Always think ahead at the poker table

March 26, 2012  

When you’re playing poker, or doing anything else in life, it’s extremely beneficial to think ahead. For example, when you’re walking across the street, you should know what you’re going to do if you see a car heading right for you.

Better yet, you could take a look in either direction before stepping into the street in the first place. In poker, before making any bet, it’s important to think about what that bet will make happen on the current street as well as the future streets and determine if the possible results are in your best interest.

Suppose someone raised under the gun to three big blinds out of their 100 big-blind stack and you’re in second position with {a-Spades}{j-Clubs}. While A-J is normally a decent hand to play, in this situation it’s an easy fold because of what could happen on future streets.

While A-J could be the best hand preflop, think about what will most likely happen postflop.

• If you flop an ace and your opponent has a better ace, which is most likely the case, as they raised from first position, you’ll lose a lot of money.
• If an ace flops and they don’t have an ace, you will win a small pot. If a jack comes and they have an overpair, you’ll lose a lot of money.
• If a jack comes and they have worse than a jack, you will win a small pot.
• If you miss, you’ll probably lose the pot because they’ll bet and you’ll fold.

As you can see, you’re likely to lose a large pot or win a small pot, making all the results fairly bad, making a simple fold the clear choice.

Suppose instead of A-J, you had {8-Spades}{7-Spades}. Now, you will not lose your whole stack if you make one pair but if you make a good draw and end up with a strong made hand by the river, like a straight or flush, you will often win a large pot.

You will find numerous semibluffing situations, which will allow you to win some pots when your opponent misses. This is a situation where you will lose a small pot or win a large one, which is a good thing.

Thinking ahead doesn’t apply to only preflop situations. Suppose you raised preflop with {7-Hearts}{7-Spades} to three big blinds out of your 60 big-blind stack and the big blind calls. The flop comes {a-Spades}{7-Clubs}{4-Diamonds}. If your opponent checks, which will often be the case, this is a spot where you have to bet because if you check, it will be tough for your opponent to make a hand they will be happy losing a lot of money with. In this situation, you’re banking on your opponent having an ace, and that he’ll probably pay off three streets of value. And if he has nothing, he’ll rarely pay anything.

So, now you need to determine how much to bet. If our opponent has nothing, he’ll fold to any bet size. If he has an ace, he’ll probably call any reasonably sized bet. I would tend to bet around five big blinds into the 6.5-big-blind pot. If your opponent calls, you now need to determine how much to bet on the turn.

Seeing how the pot will now be 16.5 BBs, you should probably bet around 13 BBs. If they call again, the pot will be 42.5 BBs. Since you now have 39 BBs, you can easily go all-in on the river.

Notice if you instead decided to bet three BBs on the flop, seven BBs on the turn, and 16 BBs on the river, you would miss out on a ton of value. This is a situation I constantly see amateurs mess up simply because they don’t think about their opponent’s flop-calling range and then fail to adjust their bet sizes to get maximum value.

Poker, like all games, is really about trying to figure out the optimal decision for each situation. Each decision in poker is not made in a vacuum. Because of this, you always need to be constantly thinking about how each decision will affect the next.

As long as you think ahead and always have a plan, you should find it tough to get too lost in any hand. To learn about numerous other ways where thinking ahead can greatly improve your win rate, check out my book, Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker.

— Jonathan Little is the Season 6 WPT Player of the Year and is a representative for Blue Shark Optics. If you want to learn to play a loose-aggressive style, which will constantly propel you to the top of the leaderboards, check out his poker training website at FloatTheTurn.com.