by Carol Tracy
Carol writes Exclusively for the IPN.
A carefully thought out plan is necessary to outwit, entrap, circumvent and surprise your opponents with one goal in mind...to take their money. The clever plays, loose calls, river cards are all wasted if you don't get the money long term. The excitement of drawing out, catching the miracle river, and cracking aces is wasted if you are not a winning player at the end of the day, month or year. If you play for the excitement, go ahead; take that 12:1 long shot when the pot is giving you 4:1 odds. Are you winning, losing, or breaking even? Only you can answer that question.
Strategy: a. A careful plan or method: a clever stratagem b. the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal
Stratagem: a. an artifice or trick in war (poker) for deceiving and outwitting the enemy (opponent) b. a cleverly contrived trick or scheme for gaining an end; skill in ruses or trickery
Strategy is paramount to success in any competitive sport or game and especially important in poker. The development of a winning strategy begins long before you post your first blind. It begins the moment you decide to go on line and find a game in which to invest your time and money. Pre-play analysis is essential before you take a seat. A good predetermined strategy based on the current table and group of players will usually guarantee a winning session at least two out of three times. Control your desire to take the first seat available and plan your stratagem.
Start by checking the information readily available such as the percent of players seeing the flop, size of the pots and hands held per hour. Personally, I prefer between 31- 49 percent seeing the flop; any lower and the game is to tight any higher too loose. This is predicated by your personal preference and standard deviation. If you are an advanced, serious poker player, you know your standard deviation and already make decisions based on that information as part of your winning strategy.
Second consider pot size, which is usually, but not always directly related to the number of players seeing the flop. Consider the correlation between the number of players seeing the flop and pot size. For example, if the flop percentage is relatively low and the average pot size is relatively high, it could imply that a few aggressive players are pushing too hard with less than premium hands. An ideal circumstance would be to find a few players raising with weak hands out of position, who attempt the bluff raise on the turn or bet the river with a busted hand. Watching the game will give you a better idea. An average pot size should be about 4 1/2 to 6 times the big blind. A higher pot size is usually not sustainable, but can be very lucrative given the right set of circumstances. You will be able to take advantage of any situation after you have devised a stratagem for the session. Don't be too eager to take a seat, the preparation will be well worth the wait and if the situation changes...no problem...on-line opportunities are unlimited. After you take a seat, the play will continue to change as players move in and out. Develop a strategy before putting your money on the table.
Hands dealt per hour define the pace of the game. If it is slow, players may be playing multiple tables, which weaken the gene pool. The same DNA on multiple tables will usually display the same style of play and therefore be fairly predictable. In most instances, predictability in a player is desirable but if you have several players on multiple tables, games become weak...unless, of course, they are "action junkies". It has been my experience that in higher limits, multiple table players are usually, but not always, solid players. Too many solid players on multiple tables affect the stability of the game. The weaker players will soon lose to the solid players bust out and the table will become short. If there are two or more tables at the same limits, with nine players, with five players duplicated, look for greener pastures.
Don't do it! It's not time to take a seat yet! Our work has just begun.
Create a strategy using information previously recorded about the players and any new observations during preparation. Take the time to assemble the players on the table before you take a seat even if you loose your place in line; this is one of the most important aspects of preparation. Record the players on the current table using your master list of notes for the site along with any players waiting or watching the game ~ observers today, adversaries tomorrow. I call this my "current table view". Keep the table view updated while on the table by adding more notes and changing out players as they come and go. Print a list of the master notes on all players and the "current table view" to work with while playing. Continually monitor and change notes on players and be prepared to alter your perception of their play as you get more information. If you have a second computer, load the information for ease of editing. Monitor as many players as possible before you consider entering the game. Once you understand the texture of the game and it agrees with your playing style; put your name on the wait list. While waiting in line, watch the table and work with your notes. You are now armed and ready to enter the fray and come out a winner.
Example #1: I was at a $50-$100 hold'em game, armed, ready, and waiting. After carefully watching the game before taking the seat and gathering further information while folding for the next three rounds, I found myself in the small blind with 88. The under-the gun player (first to act after the big blind) limped in, a middle player, the cutoff (player to the immediate right of the button) and the button all called. I made an educated assumption after viewing my notes on the players that I was not up against a premium hand or a pocket pair higher than mine. The most likely holdings of the limpers were Ax, Kx, connectors or maybe a smaller pair. I knew, due to the current make-up of the table, that the other players should perceive me as a tight, solid player. Because of their perception of me, and my read on them, I chose to raise the eights, & everyone called. I figured to be sitting pretty if the flop didn't bring any high cards. The flop was 3, 8, 7 rainbow and did not allow for a flopped straight. Based on my assumption about the other hands I checked hoping to check raise. I thought any straight draw or pair would likely bet. The big blind bet, the under the gun caller raised, middle caller re-raised, the button called and I capped it. The big blind and button folded, everyone else called. I knew my opponents would put me on a hand such as AA, KK. The turn was a Q, I bet, under the gun raised and the middle player called. I put the under the gun player on a possible set, he would have raised pre-flop with any over pair and would not have called pre-flop under the gun with anything that would give him two pair. The other player was a loose player and would call any number of bets with any part of it, two pair or a draw, so I re-raised. The river brought another 3, I bet the under the gun player raised all in, the middle player called, I re-raised and got called. The under the gun player had a pocket pair of sevens for sevens full of threes. The middle player mucked. This is an example of how notes helped. Notes on the players helped to put them on a specific hand or range of hands. I also took into consideration what my opponents thought they knew about my style of play. All of this knowledge allowed me to extract maximum value from the hand.
People play poker for many reasons. However, if your true goal is to make money you must develop and execute a plan of attack, a well-developed strategy for the current circumstances.
Thank goodness there will always be plenty of players who do not plan a strategy and will continue to be a source of revenue for those who do. The goal, with pre-game analysis and planning, is to locate them and help them with their unwitting desire to be separated from their money.