Poker: I resolve - no more silly bets

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THE START of a new year is a good time to take stock of your play. All the mistakes of the past year, all the bad calls, weak bluffs, silly bets and wild raises, should be consigned to a misspent past. All the clever moves, shrewd reads, inspired calls and double bluffs are to come in '94. Here are my resolutions for the new year.

1. I will not drink-and-play. 2. I will not play when over-tired, over-worked or otherwise distracted. 3. Recognising, with clear-headed realism, that this state of affairs is bound to arise virtually every week, I will at least walk once around the block, breathing in and out deeply, before sitting down to play. 4. I will play only in good games, where there are at least three pigeons sitting in the game. As the old poker aphorism has it: 'If you don't know after 20 minutes who the pigeon is, it's you]'

5. When there are more pros than players in the game, I will not sit down; and when I do sit down, I will not tangle with the pros; and when I do tangle with the pros, I will at least learn something for my money. 6. I will re-read and memorise the previous resolution.

7. I will write down my bad plays, also my good ones (if any) and study them before the next game. 8. I will never lend money at the table, unless the situation is so desperate that refusing would break up the game. 9. I will never borrow money at the table if it means going beyond what I consider my limit, unless of course I am desperate myself. 10. I will not bet hands, which should properly be folded, out of boredom, or to chase losses, or to be smart, or to show willing, or for any other reason than good poker values.

Looking back, isn't it true that you always remember the bad plays you made, rather than the good ones? Just as, say, golfers agonise over missed putts. The fact is that every player is bound to make some bad plays in the course of the night.

The important thing, and the point of making good resolutions, is to make sure that the (one hopes) occasional bad plays do not get in the way of the (one hopes) consistent good plays. The worst thing at poker is to let a single misjudgement break your concentration and upset your balance during the rest of the game. In that sense the other players at the table are not the issue. Outrageous out-draws and runs of bad luck may break you in the short run. But in the longer run the only person who can beat you is yourself.