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Got Your “A” Game

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No one is always at their best. Not doctors, not athletes, and certainly not poker players. We all have days when we don’t feel quite as sharp as other days. Even Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Doyle Brunson have their times when they will admit to not being able to play their “A” game. Although poker rewards discipline and concentration, it’s nearly impossible to arrange to play only when you’re within a stone’s throw of your absolute best.

Traditional wisdom dictates that you avoid playing when you’re feeling sub par for whatever reason. If you can’t play your best, you will be contributing to players who can. But the truth is, circumstances may prevent you from sitting down exactly when you prefer. For example, if you are a morning person but you have a day job, or live three hours from the nearest card room, you may find your are playing when you aren‘t at your peak level of alertness. Fortunately, many of your opponents will be in the same boat for their own reasons. The good news is that as long as you can still play with an edge, you’re still better off playing than not. Of course, you may find it more difficult to find a good game when you’re not at your best.

Most critical, when you’re not at your peak, is to be realistic about your expectation in a given game. The games may look just as soft as usual, and they will be. The difference is that you won’t be playing as well, so you may need to find a slightly softer game than usual just to maintain your usual expectation. The reverse may also hold true. It’s fairly common at the middle limits to find games full of players who know how to play poker reasonably well, but just don’t happen to be doing so at the moment. All of these players probably think they’re good poker players, but the one solid player who brought his “A” game will have the best shot at the money. While it’s not always possible to plan these things perfectly, perfect isn’t always necessary because if you bring your best game more often than your opponents, the edge will still be in your favor.

With online poker, the issue gets a little harder to evaluate. You will rarely be able to note that a particular opponent is having trouble keeping his eyes open or has been wearing the same clothes for three days. You don’t get to see opponents pound the table in exaggerated frustration after taking a routine beat. This should be taken in to consideration. With online card rooms available at the click of a button, a player should rarely play if not in tiptop shape. Remember, online poker has virtually no schedule. The games go on around-the-clock, and it’s common to find yourself at a virtual table with players who at least claim to be in four or five different countries. Although people may still play when they shouldn’t, no one has to play during his personal off-peak time just because that’s when the games are available. You may tend to outlast the other players in your local card room, but in online poker, it’s like new shifts are being bused in hourly. For instance, a player living in Las Vegas might be playing people in New York. When those players get tired, some European players might join the game after they wake up in the morning. It is these kinds of scenarios that show the importance of playing only when you have good reason to believe you can play your ‘A’ game, especially when you can’t tell how tired your opponents may be.

There are other ways in which playing online interacts with your need to play your best. Online poker is incredibly convenient, making it easy to play when conditions aren’t quite ideal, but also making it easier to create ideal conditions. With a laptop and wireless networking, you can take the game with you. Some players might see that as an opportunity to do their online playing in more amenable settings Others might just be thrilled they don’t have to miss a few hands to catch the end of the game, take a bathroom break, or mow the lawn.

No one brings his ‘A’ game all the time, live or online. While that would be ideal, it just isn’t realistic. Instead, think of playing sub par poker as a necessary evil. You can’t always be at your best. So, your goal shouldn’t be to have perfect timing, but to bring the best game you can, given all the other constraints on when you can play. As long as you avoid sitting down while you are severely distracted or tired, you should be able to survive a few hours with your ‘B’ game. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to stumble upon a table full of players with no game.

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