Can You Think 3 Moves Ahead?

Posted on September 30, 2013 by admin

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.  — Ben Franklin

Before I became a poker pro, I was a tournament chess player.  In chess, you would never imagine making a move without considering how your opponent is going to reply to that move, and how YOU are going to reply to that reply.  So why would you do that in poker?

Tricky mate in 3 — hover over for answer

Do you often catch yourself making a bet, getting raised by your opponent, and then saying, “geepers…what do I do now”?  If so, you need to update your vocabulary; nobody says “geepers” anymore.  But after that, you need to accept that you have a long way to go in your poker education.

I guess this is why so many strong chess players excel at poker.  Because thinking ahead comes naturally to them.  In a given chess position, you might sometimes be considering 5 different moves (we call these “candidate moves”).  To each of these, your opponent might have 5 or more serious replies that have to be considered.  To these, you might have 5 possible replies.  You can see how it grows exponentially.

In poker, we’re fortunate to only have three possibilities – bet, call, fold – to worry about.  Obviously, bet sizing can complicate things a little, but the tree of possibilities doesn’t grow nearly as fast as chess.  In fact, folding could be compared to checkmate — it ends the hand, so we don’t have to worry about any “moves” beyond that.

Playing with a plan means having a strategy for the entire hand.  You can verbalize these in your head if it helps.  Some examples might be:

  • I’m not prepared to play this medium strength hand for all my chips.  But it could win a medium-sized pot.  And I do need to bet or he’s going to take the pot away from me.  I’m going to try to control the pot with smallish bets, hoping to keep some hands I can beat in his calling range.  If I get raised, I’m going to fold.
  • I have a big draw.  I like my hand, but if all the chips go in, I want to make the last bet.  I’m going to bet about ½ the pot.  This way, if he raises, I’ll go all-in, and will still have enough chips to have some fold equity.
  • I think I have the implied odds to call this bet with my straight draw.  If I miss my draw, I’m going to fold on the turn if he bets a sizeable amount again.  If a flush card comes on the turn and he checks to me, I’ll bluff at it.  Otherwise, I’ll check behind him and take the free card.

That’s the kind of thinking you should be doing on every hand.  Notice how I made a plan for the entire hand, as soon as the flop came out.  Sometimes, you can even start planning pre-flop.  If you aren’t planning ahead, this is the single most important thing you should be working on!

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