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The Basics of Thinking Ahead in Poker

Misguided Ideas

There’s this idea that you should think ahead in poker, but very few people actually do it. While it’s easy to try to say that people just don’t do it because they’re lazy, the real reason is a bit more insidious than that. People in general have this misguided idea that planning ahead in poker has to involve thinking about tons of different cards and boards that could come and how different lines of betting could go. Without even taking this idea to an extreme, you could end up with dozens of different variations to consider before making a play.

This idea is misguided for two main reasons. First, planning doesn’t have to be this complicated. Second, trying to incorporate so many different possibilities into your play at the table is going to take entirely too long and distract you from more important characteristics of the situation that should dictate your decision. With that having been said, we’re not recommending that you should abandon planning ahead completely. Instead, we’re going to show you how to do it in a way that uses just a small amount of effort to give you a huge amount of improvement in your game.

What to Consider

Suppose you’re in a heads-up situation on the flop or turn where you’re the aggressor. These are the types of situations where a little bit of planning can go a long way because you’re completely dictating the course of the hand. To give you an example, suppose you’re just in a simple continuation betting situation. If you make your bet, you have to take into consideration the way the board could come out in different ways as well as the different lines your opponent could take. In short, there’s a lot to consider.

Having so much to think about can lead to the sort of thinking where you’re just trying to make the best decision you can without thinking ahead through the different variations. You have to do this pre-flop in a lot of cases, for example, because there are just so many different ways the action can play out. However, there’s one specific line that you can think about right away that will make your play much more powerful:

Always consider what you’re going to do if your opponent raises.

If you always take into consideration what you will do if your opponent raises, then your bets will instantly become much more effective, and your play will instantly net you better results.

Why Raising?

There are a number of different reasons why considering what you’ll do against a raise is so critical and so effective. First and foremost, if you think about the rules of poker in general, facing a raise means you aren’t having to consider the different possibilities for future calls so much. It’s not like you’re IP HU and have to consider what will happen if your opponent calls and then leads the next street.

Second, you avoid a lot of mental problems that arise from getting raised unexpectedly. Being raised is a challenge, and it can cause a small spike in anxiety that can make you play in sub-optimal ways. Think about how many times you face a raise and make a bad call only to come back later with a clear head and realize that you should have just folded. Planning ahead for a raise and sticking to that plan will help you to avoid this type of mental mistake which is where a lot of the value will come from with this particular trick.

Mental Game Tactics

I’ve spent a lot of time in my column talking about the differences between tactics and strategy in poker. Almost all of that centers around the actual playing of poker. What’s more is that if you look at what’s talked about in the realm of the mental side of poker, almost all of it is about strategy.

In short, there’s not much discussion about mental tactics in the game of poker.

A great example of a mental tactic is planning ahead for the specific case of you facing a raise when you make a bet (or a re-raise if you’re making a raise yourself). The key here is that you’re dodging a difficult mental situation of having to face a raise and deal with the anxiety of that moment when you don’t know what to do. You want to avoid situation where you have to make decisions under duress as much as possible, and that’s exactly what this planning tactic does for you.

Thinking Further Ahead

If you want to take thinking ahead and planning to the next level, then you can think about what will happen if your opponent calls when you’re out of position. You can consider the different types of cards that can come without thinking about all 40+ of the possibilities individually and have a general idea of which cards you’ll bet with and which you will check.

What you want to avoid doing right away, however, is trying to think too far ahead when you’re in position. The reason for this is that you have to think about what your opponent is going to do as well as the different cards that can come. While this is something you should try to do on some level eventually, it’s not something you should jump right into if you’re not already thinking about what you’ll do if your opponent raises and what you’ll do if your opponent calls when you’re out of position.

In Conclusion

Thinking ahead in poker doesn’t have to be some incredibly difficult mental exercise. If you use the mental tactics that we have talked about this week in this column, then you can add some extremely valuable planning to your plays without turning it into something that’s overly mentally taxing.

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