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Thinking of the Future

It is preferable to read The Theory of Poker by David Skylansky, a chapter on "concealing your hand." You should play your hand somewhat differently from the way it would seem it should be played, in order to avoid giving it away. Obviously, you should only consider doing this against rivals who are good enough to pay attention to the way you are playing and are now likely to "put you on" a hand that you actually don't have. You expect to take the advantage of this deception on a later betting round of the hand.

There is another reason to play a hand differently from what would be expected. This strange play will not only help you on a future betting round but will also help you on a future hand. To be specific, it is often correct to make a bad play because of the impression it will make on your rivals which can be taken advantage of later on in the game.

The simple example is to throw in an extra raise early in a hand with cards that don't really warrant it in order to give illusion of action. For example, I often raise the pot in a limit hold'em game with a hand like:

This play will cost me a fraction of a bet in mathematical expectation but gains me a substantial amount in future action on subsequent hands. An example of a similar play in seven-card stud would be to raise with a three-flush or a small pair. By itself, the play might be wrong, but will achieve profits in the long run.

Giving the illusion of action, however, is not the only way that you should think of the future while playing in a poker game. Suppose you want to make what you think is a bad call if you think this play will tend to keep other online omaha poker players from trying to "run over" you later on in the game. Similarly, if you find that you have been forced to throw your hand away on the end two or three hands in a row, you should take this into mind. You should be inclined to call next time with a hand that you wouldn't usually call with. This is because you can assume that your rivals have noticed you folding and more likely to try to bluff you.

There are less obvious situations where you should think of the future. For example, when playing hold'em, I will sometimes check a good hand in an early position on the flop and then check it again on fourth street even if there has been no flop bet. Many players think this is bad playing and on the surface they may be right (though slow-playing this way will often win more money). On the other hand, there is something they are overlooking. By making this little bad play, it sets a very profitable play for future hands.

For those of you who are not sure the play is to steal the pot on the last round from an early position (especially when an insignificant card comes off on the end) when there has been no betting up to that point. In a $10-$20 game, I invest $20 to steal between $30 and $50. This play will not work for most players. However, it works to me because players know that I am capable of checking a big hand twice (on the flop and on the fourth street). Thus I am not called on the end by another player with an average hand.

Few examples have been given of how you should think how to play you make now can affect the outcome and strategy of future hands. You can sometimes intentionally make a certain play in order to set something up for the later. Even if you are playing a hand as normal, however, you should evaluate how your play on this hand affects your rivals' perception of you as far as future hands are concerned. If you have evaluated their perception correctly, you should be able to turn around and take the advantage of that play.

All Errors Are Not Created Equal

Whenever you play a hand in poker, you are left with multiple of decisions.

It is up to you and no one else has yet bet, you should decide first whether to bet or check. If someone else has already bet, you should decide whether to raise, call, or fold.

If you knew all of your rivals' hole cards, you always make the right decision. Unfortunately even the best players cannot always be exactly sure of what they are up against.

Even the best players are prone to make mistakes when deciding how to play a hand. (Error here means that they are playing the hand differently from the way they would if they knew their rivals' hole cards.)

As good players are better at deducing their rivals' hands, they are less likely to make an incorrect decision about how to play their hands.

This may, however, be their downfall. This inconsistent fact stems from the reasoning that all errors are not equal.

There are basically two kinds of errors mostly done while playing a poker hand:

•  An error that costs you one or more bets.

•  An error that costs you the pot.

Error 2 is much worse than error 1. The exceptions are when the pot is very small or when the game is no-limit or pot-limit.

In a standard limit poker game, an error that cost you the pot is much worse than an error that costs you a bet one or two, especially if the poker pot is large. It is often correct to make a play (betting or raising) even if it is the wrong play (in that it would be wrong if your rival has what he seems to have). This happens when the play can win you the pot when it is right, but only costs a bet when it is wrong.

For example, if some play will cost you an extra bet 70 percent of the time and win or save you the pot 30 percent of the time, it is better in the long run to make this play if there are already several bets in the pot.

You might now have understood what it mean when I said that some good players may cause their own downfall by making the "correct" decision about how to play their hands most of the time. They may save a bet three out of four times but blow the pot a good portion of the remaining times. When they do blow a pot they have made a tragic error.

These tragic errors fall into one of the following three categories:

•  Failure to bluff on the end when there is good chance of getting away with it.

•  Failure to bet an average poker hand with more cards to come if I possibly may win the pot right there (or possibly set up a steal on a later round).

•  Failure to raise a bettor on your right when you have a good hand in order to force out players behind you.

By now, it is clear that each of these errors may cost you the pot while avoiding them can cost you two bets at most. Let us take them one by one.

Error No.1 is easiest to see. Suppose there is $100 in the pot and you think a $20 bet has about a 30 percent chance of stealing it. (It is assumed that your hand cannot possibly win a showdown.) This is correct where a play that will usually cost you money is still the right one. If this situation were to arise ten times you should lose $20 seven of those times but win $100 the other three times. This gives you a net profit of $160 for an average of $16 per time.

Error No.2 occurs often even in tougher games. A player fears to bet an average hand on an early or middle position round of betting as he is afraid that he is already beaten. He is trying to save a bet. However, if there is a fair chance that his rival or rivals might throw their hands away when he bet, it is worth taking a large chance of betting the second-best hand if it sometimes win the pot right there. You will cost yourself an extra bet more often than not, but if it is still worth it.

Error No.3 is as same as the earlier error. However, this third error is even made by otherwise excellent players. There are times when you must raise a player who has bet even if he possibly has you beaten! This error occurs when there are other players in the hand and there are more cards to come. If your raise will knock out the other players and thereby keep them from drawing out on you when you do have the best hand, you have gained a lot. You have gained that it is worth taking a big chance of raising a hand that is better than yours in order to maximize your chances of poker winning the pot.

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