Introduction To Hand Planning

Guide To Winning Poker (28)

  • Decision by decision or even street by street is definitely not the best way
  • The better you get at planning your hands all the way through, the better
  • It's all about being as prepared as you can be as the hand progresses

To Succeed At Poker, You Need A Good Plan

One of the real keys to becoming a good poker player is the ability to think though the various moves of both yourself and your opponents as a hand progresses. This is in fact one of the biggest things that separates the better poker players from the pretenders or weaker players.

When we first learn the game, and at least prior to becoming at least somewhat proficient at it, we focus mostly on whatever betting action we're faced with at any given time. For instance, we have a certain hand out of position, and we check it. We may do this out of habit even, as many players do.

So perhaps we should be betting these out of position instead, at least some of the time. What will our opponent tend to do if we do? So already you can see that we are looking ahead a bit, rather than just using a default move and figuring things out later.

Maybe our opponent will fold too often to these leads, whereby we can take down some extra pots this way. Maybe he or she will react with aggression, frequently putting in some raises, and therefore we can use this tactic to look to extract more value with our bigger hands.

Perhaps he or she will start adjusting to this, where our bets end up eventually getting more respect, whereby we can start doing it more frequently and start winning some extra pots that way.

So By Thinking More About Our Options, We Can Outmaneuver People

So as you can see, there is an ebb and flow that is at work here, which can enhance our chances to win money, provided that we play our cards right. The first step to this and all other alternative lines is to consider our opponent's reaction and then plan around that.

The better we can profile our opponents., the more information we will have as far as knowing how they play typically and how we then can plan on playing ourselves, but even if we have no information this should never stop us from trying to plan ahead.

We will have and require a default strategy for players that we have no read at all on, and then adjust it as we gain more and more information. So we will be doing just as much planning with players like this as we would do with players that we know very well, and the only difference is that without any reads we will likely have to adjust our tactics more often in a hand.

Planning Ahead Can Really Give Us An Advantage

Poker is like chess in a lot of ways, and none more than the aspect of hand planning. If we make a chess move without considering the possible moves of our opponents, we are not putting ourselves in the best position that we can.

Of course, like chess, the more moves we plan ahead and the more thought we put into all of this, the better player we will become. One of the drawbacks of multi-tabling is that you really don't have the time to do a lot of thinking here, where if you only play one table then you can really devote the time to this that is needed and that is desirable.

Most poker players are lazy though and for many, one of the big reasons that they play so many tables is that they are doing so little thinking that they become bored and crave more action. Their games tend to be pretty mindless as well and they feel that with this all being the case, they can make more money playing a bunch of them at the same time.

That very well may be true, in their present state, but this doesn't mean that this is the best way. What tends to happen with most of these players is that they hit the wall at the mid stakes, often the lower mid stakes in fact, and don't have the proper skills to beat higher stakes. This is because the higher you move up, the more thought players put into their games, and if you aren't doing much thinking, whatever edges you had at a lower stake will often disappear and now it is you that is the fish.

So If You Want To Move Up, Look To Think And Plan More

So the more we plan ahead, the better of a player we will have the opportunity to become. I use the word opportunity here because it isn't enough just to look to think ahead, although that's definitely better than not bothering to do this at all. However, in addition to this quantity of thinking, we also need quality of thinking as well.

I have found that there are some real opportunities to get ahead if you are simply willing to work on this part of your game more. At all but the highest stakes, your opponents are likely not devoting enough time to hand planning, and often they don't even have the opportunity to, given that they are playing an assortment of tables and time would not even allow for a proper analysis of any given hand.

In fact this is what I consider to be my biggest edge at the poker table. Although I am pretty confident that my hand planning skills are superior to most of my opponents, this edge becomes really magnified when they don't really have the time to do it right and I do, with my one table at a time approach.

It's All About Considering The Entire Hand

So we want to not only look at what a player or players may do in further moves on the particular street we are on, we also want to look at future streets as well. We can take this even further than this, and think about how what we do is going to affect our opponents' perception of us, which is called meta game considerations.

So for example, if I know that a player likes to play a lot of draws and then fold when he or she misses, and the board and their play makes it look like they are on a draw, I may not even need a hand to look to take advantage of this. So I can bet or raise the flop, and if a blank hits the turn, I can do it again, as well as on the river, where I will expect a fold if the opponent doesn't hit their hand.

Sometimes it may be better to let the opponent do the betting if they are predisposed to bet draws that way. Or, if they are very aggressive, to take a more passive line here and just look to take the pot down on the river if the board looks innocuous enough.

As Always, We Need To Play The Player

So what we need to do this effectively is, as our starting point, an opponent's general characteristics, which we can get from both stats and observation. Then, we take into account the progression of the hand and what they tend to do generally, and what they are doing as contrast to that, to get the best read we can.

Then, as we go along, we look to consider what the likely responses are, and also what we will do if we don't meet the likely response. This is just as important and is in fact the biggest problem that arises from poor hand planning. Everything is going as planned, and then the opponent does something that we may have not thought about, and we are now in trouble.

So a better approach often is to consider these lesser likely possibilities and alter our strategy as required when it makes sense to try to control the pot more or mitigate our risk in a hand. This is especially true in way ahead or way behind situations where if we get the kind of interest that our betting line seems to require, we are most likely in real trouble.

You Also Need To Pay Attention To Your Own Table Image

Sometimes we will do things that are designed to set up our opponents to think of us as this or that kind of player, which is planning beyond the given hand that we are in. Mike Caro has been fond of this sort of thing and in he instructs his students to look to play a little crazy early on in sessions and then tighten up later, and make more money with this net.

Personally, I don't advocate that my students do a lot of that as it requires a lot of skill to do correctly, but at the very least you need to be aware of your table image and there may be instances were you may feel it is worth intentionally manipulating. It is true that a very odd play where you only lose a small amount but show people at the table that your play doesn't always make sense can go a long way. Just be careful you don't lose too much doing it.

If You Want To Win More, Think More

So the purpose of this lesson is really only to get you to put more thought into hand planning. This is needed in order to exploit your opponents to full effect. So you really need to take their weaknesses and work backward from that, looking for situations at some point in the hand where they may be weaker.

For instance, some players check fold flops a lot, so we want to plan on betting out more. Some may check back the flop in position and fold to a lead on the turn enough. Some may just fire one barrel or even two and then give up.

So we then would look to come up with a plan, looking at the entire hand and not just the street that we are on. We not only need that, we also need a plan when things don't go as expected. The more planning we do in hands, the better prepared we will be, and the better we will do.

Ken's Guide To Winning Poker - Index

Ken's Guide To Winning Poker

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series