doesn't have the cash ammunition to support it.

Nevertheless, the novice will occasionally either play well or get lucky and win a sizeable pot. His reaction to this is crucial.

If he assumes that luck has been against him, he will almost certainly feel that his chunky win is welcome evidence of his innate poker skill.

Regrettably, his ego will not let him consider that he has been outplayed, thus creating a sure-fire excuse for staying in the game and losing a bundle.

The most difficult lesson for the novice to learn is this: if you're losing, the overwhelming probability is that you're being outclassed.

It follows that, before playing, greenhorns should put a limit on how much they're prepared to risk and, once it's gone, they should leave the table.

Then, having hopefully learnt from the experience, they will stop throwing out frequent and helpful cash-draining signals to opponents.

One final word of caution, though - don't expect this to happen overnight.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 7, 2006
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