Poker game plans are like pro football game plans

Successful football teams have game plans. After scouting your next opponent, your team plans a series of plays designed to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses, and to better defend against its strengths.
If the opposing team has a weak pass defense, your offense will be planned to take advantage of this weakness. So it also is with poker – if you want to be a winner!
What’s more, your football team’s game plan may change during the game as your coach observes the opponent’s actions. The same is true as your poker session progresses, or when new players come to your table who (for example) are more aggressive than the previous players.
Your game plan: When first sitting down at a table, since you don’t know your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses (unless it’s a home game with the same players each week), begin with your best game plan based on typical opponents: Start out playing fairly tight and selectively aggressive.
Phase I: When playing tight, call to see the flop only with hands that have a reasonable chance of being the best at the showdown. Take into consideration your betting position. I use Epstein’s Hold’em Algorithm to make it easier for me. (See GT ad).
From an early position, you must have a stronger hand than in late position. Of course, it also depends on the texture of the game, which you can determine while waiting for the button to pass you when you first sit down at the table. If there’s preflop raising, you need better than a marginal drawing hand to start.
In addition to tight play, start out playing “selectively aggressive.” Dealt a made hand (A-A, K-K or Q-Q), bet/raise, hoping to play against two or three, but not more than four opponents so you are favored to win at the showdown.
Calling to see the flop with a middle pair in the hole, hope to make a set. If you miss, and two higher cards fall on the flop, and it’s a multi-way pot (three or more opponents see the flop), generally it’s wise to fold to a bet – even more so if there is a raise.
Flop middle two-pair? Raise to protect them since they are vulnerable. Your two-pair may well be in the lead on the flop, but why give a small pair a free card to catch trips (or a set) against you?
From a late position, you called the big blind (no raises preflop) with 10-9 offsuit. The flop came down: Q-10-9 rainbow. Bet (or raise) to force out the opponent with K-7; Why give him a free card to catch the Jack for an inside straight?
Occasional bluffs are fine when the situation is right. Bluffing too often makes your opponents suspicious, and hence more likely to call your bluffs. Pursue a drawing hand when you have lots of good outs, and the pot odds are favorable. Chasing is bad for the health of your chip stacks! So that’s your game plan when you first enter the fray.
Phase II: After the session has moved along, and you have more information about your opponents, and they about you, consider changing your game plan – changing gears. Your opponents have learned you play tight-selectively aggressive. Now they can adjust their playing decisions accordingly.
The pots will get smaller and your monster hands will not be nearly as profitable. Change your game plan to raise with weaker hands and steal more pots on the flop or on the turn. Bluff a bit more often.
Phase III: Later, new players join your table. Change gears again – back to your tight-selectively aggressive play style. Since you are familiar with most of your opponents, plan to do more bluffing when the situation seems right.
For example, you missed your flush draw on the river but there is a scare card (perhaps putting three-to-a-straight in sequence on the board); both opponents check to you. Neither is deceptive, so you reason neither has a big hand.
Make the bet – a shear bluff – representing the straight. (Be sure to use the Esther Bluff tactic.) Each opponent folds his small pair; the pot is all yours. But never bluff a calling station.

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