Having a Plan
One of the biggest leaks that I see many small stakes players is not having a plan and playing street by street poker. These players have their thought process on the specific street they are playing and that is the farthest they go in terms of thinking about their decisions. Having a plan means that you should be thinking about the future action and every single reaction that your opponent might have versus your strategy. Players will oftentimes do a flop action without any consideration of what they are going to do on future streets (and how they will proceed against different reactions from their opponents).
A simple example: Hero opens CO with KK, SB calls. The flop is 5 89. SB checks, Hero bets, SB check/raises, Hero calls.
Too often do I see players who face flop aggression and decide to defend (by calling) without having a plan on what to do on future streets. When players get to the turn and their opponents bet, they have no idea on how to proceed.
Here is an excellent link of a short article that explains the concept of smaller mistakes on earlier streets (perhaps a bad pre-flop call) leading to much bigger ones on later streets: http://archives1.twoplustwo.com/showflat.php?Number=6454057
Think about your plan for the hand before you take the action and prepare for each and every scenario. Poker is a game where you receive more and more information with each street. From the moment you are dealt your 2 or 4 cards in your hand, you should already have an idea of what your general plan should be for the hand (a few examples: top end premiums such as KK-AK should be to get as much money in as possible (as early as possible); hands like 87s you should be playing with implied odds and semi bluffing on certain run outs; hands like 77, where you can either get a set or showdown cheaply (or turn your hand into a bluff) and so on).
Another example might be: When you call a pre-flop raise with 98 and the flop comes 8K4. From the moment you see the flop, your general plan should (generally) be to get to showdown cheaply and you should plan to call a few streets and also potentially turn your hand into a bluff on certain run outs. This is just a short example of trying to think about your big picture plans with your hand and how you should plan your future actions.
Poker is a game of incomplete information, and with each new street/card, we receive more information on both our hand and our opponents. For each street, you should be thinking about future streets and the potential action you are going to face. This will enable you to be better prepared for when it actually happens. Generally, players have the biggest leaks as the non aggressor.
How to Plan For the Hand If You are the Aggressor (Pre-Flop)
As the aggressor in the hand (meaning you raised PF or were the aggressor on the earlier street), you are generally going to have the lead, meaning that players are going to check to you on the next street. Here are some questions for you to ask yourself:
- If I bet this street and my opponent(s) call, what future streets am I going to bet? What cards? Am I value betting or bluffing?
- If I bet this street and my opponent(s) raise my bet, what am I going to do? If I call, what future streets and cards am I continuing on? If I 3-bet his raise, what do I do on future streets?
- If I check this street as the aggressor, what am I doing versus a bet? Am I going to check/call, check/raise, or check/fold? If I am in position and I check this street, what am I doing on the next street?
- If I am bluffing, how many future streets am I going to have to bet in order for my opponent to fold his range? What run outs are good for my range? Note: As the aggressor pre-flop, generally boards that favor the pre-flop aggressor are more wet boards, such as Axx or T33 vs 987 or QT9.
- What future streets can I use to turn my hand into a bluff?
- What bet sizings should I use to accomplish my goal? Do I need to raise larger or smaller here? How do these sizings interact with my range?
Here are some hands that highlight some common situations that you will see in your games:
1) Similar to the example hand above: You raise KK PF and you get one call from the BB. The flop is 98 6. BB checks, you bet, BB check/raises, you call. The turn is the 4 and BB bets 3/4ths pot, you..?
Short Analysis: The moment hero decides to bet the flop texture, he should have a good prediction of how he thinks his opponent is going to react and some of the potential future actions. Given this is a wet board, hero should predict that villain will check/raise a larger percentage of the time than, say, a board like 44Tr. Smart opponents will generally be more aggressive on board textures that favor their range over yours. One mistake that I see many players make is that they will call one street and expect villain to shut down on a vast majority of turns and rivers. At smaller stakes, players will often continue betting the turn after check/raising or raising a flop bet, which is why it is confusing to me when players have zero idea of what to do on the turn after they call a flop raise- you should already know your plan and follow through with it.
2) You raise JT PF and you get one caller on the button. The flop is QT6 and you decide to check. Villain bets 1/2 pot, you call.
Short Analysis: This is another common situation on many poker boards and where you can check/call to protect your checking range. The moment you see this board texture and your hand, your automatic thoughts should be “Okay, I am going to check and call a bet to protect my checking range so that I am not just check/folding all the time when I check and because my hand has good showdown value that can get more value from my opponent bluffing than by him calling a c-bet. There are also a good number of turns that improve my hand.” (Or somewhere along those lines). Again, when you check/call the flop, you should be thinking about what turns and/or rivers you want to continue on, what sizings you plan on defending against, what turns/rivers you can turn your hand into a bluff, etc. Make sure you plan it out your future actions and do not just check/call the flop without a plan.
How to Plan For the Hand If You are the NON Aggressor (Pre-Flop)
Playing poker as the non aggressor is one of the areas where players have the most trouble when deciding on plans on future actions. Because they oftentimes are not the ones to control the action, players will frequently defend on street (call) and have no plan for future streets. And, because it is generally difficult to flop very strong hands a large percentage of the time, players are often stuck with little-medium amount of equity (Heads up players are very familiar with these concepts and playing with marginal ranges). Given the fact that their opponents are the one who can generate more fold equity by betting (generally), it puts the non aggressor in tougher spots.
Having a plan for your hand increases in importance as the non aggressor and increases even further when out of position. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you are playing:
- If I check this street and my opponent bets, what am I going to do? If I call his bet, what future streets am I continuing on?
- If I check this street and my opponent bets and I raise, what future streets am I going to bet? What future streets am I going to check? Am I raising as a bluff, semi bluff, or for value?
- If I am in position and my opponent bets, am I calling? If I do call, what future streets am I continuing on? What future streets do I call a bet, what future streets do I raise, and which do I fold?
- If I am raising for value, what future streets am I scared of? What am I trying to get value from?
- If I am bluffing on this street, what different runouts can I continue to bluff on? What am I credibly representing? Note: As the non aggressor pre-flop, generally boards that favor the pre-flop caller are more wet boards, such as 987 or QT9 vs. Axx or T33.
1) BTN raises PF and you call with 56 from the BB. The flop is 832 and you check, he bets 1/3rd pot, you check/raise (debatable play). The turn is the 9 and you bet again.
Short Analysis: This situation briefly describes a bluffing spot and you should be thinking about what turns and rivers you plan on betting. Obviously the 9 in this specific situation is a brilliant card and gives you much more equity. Nevertheless, the main point that you should be taking away is: What turns and rivers do you plan on betting and which turns and rivers do you plan on giving up? What value range can you credibly represent here?
2) UTG+1 raises PF and you call on the button with 66. The flop is 752 and UTG+1 bets 1/2 pot.
Short Analysis: Again, this is a very common situation where players will generally call by default on the flop and that’s the furthest extent that go in terms of planning the hand out. You should be thinking about what turn bets you can call and what turns/rivers you could potentially turn your hand into a bluff on, if any.
The takeaway from this article is not that you should call or fold or raise in any of these hand examples- it is that you should have a mental plan for your hand before all of the action occurs. Think about your overall purpose is for each hand and what future cards you are going to call, raise, or fold. These are all huge factors for your winrate when playing in more marginal situations and against aggressive opponents.