Attention Florida players: Don’t go broke by July 2

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On July 1 the world as we know it is changing. Rivers will part, the sky will fall, dogs and cats will start living together … oh, yeah, and we’re FINALLY getting real poker in Florida.
So what does all this politicking really mean to you? We all have been bitching and moaning forever about $100 maximum buy-in cash games and ridiculously low-limit games and tournaments.

What should we expect? Expect everything to change, and when it does, don’t go broke.
I’m as eager as anyone for the upcoming changes, and I’m uniquely prepared for the onslaught. My 2007 World Series of Poker victory and payday helped bankroll me into a couple of years of Vegas and home cash games far above Florida’s draconian poker laws. I also discovered it’s easy to lose lots of money fast if you’re not prepared and careful.

I admit I learned the hard way that bigger isn’t always better. It can be much better, but just like anything in life there’s a learning curve when things change. Therefore I have some suggestions to help prepare you for the changes. If you think July 1 just means you sit down at your favorite poker table and play your same game but with more money in front of you, don’t be surprised if in 30 days you’re looking back nostalgically at the good old days of $100 max buy-ins and a positive balance in your savings account.

So, let me share a few tips to help you survive, enjoy and maybe even profit during this exciting time for Florida poker.

PLAN YOUR BANKROLL: You have a month to figure out how much money you can afford to lose and how fast you can afford to lose it. I would recommend a separate bank account just for poker. It keeps you organized and honest.

DROP DOWN IN LIMITS: In all likelihood most rooms will spread $1-$2 no-limit hold’em with minimum $100 and maximum $500 buy-ins; $2-$5 will run $200 minimums and $1,000 max; $5-$10 will require $500 minimum with no maximum; and $10-$25 will cost you $1,000 to sit and there won’t be a cap. So why move down in limits? After all, this is what you’ve been waiting for, right?

Here’s why: You’re playing a new game. Your decisions have become much more expensive and important. In a $2-$5 no-limit game are you willing to push $500 preflop with J-J in your first hand at a new table? You can’t afford to play stupid or scared. If the decisions are uncomfortably expensive, then you might start making them based on cost instead of sound poker fundamentals.

It’s bad strategy to buy in for the minimum. Some players thrive at short-stack poker. They are scared, poor players. You’re much better off buying in for $200 at a $1-$2 table and having a medium stack than buying in for the same $200 on a $2-$5 table and being dominated by nine players before you even play a hand. As the short stack you can’t protect your hand, you can’t bluff and you can’t play real poker.

Your competition is going to improve dramatically. Gone will be the days of six people all-in preflop. The people you’ve been playing the past five years who don’t adjust their games quickly will be broke and gone. You simply can’t be pushing your stack with 4-4 or A-J suited preflop. You can’t afford to chase every draw. The worst players will be gone, and you will be facing better players with bigger bankrolls.

This is especially true at the higher limits. There will be many new faces flooding Florida’s local cardrooms. Super aggressive Internet whiz kids, high-stakes players from all over the country and top home-game locals who are used to playing for $5,000 pots will be sitting across from you. Be very careful of the faces you don’t recognize.

So, heed my warnings, but embrace the date. Start planning now for the greatest thing to happen to poker in Florida. But, plan ahead and play smart so you still have enough money to sit back down on July 2 and play another hand.

— Don Baruch lives in Tampa, Fla., and was the 2007 World Series of Poker bracelet-winner in the $1,500 Shootout event. Contact him via email at editor@anteupmagazine.com.