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You’re playing some no-limit holdem. It could be a cash game, or a tournament. A first player bets, let’s say 10 units (could be $10, $100, 10,000 tournament chips, whatever). Their opponent, the second player, now raises all-in for 25 units.
As you watch, the first player now erupts in anguish! They can’t believe this happened and now they don’t know what to do. They may start asking the second player, “what do you have?” Then the first player spends the next several minutes agonizing over their decision.
I don’t know about you, but I hate when this happens. In fact, I feel like the first player is stealing those minutes from my life. I understand they honestly don’t know what to do. However, I still hate them for wasting our time.
Their mistake is not whether they get it right with respect to calling or folding to this all-in raise. Their mistake was in not thinking ahead.
Every time you make a decision in poker, you should be thinking ahead about what happens next. When you raise preflop, you should have a good idea how you will respond if somebody reraises, and what you will do on various flops. When you bet the flop, you should already be thinking about how you’ll respond to a check-raise, or what you will do with various turn cards that might be dealt. It’s not mandatory that you have every single step fully mapped out in advance, but you should have some idea how you will handle the more likely possibilities.
The big mistake made by our first player is they did not consider one of the most likely possibilities. What will they do if the second player raises all-in for 15 units more? If instead they had bet 10 units, and the second player had raised all-in for 200 units, that is probably unexpected. I understand why they need some extra time to figure out what to do. But when the raise is a more typical amount, that is something they should have thought about before betting.
It’s not just that this failure to think ahead can waste our time. It will also lead to making some huge mistakes. I often see a player call a bet or raise, where it is clear they do not believe their opponent. They think the other player is bluffing, or over-valuing their hand. But then, when the opponent makes a bigger bet on the next street, after the dealer puts out an apparently meaningless card, they agonize and fold.
Again, the mistake is not the fold. Nor was it the previous call. The mistake was in the combination of these two decisions, the result of not thinking ahead. When they called the first bet, what was their plan for the next street? The truth is, many players don’t have a plan. They make each decision in isolation.
Not planning ahead almost guarantees they will make a mistake. Imagine I choose to defend my big blind with 10-9 against your preflop raise. You bet the flop of K-10-6, and I call. We get dealt an offsuit 2 on the turn, and you go all-in for a pot-sized bet. My only smart play is to call, because if I am going to fold now, why did I call on the flop? It certainly made no sense to call on the flop hoping to catch another ten, or an nine. That is only five outs, not enough to make a smart call. And if I think you have me beat, then I should have folded on the flop.
Yet, I see this exact mistake all the time. The player calls on the flop, and then folds on the turn after an extended tank. Often, it is for risk averse reasons. They just don’t want to risk so many chips. However, whatever their reason, they should have figured that out on the flop, and folded then.
In my experience, players who bet the flop, and have only a pot-sized bet left, will often go all-in on the turn. If you believe they have you beat, then fold on the flop. If you don’t believe this, then call now, and again on the turn. Your decisions should add up to a sensible plan. Failing to think ahead all but guarantees an inferior result.
Now don’t play slowly, but do take a few extra seconds, and think ahead. While you’re waiting for other players to act, that’s the perfect time to be thinking ahead. What will I do if they check to me, what will I do if they bet, etc.? The more you think ahead, the better you will play, and the better your results will become. Think ahead, and play smart! ♠
Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.