The Elements of Hold’em: Foresight
It’s amazing what you can do with solvers these days. Thanks to the power of computers – and the very smart programmers who harness that power – we can analyze just about any heads-up situation at the poker table and figure out the optimal play. Poker gets more complicated when you’re in a multi-way pot, or when you’re playing a split-pot game like Omaha Hi/Lo; still, these solvers can do wonders to help you with your strategy when you play Texas Hold’em online at Ignition.
There’s one catch: These solvers are looking at one specific moment during a hand – in a vacuum, as they say in poker. In game-theory optimal (GTO) poker, the correct play in a vacuum is always the correct play. But that’s not how real poker works. This game isn’t played in a vacuum; every time you play a hand, you face the possibility of making multiple decisions before the pot is won. There are multiple hands in every poker tournament or cash game, and ideally, there will be multiple tournaments and cash games over the course of your poker career. You need to plan accordingly for all your future decision points if you want to succeed in the long run. You need foresight.
Planning a Poker Hand From Start to Finish
Let’s start with a single hand of Hold’em. The first decision (and the most important decision) you’ll make is pre-flop: Do you enter the pot? If so, you’ll probably open-raise for a certain amount, maybe 2X, maybe 2.5 or 3X or more. And you’ll do it with a certain range of hands, depending on your position at the table, whether anyone else has entered the pot, and who the other players are.
Sometimes, you’ll open-raise and everyone else will fold. But you’ll often face some resistance. The hand will continue, and you’ll have to make decisions on the flop. Do you make a continuation bet? Do you check back in position, or check-raise/call out of position? Depending on the choices you and the other players make, you might face similar decisions on the turn and river. That’s a lot of decisions.
Poker Strategies for the Long Run
If you want to make it through these streets unscathed, you should have some kind of plan mapped out beforehand, based on logic as well as GTO math. For example, let’s say you’re in the cut-off with pocket Aces, and there’s a loose-aggressive opponent in the big blind. You might want to open-raise for a larger size, maybe 4X or more, to inflate the pot with your premium hole cards. If the big blind 3-bets, you might want to call and play a trapping style, anticipating that your opponent might bet all three streets no matter what she has. The solver might not like any of these plays in a vacuum, but they work as part of a larger plan.
Then you need to consider future hands and future sessions. If you think your opponent is smart enough to counter your strategy by playing a tighter style, you should be prepared to change your strategy, too. Maybe you’ll 4-bet pre-flop with pocket Aces the next time you get the opportunity against this same person. The closer attention you pay to your opponents and their tendencies, the more foresight you’ll develop, and the better plans you’ll make. Solvers can help you along the way, but it’s up to you to make these plans and execute them properly.