A common problem for good yet struggling poker players is the failure to hand plan. They make decisions from street to street without considering how the hand will play out. A few reasons players lose focus on the bigger picture:
- They were taught to play each decision separately (mostly through watching TV Poker)
- They get tired and lose their focus
- They succumb to the pressure of a big pot or a tough situation and lose their feel for the game
- They rely on common wisdom and make decisions on “auto-pilot” without considering the rest of the hand
The results are disastrous. Players put themselves in positions they are not prepared for:
- They get crippled in huge tournament pots with marginal hands
- They unknowingly pot commit themselves without realizing the effective stacks are shallow
- They post hand histories about crucial hands they misplayed while requesting “please disregard preflop/flop play; what would you do on the river?”
This is a fundamental poker skill. Lack of hand planning impedes your progress and hampers your results. It’s time to make hand planning a consistent part of your game and to stop leaving money on the table. To help you with this goal I have broken the process down into 3 facets. Once you understand and consistently implement these in your game, you will be well on your way to mastering this fundamental skill.
Anticipation is the foundation to hand planning. You must be able to anticipate how your opponents will act in order to predict the flow of a hand. These predictions will come from your past poker experiences and from close observation of your opponents. From these two sources you will be able to figure out some tendencies that will help you anticipate your opponent’s play.
The greatest benefit to anticipating your opponent’s actions is that it will allow you to make sound decisions without being affected by time pressure or distracted by the stress of being in a difficult situation. When at the poker table, you cannot consider and process every single possible scenario. You must focus on certain types of situations in order to fully use the power of anticipation. You must focus on these specific opponent actions:
- The most probable actions
- The relevant actions (no need to play out the scenario where you opponent folds or when he checks behind on the river, for example)
- The actions that don’t make your decision completely obvious (An example; your opponent shoves while you have no hand and no draw)
Focusing on these scenarios will greatly increase your powers of anticipation. By narrowing in on these key scenarios, you will leverage the value of observation, reads and identification of tells.
Next, we will discuss the concept of formulating lines in poker. In the meantime, do you have any comments about the skill of anticipation at the poker table? Please share your thoughts in the comments thread of this post.