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Have a Plan

Many beginning poker players have no clear idea of what they are trying to accomplish when playing a hand.  you must first know your goal before you can decide how to achieve it.

Obviously, your basic goal is to win money. However, there are many subgoals that must be reached in order to best achieve your main goals.

As an example, how would you play your hand when all the cards are out in seven-card stud if you have four-of-a-kind showing?

Seven-card stud

You

Opponent

If you are an experienced player, the answer is obvious (you check, of course). But would you believe that frequently it is seen beginners bet this hand in this spot?

If you would have bet this hand, it shows you do not have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish. For instance, when you bet your hand on the last round of a poker pot, it should only be because you are trying to accomplish one of two objectives:

  1. You are trying to make a better hand fold.
  2. You are trying to win money from a worse hand.

Normally, there can be no other good reason to bet. You should have a clear idea of which of these two things you’re trying to do before deciding on a bet.

Now, look again at the play of betting rules four-of-a-kind showing on the last round of seven-card stud. You cannot possibly make a better hand fold. Likewise, a worse hand will never call since he sees your four-of-a-kind.

This is an extreme example and is obvious to most players.  However, even move experienced or great players will make milder forms of this error.

They might bet a hand that seems strong, but in a situation where they only figure to get called if they are beaten, such as betting three-of-a-kind on the end into what was apparently a flush draw. 

These same players may also fail to bet hands when there is a decent chance that this bet will make a better hand fold.

These two reasons for betting on the end have more common names. If you are trying to accomplish goal No.1, you are bluffing. If you are trying to accomplish goal No.2, you are betting for value.

Just when it is right to try to accomplish either of these objectives is a much more difficult problem.  For now, it is important to understand that you should be trying to accomplish at least one of these objectives when you bet on the end.

If it seems quite likely that you can accomplish neither one by betting (namely getting a better hand to fold or a worse hand to call), then you are better off checking.

It is important to realize that your goals may change if there are still more  cards to come.  There are now other objectives to be achieved by betting, as well as the two already mentioned.

The two most important of these are to make him pay for, or force him to fold a hand that is drawing to beat you.  Thus, if you have that four-of-a-kind showing with one card to come, you certainly should bet (unless you think your hand is beaten).

Why let him draw free?  If his hand still has a chance, you make him pay for that chance.  If he folds when you bet, your bet has saved you the pot those rare times that he would have outdrawn you.

These are just a few examples of how plays in poker, whether they may be checking, betting, raising, or folding, all should have a reason behind them.

Each play that you make in poker must be made in order to accomplish something. Usually what you are trying to accomplish is related to maximizing yoiur winnings or minimizing your losses for that specific hand. 

However, you may occasionally make a play in which your main objective is to create an image for the future, an image of which you can later take advantage of.

We have just scratched the surface in regard to the different reasons to make various plays. I will expand upon this subject in future essays. 

However, this is only the first step on the road to becoming an expert poker player. After we know the reason behind making a play in a certain situation, we must decide whether our hand justifies the play being  made.

For now, stop making plays in a haphazard fashion. Before doing anything think, “What am I trying to accomplish by this play?” Have a plan.

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