The Flop – Planning a hand

Having a plan for how to play a hand in poker is a necessity and the time to make this plan is the flop (not pre‐flop because there the situation is still too complicated). The plan should be a decision about what pot size will be optimal in the situation and also how to achieve that pot size. There is a big difference between betting all‐in yourself for instance, as opposed to check‐calling an all‐in. Some situations call for the first one, some call for the second one. The more information and considerations taken into account when mak‐ ing a plan, the better the plan will be, and the more money you can expect to make on the hand. More precisely, the more accurate in‐ formation and relevant considerations are taken into account the better a plan will be.

For example, someone might have the wrong read on an opponent and apply that to a plan – obviously that plan will not fare very well (and if it does, it will be accidental). Or if a person believes one con‐ cept is very important in a situation but in fact it may not be relevant, then again the plan is a poor one. The only way to become good at poker is to make a lot of plans and study, and then you will improve and your plans will be more precise.

In poker it is absolutely key to think in specific terms and not allow vague and hazy thinking to get in the way. When considering a play, think about what specific things it will accomplish. And when we say “accomplish”, our goal is to win money. So calling because we are curious to see the opponent’s hand does accomplish something – it satisfies our curiosity, but it does not satisfy our main goal, which is to win money.

In this chapter we’ll start introducing the considerations that need to be taken into account when making a plan. Then we’ll make plans for hands based off those considerations. The considerations or rea‐ sons that would have a person make a play that we’re going to talk about are as follows: gaining value for a hand; making the opponent fold a better hand; preventing a bluff; protecting your hand; pot odds; stack size; position; being aggressive; and betting for informa‐ tion. But note that too many people overvalue protecting your hand, being aggressive, preventing a bluff, and betting for information – those are by far the least important reasons to make a play.

Continuation bets on the flop are also a big leak for a lot of people. This can be corrected in two ways. First, simply play the strength of your hand. If you raise pre‐flop and get called and you have a good hand, bet again, and if you don’t have a good hand check. From there you can mix up your plays for specific reasons. Secondly, avoid hazy thinking. It is the hazy thinking that leads people to think that they need to bet the flop because they want to be “aggres‐ sive”, or to “show no weakness”. These are such vague reasons for an action that they are not real reasons at all. It’s like saying “I bet a lot because I want to win”.

Real reasons might be “it’s good to be aggressive against this player because he is weak and will fold” (another way of saying “make a better hand fold”) or “I don’t raise much pre‐flop so when I continuation bet the flop it’s consistent and credibly represents a strong hand” (again, another way of saying “make a better hand fold”), or “it’s good to be aggressive because then it gives him a chance to call me with a worst hand” (“value betting”). Remember your goal when playing poker is to make money. It’s obvious how making a better hand fold will allow us to win the entire pot, and how that helps us to win money. It’s not at all clear how “seizing the initia‐ tive” will lead to making money. Being aggressive is not an end in itself – it’s a way of playing that in some situations won’t work well and in others will work well for specific reasons. The key is to be more specific and to find out for what specific reasons being aggres‐ sive works, and then to directly consider those factors.

Doyle Brunson advocates automatically betting the flop after raising pre‐flop in Super System, but today when playing heads‐up or short‐handed this strategy will get you eaten up. Instead, take poker street by street – the mistake a lot of beginners make is committing a lot of their money to a hand on an early street. For instance, a begin‐ ner can’t check‐raise bluff the flop because he’ll automatically go all‐ in on the turn to continue the bluff too often. The expert re‐evaluates on the turn – he sees if any good cards have come to continue the bluff and some of the time he’ll simply give up. Similarly, a good player will raise pre‐flop, and then the flop is another street – he won’t automatically bet it, he’ll consider his options at that point and maybe bet and maybe not bet.

A very good action that will help us win money is gaining value for a good hand, i.e. getting money into the pot with a good hand ver‐ sus a worst hand. This doesn’t need a lot of explanation but the rea‐ son it is such a powerful way to gain value is that when you are bet‐ ting top pair and the opponent has top pair with a worse kicker (or middle pair) and calls you, he only has three or five outs. He’ll rarely outdraw you, and you have a lot of equity in the pot com‐ pared to him. Whenever you make a bet and he calls, you gain al‐ most his entire bet in expected value.

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