AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 03.12.2020 · last updated 03.12.2020

Do you have a plan when playing a hand of poker?

I’m sure we’d all like to answer ‘yes’ to this question but, especially for new and inexperienced players, that won’t be the case. I’d hope that regular players with a certain amount of time at the virtual tables under their belt will engage in some kind of thinking ahead from the moment a hand begins. But we can do even better…

There’s far more to poker than waiting for each new card to appear and only then simplistically making adjustments and decisions. If this in any way describes you, then you’re going about the game all wrong! It’s imperative that we consider how a hand might develop from street to street, not least in a way that factors in our potential influence on the direction it might take. If we don’t try to assume control we can be sure someone else will.

Most of the time we’ll be folding (or, at least, we should be!), so it’s all the more important when we do have something worth getting involved with that we strive to make our presence felt. To do this successfully clearly requires some serious thought.

Prepare BEFORE you sit down to play

In fact, to maximize our chance of success, we should be formulating plans not just pre-flop, but before we sit down. There are certain (strong) starting hands we know in advance that we may well be getting busy with, a typical example being AK. The same goes for numerous situations such as hitting a set on the Flop. Both these eventualities will happen, and similar scenarios will also arise, over and over, the more we play. We also know that, when they do, they’ll tend to require handling in specific ways.

With this in mind, not only will some thought and planning be needed during the hand itself, but investing some time away from the tables will pay dividends. Those of you who read my articles might have seen references to chess (I was a chess pro before switching to poker), which is in many way closely related to poker and necessitates similar approaches and thought processes. And here is another good illustration of how poker players can take a leaf out of the chess player’s playbook. A major part of chess is the time and effort spent building a so-called repertoire of ‘openings’ (such as the Queen’s Gambit of Netflix fame) and ‘defences’ – by analysing typical positions, ideas, strategical themes and so on that are likely to appear on the board after an established series of opening moves. It’s an absolute must to familiarise ourselves with these in advance because the game is difficult enough as it is! The same goes for poker. Meanwhile, football legend David Beckham would hang around after training with his team-mates to practice on his own, taking countless free kicks from various positions/angles to be optimally prepared when the same opportunities presented themselves in a match in terms of which part of the goal is best to aim for this or that part of the pitch. You don’t have to play chess or football to appreciate the usefulness of such preparation, but I can guarantee that most of the online poker players reading these words don’t do any such thing, partly because it’s not as much fun as playing…

With one of the chief characteristics of online poker being the limited thinking time that keeps the game fluid, it makes even more sense to facilitate the decision making process by using our time as effectively as possible. Why waste valuable time at the table effectively reinventing the wheel wondering what to do with a common premium starting hand when we can put in some useful preparatory analysis in advance?

We can elevate our game so effectively with just a little bit of regular groundwork. By investing as little as an hour per week merely thinking about how certain starting hands fare on this or that texture of Flop, for example, we can achieve a level of training that allows us to sit down to play armed with a far greater understanding and appreciation of key aspects of the game.

Embracing this kind of preparation in poker gives us an enormous edge over those players who don’t bother, the result being that we can confidently apply ourselves to the more complex elements of a hand because we’ve already considered that kind of situation during our preparation.

If you hadn’t thought about improving your game in this way before, it’ll be hard not to do the right thing now! So what are you waiting for…?

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