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Byline: By Peter Sharkey

DO you ever feel that it would be useful to have an invisible mentor sitting on your shoulder to advise when and when not to take certain action?

"See that mistake you're about to make," your mentor would whisper, just before you plunged headlong into some disastrous situation. "I made the same one myself back in 1925. Let me show you how to avoid it ......."

Whereupon he would explain in great detail how to extricate yourself from the impending mess.

Unfortunately, life isn't like that. We must learn from our own errors, although, judging from the questions I've been asked since this column first appeared, I must assume that there is definitely a role for a poker mentor.

The questions I'm asked most often concern when and when not to bluff.

There is no correct answer, although my rule is to bluff sparingly, mainly because I believe you can push your luck too far. Do it too frequently and you're bound to get found out.

Many poker players bluff out of desperation, especially if they're on a bad run, or on "tilt" as it is known.

It's a classic reaction:` "Right, I may have just lost a` load of money, but now I'll` show 'em."

In such a situation, your mentor would be urging you to leave the table sharpish because opponents who recognise that you're on tilt will call you at every opportunity and drain your stack at an alarming rate.

Not only is it foolish to bluff when opponents expect you to but, statistically, bluffing can be a mug's game, a fact known to the odd poker mentor for more than 80 years.

Let me explain. Back in 1925, a lady named Ethel Riddle wrote a PhD thesis entitled Aggressive Behaviour in a Small Social Group, published by Colombia University in New York.

Riddle wired six poker players up to lie detectors during a protracted series of five-card stud games and studied their reactions when they examined their cards and those eventually revealed by opponents.

She found that, in general, poker players were poor judges of the bluff, concluding that most overestimate the attempts at bluffing by infrequent bluffers and underestimate the attempts of the frequent bluffer.

Riddle said that poker players would be most effective - and, therefore, richer - if they bluffed exactly six per cent of the time, or once every 17 hands.

I'm not suggesting that this formula should be adhered to irrespective of the conditions.

But it's worth remembering that if you play, say, 200 hands during an average poker session lasting a few hours, you probably shouldn't bluff in many more than 12 of them.

Any poker mentor, invisible or otherwise, would tell you that.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 9, 2006
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