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Mind Over Poker

Thinking Ahead

by David Apostolico |  Published: May 28, 2010


Thinking AheadI contemplated whether or not I should even write this column, as I think the subject matter is relatively elementary. However, I’ve seen enough people make this mistake — including plenty of experienced players — that I became convinced that this column needed to be written. Keep in mind that this applies only to tournaments.

The tipping point for me was the following hand: Player A, a very solid player, open-raises from middle position for three times the big blind. Player B calls from the big blind. The flop comes K-Q-2 rainbow. Player B checks. Player A bets the pot. Player B calls. The turn is a 5. Player B checks. Player A makes a bet of two-thirds the size of the pot. Player B calls. The river is an offsuit 8. Player B checks. Player A goes all in for his remaining chips, which is only about one-fourth of the pot. Player B is now extremely short-stacked, and would be crippled if he called and lost.

Player B thought for a long time, and finally folded his hand. Since he was priced out of any drawing hands, I had to know what he could possibly have that would cause him to call all the way to the river, then fold. I didn’t think that his time spent deliberating on the river was all show, either. He seemed genuinely pained. So, I had to ask him what he had, and, to my surprise, he said that he had pocket nines. I have no idea what he was thinking, as he played this hand so poorly on just about every street.

However, I want to focus on just one aspect of this poorly played hand. Player B seemed oblivious to the fact that he would face bigger decisions on each subsequent betting round if he continued to call. While this hand was obvious, I see that same mistake being made time and time again.

I see players call decent-size bets preflop with hands like 7-6 suited in the later stages of tournaments. That may be a fine play in the early stages, but it can be problematic in the later stages. If you hit a draw, you’re going to face some tough and expensive decisions. You have to be prepared for that. Players all too frequently get themselves into trouble by not thinking ahead. You have to know your opponents and how much you are willing to commit to a hand at any particular stage.

Hands may go up in value if you believe that you have another edge, such as an opponent from whom you think you can take the hand away if he doesn’t hit anything. But you must have an in-depth understanding of these factors and weigh them before you make that very first action to enter a pot. Calling to see what develops or with optimistic hopes of hitting a dream flop is no way to play poker. Spade Suit

David Apostolico is the author of several poker-strategy books, including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at