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Planning Hands

by Michael Piper |  Published: Jul 01, 2010


Hopes and expectations are different animals. I hope to find Christy Turlington sitting on my toilet of gold after shipping the World Series main event, but I expect to play low stakes cash, lose a small amount of money and be utterly bored with the grind. The perfect poker career is by definition unobtainable, but to get as close as possible, keep your expectations rooted in reality and make plans accordingly. Strategic poker planning, both on and off the table, is crucial to maximising your win rate, but flexibility and fluidity is important as well — you don’t know what the river will be or how your opponent will react to your bet, so you may as well wait and see before you decide what to do.

Stack Sizes

Always be aware of remaining effective stack sizes relative to the size of the pot. Always. Facing an all-in bet, you can’t call on weak draws, but with deep stacks relative to the pot, you can call big bets to make your hand and take your opponent’s stack. The reverse is true with made hands — with short stacks, you can often call or raise with two pair, safe in the knowledge that even when wrong, you won’t lose much. With deep stacks, though, especially against tough players, you would do well to fold early in the hand if you don’t often improve, expecting to be up against a range of good draws and better made hands. You might have the best of it right now, but will be facing lots of tough decisions and opportunities for mistakes on later streets.

When deciding whether to check or bet with a medium-strength hand, drawing or made, consider what to do if your opponent raises. If your bet allows him to go all in and you can’t call, probably check. This also allows you to get to showdown or hit your draw cheaper, tying in with pot control. Because equities run close in pot-limit Omaha, you’ll often find yourself pot-committed after putting in one-third of your stack, so plan for how you will react to his bet or raise long before you get to that point.

Planning for Different Turns and Rivers

Even if your opponent doesn’t fire the turn, a full pot-bet on the flop denies you odds to chase a bare flush draw if he has two pair or better. You might have implied odds, but many opponents won’t pay you off and will keep on betting on blank turns. To make the call profitable though, consider bluffing when other scare cards hit. Beware of trying to represent the board pair — your line might not make sense, and your opponent will often be trapping. Instead, tend to bluff when the straight comes in, even if it looks like an unlikely gutshot, you will usually flat-call the flop with wraps on flushing boards, so your bluff adds profitability to your flop calls, both when you have it and you don’t.

Making plans to bluff on certain turns or rivers, and sticking to them, should be an important factor in your decision on whether to call or fold to a flop bet. Think about how your opponent expects you to play different hands in your range on various turns, while considering stack sizes.

Keep Your Plan Fluid

Sometimes you won’t need to plan for future action or streets. When you flop the nuts or a huge draw, your immediate concern is how to get all in right now. How your opponent reacts or what the turn brings doesn’t affect your flop decision, merely cluttering up your thought process. In live poker, you have the luxury of taking your time to think through every permutation of future actions and turn and river combinations. With multiple tables online — I play up to nine — that luxury is missing, and you should preserve your concentration for the decisions that really matter.

With that in mind, don’t make your plans rigid. Especially live, when you can read your opponents’ body language, you can occasionally make profitable, elaborate flop calls with complete air, intending to represent anything and everything on the turn. When the ace of spades hits the turn, and his demeanour completely changes though, you should probably give up. As long as you know your opponent well, your flop “float” is still profitable, but when presented with new information, you allow yourself to deviate from your initial plan and make the best possible decision at this point in time.

This thinking regarding plans is useful off the table as well. You might plan to meet Moe at a quiet, off-strip restaurant to discuss your trouble hands from today’s play, but when Joe calls to let you know he just won $300,000 in Bobby’s Room and wants to take you out to the best strip club in town, you should probably be willing to change your plans at the last moment. If Moe is leaving town tomorrow and this is your last chance to discuss strategy with him, you should probably follow through and meet him.

Don’t plan your actions to avoid tough decisions; as the better poker player, you derive extra profitability from making these decisions better than your opponents. Don’t worry too much if you screw it up this time either — you improve by learning from mistakes. Don’t plan to make mistakes, but do plan to learn from them. Spade Suit

Michael Piper has been playing pot-limit omaha online for a living for more than three years. He coaches at and posts online under the screenname wazz.