Before You Play Poker… Have a Plan

By Tom "TIME" Leonard | July 1, 2010

Have you ever heard the expression, most people do not plan to fail, however, many people fail to plan? I think it’s a pretty neat adage which could lead us to conclude that if you don’t have a plan you’re not as likely to succeed. This is certainly sage advice for all aspects of our lives including trying to make a profit at playing poker. If, at this point in your poker journey, you still go to your favorite card club or online poker site and do not have a plan, I would suggest you think about the above adage and begin to start planning.

There are legions of players that get the urge to play some poker and rush off to their favorite venue – and that is the extent of their plan. “Hey, I’m really in the mood to play some poker”… is that a plan? If it could even constitute being a plan, I believe you would agree that it isn’t much of one. Many players might at this juncture be thinking, “What is this nut talking about? I know how to play poker so why do I need a plan?” Well, I’m glad you asked – the mere exercise of planning will put you in the right frame of mind to be successful and provide you with a check list to keep you on track.

Let’s kick around what elements would make up a solid plan which could be to your benefit. First and foremost, if your objective is to make a profit from your time invested, number one on your list should be to play your A game and nothing but your A game. If you take your time spent at the poker table seriously, then actually planning to not allow emotion to dictate your play at any point during the session is essential. Here is the secret to planning a poker session – your plan should be made up of key elements you probably are quite familiar with but actually planning to adhere to them and reviewing your “checklist” during your playing time will help you actually stick to them. Knowing and doing is not the same thing!

Other elements of a good poker plan should include clocking your opponents’ skill levels and playing tendencies, observing opponents for tells, remaining aware of the image you are portraying so you can better anticipate opponent reactions, monitoring your emotional state and generally paying close attention to the game. None of these elements are ground breaking ideas but to actually tell yourself that they are part of your plan and need to be adhered to will force you to do just that! Many players, who play in home games, play for the social aspects and enjoy the camaraderie that exists and are not obsessed with turning a profit. That’s fine and you should be able to profit from their inattentiveness. In fact, if you are one of those players that is participating for the banter and snacks and don’t really care if you win or lose a few coins of the realm… that’s OK too. However, if you wish to consistently turn a profit… have a plan!

Another element that some players do not plan for is a loss limit. They plop down in a newly vacated seat and buy in for a rack of chips. If then their fortunes go immediately south through a bad beat or two and they find their initial buy in almost gone, they automatically reach into their pocket to finance another rack or visit the closest ATM in order to reload. That’s fine if it was part of a contingency plan but if they are reloading out of frustration or even desperation in an attempt to get even, they are allowing emotion to dictate a course of action. Remember your plan and not going on tilt should be part of it.

Another solid element to be planning for is to be on the lookout for situations that can be exploited. Situations that should warrant your attention would include being on the button against weak/tight blinds, being in position to isolate a player who regularly comes in with marginal hands and punishing early limpers with large raises to name a few. Remember, good cards come and go but situations arise constantly and the player who is planning to identify them is the player who can successfully exploit them.

One major key to success in poker is to understand that knowing and doing are two distinctly different things. If you have not already been doing so, begin to formulate a plan when you embark on a poker session and then be constantly reviewing it and adhering to it. To plan is to be proactive. To just plop your butt down and wait to see if you are dealt a good hand is to be reactive. Be proactive and always have a plan. I know when you decide to play poker you’re not planning to fail, so make sure you don’t fail to plan. May the flop be with you!

By Tom "TIME" Leonard

Tom has been writing about poker since 1994 and has played across the USA for over 40 years, playing every game in almost every card room in Atlantic City, California and Las Vegas.


One Response to “Before You Play Poker… Have a Plan”

  1. Queso
    July 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Great points, TIME. I can definitely see the difference between when I just “plop my butt down and wait for good hands” , and when I actually have some thought ahead of time regarding what I should do in given situations. Thanks for the reminder that good players are proactive instead of reactive.

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