When a player is dealt into a hand and
looks down at his/her hole cards, a decision is made on whether or not to “play” that particular hand.
Position, chip-stacks, table image, blind amounts,
and other elements are considered and mentally tabulated to (hopefully) arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. When chips are placed, the
player makes a statement for all to see, and temporarily concedes the amount at risk in hopes of gaining something positive out of that
risk (usually to rake the pot, but sometimes solely to gain information or relay a specific message to opponents.).
But entering a pot is just that; and the difficult decisions are just around the corner. At times, the deck will run you over and turn
your mediocre holding into a strong hand… but more often than not, you’ll be staring at a flop that could’ve been kinder. As your
opponent bets into you and you contemplate the most appropriate reaction, you realize the hand is lost; not necessarily because you have
the worst hand, but simply because you have no idea one way or the other… so you muck.
Situations like this come up so often in Texas Hold ‘em that it’s hardly a wonder why many players go on tilt after being pushed-around
and intimidated by superior opponents. Failing to prepare for the inevitable “blank flops” is a sure way to reduce your overall
expectation and increase your dependence on fortunate cards… a bad deal all the way around. However, there are ways to improve your
“read” on different situations; in turn giving you the opportunity to fight back with your skills instead of your cards.
Preparing for a wide range of scenarios when entering a pot is of utmost importance for players who want to gain a statistical edge over
opponents. For those who are truly serious about improving their games; putting an opponent on a “range” of hands is the first step
towards playing inspired poker. If you don’t have a “guesstimate” of your opponent’s holding, you’re solely relying on cards to give you
the best hand – so here are a few Texas Holdem basics that will allow many players to increase their expectation.
Step 1: Putting your opponent(s) on a range of hands
Poker preparation and thinking ahead is essential to becoming a winning player.
You need to have a general idea of your opponents’ “probable” cards. Would he/she call a pre-flop raise with low suited-connectors or
pocket pairs? Is it possible your opponent smooth-called with a monster? If you can narrow most possible hands and put your opponent on
“a mid-pocket pair or strong Ace”, then you’ll give
yourself an enormous edge when it comes time to act and react on the flop and later streets.
Remember that your goal is to increase your edge. There will undoubtedly be times when you’re completely wrong (which is fine). One must
be willing to make mistakes in order to get better. Even if you can only guess your opponents’ approximate pocket holdings 20% of the
time - that’s much better than being clueless on every single hand you play. You may notice that your “reading” skills improve
remarkably after a little practice.
Step 2: Prepare yourself for different flops & scenarios
If you’re holding 99, think about how you’re going to react when the flop comes out two over cards without giving you a set. If you have
AK/AQ etc., contemplate in advance how you feel about a flop of under cards, and prepare yourself to act accordingly (while using the
information described in Step 1 to help you through).
If you’re not ready for difficult situations, you won’t be able to compete when the cards aren’t cooperating. There’s nothing wrong with
being in a challenging predicament… you should attempt to confront moments of doubt and convert them into opportunities. Players who
religiously avoid adversity at the poker tables are easily “encouraged” by opponents.
Step 3: Collect & Utilize information
Here is where it all comes together. Your opponents release information every time they bet, call, raise or fold. If you’ve been paying
attention to the action at your table, you should have a general idea of players’ starting-hand selection tendencies. Combine all
information received (including pre-flop & post-flop action) to arrive at a reasonable conclusion.
Step 4: Be Willing To Adapt
Did you put your opponent on a flush draw after the flop came out? If you did, how is he/she reacting to the blank suit that came on the
river? Do your opponent’s actions correspond to a player who’s holding a busted-draw? Is it possible he/she could be holding a different
hand that relates more-logically to post-flop action?
Nothing is set in stone. While you shouldn’t discard your initial read with frivolity, you shouldn’t exactly fall in love with it
either. There are times when it’s obvious you were mistaken (but also times when your opponent’s aim is to lead you to an “obvious”
conclusion that is incorrect). Work with what you have, and adapt to changes in the dynamics of any hand to arrive at a course of action
you can live with.
Step 5: Execute
The first four steps mean absolutely nothing if you don’t follow-through. For those of you who are thinking “I should do this every hand
I play? Isn’t that Insane?” I would answer Yes & No. Players who push themselves to make an effort often-times discover ability they
never knew they had.
Sometimes you’ll draw the incorrect conclusion, and you can expect to get burned every now and then. There will be moments when your jaw
drops to the floor after an opponent shows cards you never even remotely considered. But poker is about long-term ability and
perseverance; not short-term results. More often than not, mistakes will lead to improvement – and improvement leads to profit. Prepare,
apply, and make an effort… you’ll begin raking-in pots that sleepwalkers only dream of.