Should You Dabble or Specialize?

Poker Specialization

Every once in a while the age old debate resurfaces. The camps are as evenly distributed as any I've seen or heard of. It seems as though, almost exactly, half of the players I've talked with believe that you should specialize in one particular variety of poker in order to maximize your profit potential. The other half of players believe very firmly in the opposite strategy, they feel you'd be better off learning and becoming proficient in several forms of poker.

Well, this isn't the first debate to split the poker world in half, and I'm sure it won't be the last. The reason I've decided to voice my opinion on the subject is simple. I feel a very special affinity to this logic problem because I am in the midst of a personal paradigm shift with regard to it.

Poker Specialization

I have long been a member of the "Specialization" school of thought. I have been a full fledged member of that camp for as long as I can remember. I've argued with a relentless zeal towards specializing in one variety of poker on countless occasions. My common sense estimation of the situation seemed very difficult to refute. Why would I start dabbling around in a variety of games when there's so much I have yet to learn about "my" game? Because you'll typically only be able to play one game at a time, why not just learn as much as you possibly can about a specific game to maximize your edge at that game? The arguments from the opposing camp seemed inadequate at best. Frankly, I never thought they had a leg to stand on.

"What if there's no table running your game at the casino?"
"What if your game becomes unpopular and you can't find a game anywhere?"
"Playing one form of poker can teach you things about another game that you'd be unlikely to find playing only that game."
"You might run into a table that's extremely juicy with tons of fish, and not even know how to play that game."
"What if you have special talents that make you a great player in a game you never even learn to play?"

Give Dabbling a Try

The arguments seemed to be about a fifty-fifty mixture, unlikely and illogical. I was anything but convinced. Until, that is, precisely one week ago today. That's the day that I first bought into a $2-$4, seven card stud cash game. I have been studying Limit and No Limit Hold 'em, and Pot Limit Omaha, almost exclusively, since the beginning of the "Hold 'em explosion." I did spend some time years ago studying other games, I've been reading and playing poker since I was in high school. However, because NLH is the big thing right now, I thought it was natural to move my full attention to this popular format. I've read or watched just about every piece of NLH related book or media that's been released in the last few years. Even the cross-variety poker books that have read in recent years have been little more than skimmed by me in all but the NLH sections. One week ago today was the first time in years that I've played any other game with any level of seriousness outside the casino. I absolutely destroyed that seven card stud limit game. I used to consider myself a seven card stud player. But the game has changed so much in the last few years it's scarcely even the same game. "Seven card stud, where have you been all my life?" It's been trapped in my memories of Vegas Vacations and the occasional run to Windsor. It's been right in front of my face, but I was too stubborn to even try my hand at it again. All the suckers are playing hold 'em, I reasoned. Yeah, that's true. All of the poker savvy suckers like myself, and maybe even you.

I've been playing $1-$2 NLH for years now online, and have been able to track about $30/hour consistently. I also play sit 'n' go tournaments at the $20-$50 buy-in range, and I've enjoyed a good deal of success at those as well. My records to date will show a solid 100% return on investment in small to medium stake tournaments. In truth, I make more dollars per hour playing the cash games, but the tournaments are much more fun for me. Quite unexpectedly, I made more in that first hour than I expect to make in a two hour NLH session. In that first session I made $100 in less than one hour. Even playing low limit seven card stud I, instantly, began to out perform my hourly rate at hold 'em. I know it's a bold claim, and certainly this will be met with some skepticism but I have tracked 8 big bets an hour now for ten solid hours. I have only played 8 sessions, but so far I have not experienced a single loser. In ten hours of play at very small stakes I have made over $300.00, all the while risking very little compared to the volatile NLH cash games that I'm accustomed to. The hardest thing for me to accept in all of this is that I truly believe my experience at seven stud has made me a better hold 'em player. That's almost immaterial to me now though, as I see myself playing very little NLH in the near future.

In closing, I'd just like to say this. If you are one of those players studying one game very specifically and you are convinced that you are correct; do yourself a favor and explore the possibility that you're not. Since this revelation I have been dabbling in other games as well. I'm doing very well at five card draw, I'm breaking about even at razz and I've been earning at the Omaha tables (no surprise there, its one of my "fall back games). I've learned some new things, for instance; Omaha high low is definitely not my game and I might well just stay away from razz also. Possibly more important than any of this is the fact that I'm doing something I haven't done in poker in a long time. I'm having fun! Well, that's just my two cents on the matter. Take it for what it's worth (about 2 cents). Until next time, Good "Luck!"

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