Thursday, May 21, 2009

My In-Hand Thought Process

I thought it might be helpful to any of the poker players reading this blog to get some insight as to what I’m thinking about during the course of a hand.

Preflop I need to know how many positions off the button the initial raiser is. I always check to see if anyone is sitting out. Knowing how many positions OTB my opponent is allows me to assign them an initial hand range. For opponents I have stats on, I will look at their RFI (Raise First In) #’s to get a more exact idea of their hand range. If the pot has been 3-bet then I consider the positions of both raisers, the RFI % of the first raiser, and the 3-bet % of the 2nd raiser. Based on all these factors I make that initial decision of whether to call, raise or fold. It’s very important if I do decide to continue with the hand to keep all of this information at the forefront of my mind as it will play into my decision making later in the hand. Something else I look at is the chip stacks of my opponents; I want to make sure that they have enough chips to play out the hand. On occasion a player will be short-stacked and forced to go all-in before the end of a hand – this also can affect my decision making. It's a good habit to get into if you play no-limit or decide to play NL at some point in the future.

If I am the initial raiser in the hand or deciding whether to raise, I always consider how many positions off the button I am. If I have a borderline decision, I consider who is sitting after me and how likely I am to get called or 3-bet. If tight players are sitting after me, I will add hands to my starting hand ranges. Similarly, I’ll drop hands if loose players are sitting after me. If I’m in a position to steal the blinds I’m always looking at the small blind’s fold to steal % , the big blind’s fold to steal %, and their 3-bet %s. These can greatly affect my stealing hand ranges.

On the flop, turn, and river, I’m replaying the entire hand back in my head and trying to narrow my opponent’s range. I'm doing this after every single decision point in the hand. I’m trying to put myself in my opponent’s shoes and figure out how I would play certain hands in this range if I were them knowing what they know about me based on all the actions to that point as well as the board texture; I’m trying to think like my opponent and make accurate guesses as to what my opponent thinks about me based on their betting patterns and past history with me. Based on all this information I’m trying to determine my best course of action. And when I’m thinking about my best course of action, it’s always in the context of the entire hand. In other words, I may know that I need to raise my opponent but I will play out different scenarios as to how the hand might play out and then figure out where the best spot to raise might be. I’m also using several other stats to aid my decision making particularly when I have a borderline decision. Two big stats for me are went to showdown (WTSD) and Aggression Factor (AF). The higher the WTSD, the less likely I am to bluff my opponent. The lower the WTSD, the more likely I am to bluff. Also, the higher the WTSD, the more likely my opponent is in the hand with something weak or marginal which is incentive for me to bet for value lighter than I otherwise might. The lower the WTSD, the more likely my opponent actually has something if they are calling flop and turn bets. Obviously, the higher the aggression factor, the more likely my opponent is to be bluffing, raising for free cards, making thin value raises, etc. The lower the aggression factor, the less likely are to be doing these things and the more likely they are to have made hands if they are showing aggression.

As all this is going through my head, I’m also keeping in mind my broad overall strategy in similar situations. In other words, I’m trying to keep myself balanced so that I’m not exploitable. This is particularly true when I’m playing against good players. I don’t want to have too many areas of my game that are too predictable otherwise my opponents can develop effective counter-strategies and exploit me. I’m not too concerned about balance against poor players, I’m just trying to exploit them whether it leaves me vulnerable or not, under the assumption they are unlikely to recognize areas where they can exploit me.

This may seem like a lot (and it is) but all this thinking is usually done in a matter of seconds and it’s almost instinctive for me at this point. With practice and repetition I think it would be the same for anybody.

When I have some more free time, I am planning on writing a Part 2 to this blog where I’ll give several hand examples and go through my specific thoughts at every decision point during the hand based on everything mentioned above.


  1. Thanks for sharing. :) I've always wondering what's inside your mind when you are playing because you keep winning! You also consider all the odds, right - implied/pot odds? How useful are they?

    Obviously, I do not think the same way as you do, but I often look for a pattern in a player - the way s/he bets and what cards s/he would play. I'd instantly know if a player tends to play with non-premium hands or waits for something to hit. Or a player tends to play with best hands. What is challenging for me is when to know if a player who plays with premium hands bets with nothing or hopes for a fourth card and the river to come up to give him/her something. I am still learning how to manipulate the players' reading of me.

    I like your reverse psychology - to think what they think what I think they have.

  2. Pot odds are important and every decision in poker is based on how much money is in the pot. Most decisions I make, I don't need to think about pot odds but that's because I've been in the situation so many times before. For example, it's rarely correct to fold a straight or flush draw in limit hold-em so I'm never looking at how much money is in the pot when I have those hands, it's usually a question of whether I should call or raise.

    There are many other situations where I do look at the size of the pot. For example, let's say I have KK on an A32 board, my opponent has raised my flop bet and there are 5 big bets in the pot. What I'm thinking to myself in this situation is that it will likely cost me 2.5 big bets (flop raise+turn bet+river bet) to get to showdown. There are 5 big bets plus the 2.5 big bets he'll put in that I can win. So, I'm risking 2.5 to make 7.5 which means I need to win 1/4 or 25%. Also, I have two outs with my Kings which is worth about 8%. So, my decision all boils down to how often my opponent is bluffing in this situation. If it's more than ~17%, then I would call. I would use past history, betting patterns, and stats like AF to help me figure out the likelihood of my opponent bluffing.

    Another common example is when you're faced with a bet on the river and you're either going to call or fold. You're looking at the price the pot is offering you in comparison to the bet. This is where putting your opponent on a hand range and then narrowing it as the hand develops really helps. If you can narrow your opponents range down to a group of hands by the river, you can make an accurate decision based on the pot odds.

    I know you play no-limit and it gets a lot more complicated with the varying bet sizes and stack sizes. Just email me if you have a question and I'll try to help.