Poker can seem like an immensely complex game given the large number of variables that need to be considered in every situation. But if we create a plan, or at least a framework for considering our lines, poker becomes much simpler. Ultimately, we are always asking ourselves “how, if at all, are we going to turn our hand and situation into money?” As poker players, our main focus is making +EV plays that make us money. Our planning process should clearly reflect that. Let’s review some things that we consider while planning our preflop hands:
What actions do we expect preflop?: In thinking about future actions, we should always consider what actions we expect if we make X play. For instance, before we raise we should ask ourselves “do I expect to get 3bet a lot here? If yes, do I have a plan for that?” Before we call a raise we might ask ourselves “do we expect to get squeezed here if we call? If so, how often and do we have a plan for it?” These considerations are always pertinent unless of course we are closing the preflop action.
What kind of hand are we playing?: There are different kinds of hands strengths preflop. We have implied odd hands, outright value hands, semi-bluff hands, total air, etc. If we are going to play a certain hand type we want to ensure that the reasons for playing it, and expected situations, are correct. For instance, why would we play an implied odds hand if we didn’t think there were implied odds? Why would we get involved in a multi-way pot with a hand that doesn’t perform well in that situation? As much as playing solid poker is about exploiting our opponents and their hands/frequencies, we still need to consider our hole cards for optimal line creation.
Do we expect heads up, multi-way, or no-way pots?: While this point also relates to the previous one, we want to consider how much action we might get. Just as importantly, we want to select hand ranges and actions that perform well. If we expect many callers, we want to raise hands that perform well in a MW pot. If we expect to a lot of folds, we might want to open more liberally. This isn’t to say that our plan was bad just because unexpected action happened (a nit squeezed, we randomly got 5 callers when we really expected one or none, etc.). But if we expect Y to happen often, and Y isn’t good for us, we want to heavily reconsider our action made just before Y.
What kind of SPR are we creating?: Because our entire goal with preflop is to create profitable situations, we want to consider the SPR we are getting involved in. We know that certain hands perform well in different SPR zones, and we want to keep that in mind when selecting lines and creating plans for our hand. For instance, if we are considering 3betting a player with AQ we might ask ourselves “If we 3bet and he calls, how does AQ perform in the expected SPR?” If the answer is that AQ performs rather poorly, we might consider another line PF (sizing differently, flatting, etc.). The SPR creation is most important as the effective stacks get smaller, and becomes less relevant as there is more depth. When the SPR would be small, usually our lines are very clear cut, but they can become tricky in that 3-6 zone. Just make sure that we are considering SPR whenever it’s relevant.
Could another line show more profit?: Poker is great in that we only have so many different actions we can take. If we are first to act, we can only open-raise or open-limp. If someone opened the pot in front of us, we can only fold, call, or reraise. If we just simply run through the logical happenings and EV of each, we can more easily choose the best action. The planning process aims to ensure we aren’t just looking at the most +EV action on this street, but that we are taking the most +EV line for the hand.
If we expect to see a flop, will a CB win often?: Getting a caller, or callers, isn’t a rare thing. Because of this, we can more properly shape our preflop range if we have an idea on the flop profitability. For instance, if there is a limp by a player who likes to limp/call a setmining range we will probably isolate him liberally. If we know he tends to play the flops in a set-or-jet manner when he setmines, we know that we can use larger preflop sizes (within reason, of course) and smaller CB sizes (again, within reason). This creates a plan, which in turn allows us to select a range more easily (do our hole cards even matter with the stated assumptions?)
The same thought process can be used in a 3bet scenario. Say we are considering a light 3bet where we expect to get called a fair amount of time by the preflop raiser. While the outrightEV of the 3bet might be negative, the play can be massively profitable if he plays fit-or-fold against CBs. Again, our goal is to be thinking one step ahead, and creating the best lines possible.
If we expect to see a flop, will a CB fail often?: There are plenty of times when we make a play preflop against a player who we deem as a calling station. Or we make a play preflop against someone who we know is a habitual peeler. It is important, especially against the calling station, that we choose hands that perform well in that environment. If a calling station limps in MP and we are in the BB, we probably don’t want to try and isolate him with 74s OOP. Just by thinking ahead we know we are getting called preflop almost always, we will be out of position (OOP) postflop against someone who probably isn’t folding to many CBs, and our hand is going to hit poorly postflop most of the time. Just by visualizing what situation we expect if we make our preflop raise, we can more easily decide which line we want to take.
Is there flexibility?: We can sometimes think even one step further, and consider turn/river lines. Just because a player will call our preflop raise and CB a little more often, doesn’t mean that all hope is lost when considering bluff. If that player would play the turn/river in a very fit-or-fold manner, we could plan on running some double barrels with our bluffs. However, it is usually rare that we have this much information. It doesn’t mean that we can’t consider it if we have the information, just that we usually don’t want to venture liberally into the turn/river without a solid idea on the profitability of doing so.
It may seem like a lot of things to consider, and to some extent it is, but these things get much easier with practice. Just simply ask what we expect to happen if we make X play or Y play, then visualize their respective profitability. This is the building block of creating new and exploitative plays, and can be a great spring board into new profit. Just keep working with it until it becomes second nature, and enjoy making plays with more confidence and EV.