<b>What, Why and How - Basic Game Approach</b>
<font size="1">by Steve Anderson</font>
One thing I find myself discussing with a number of my poker friends is the need to view people and hands from a broader perspective. It is crucial not only view the opponent as an entire game plan, but also to view yourself as one. What are you and your opponents doing? More importantly, why? How can this be exploited? I find the “why” appears to be the most commonly missing ingredient with the majority of players. If you can figure out the “why” to a situation or portions a person's game plan, then you can attack it at its foundation. Unless they fill the holes you then put in their foundation, what happens? They crumble. They fall. And you are there to pick up the remaining pieces.
Before you start trying to punch holes into other people's foundations though, you should find your own. Do this by reducing the number of tables you are playing and pay attention to every move you make. Reason your way through it step by step. It may be pretty droll at first, but once you get used to doing it you can more readily analyze similar situations while playing more tables. Always be aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it. A big problem for a lot of people is that they play mechanically without considering all the things they are doing or consequences that could result of their actions.
As I noted earlier, the first thing you should think about is what you are doing. Look at your position at the table, the stack sizes around you, your cards, who has position on you, who is in the blinds, how is the table playing, the presence and position of short stacks, your bet size. These are the factors you should consider each and every time you play. Depending on the situation, some parts will become more important than the others. Each question you find yourself able to answer will allow you to more properly approach hands. Decide what you are going to do.
Now, the most important question, by far, is "why am I doing this?" Part of this is answered when you decide what you're going to do, but it goes beyond this as well. What you are doing involves mostly the tangibles, but “why” involves the intangibles. What image are you trying to present? To keep pressure on your opponents? To trap? For value? To influence the EV of future situations? Do you want to balance your range? Are you attempting to frustrate your opponent? Get into their head? These are all things you can think about both inside and outside of the game, as they mostly involve how you think about the game as well as your overall approach. The answers to all these questions will vary from table to table, but often the underlying approach is very similar. This is your game plan. This is what you are thinking and gives the “why”s to all your “what”s if completely figured out.
The next question is "How can this be exploited"? This is pretty easy. Raise too often, people play back at you. Raise not often enough, nobody gives you action. 3bet too often, get 4bet more. Bet too much, get no action and commit yourself with marginal holdings. Bet too little, get no value. Continuation bet too often, get played back at a lot. Too little, get played back at rarely. Thinking about what you're doing and how it can be exploited and meshing it with the “why”s will allow you to find the healthy medium between the “what”s so that you can best play a closer to optimal game.
There are a couple things that I think people often overlook when asking these three basic questions. The first is a ripple effect. A ripple effect is when you make a decision with a goal in mind but it ends up affecting other areas, be it for the positive or negative. You must always ask yourself when you make a decision "What am I trying to accomplish with this?" and then ask yourself what else it also accomplishes. A perfect example is raising over a bet in order to price out draws on a draw heavy board. Yes, you accomplish pricing out the draws. The issue comes with the fact that, unless you have reasonable expectation to be ahead after they call your raise, or you rate to be ahead of their shoving range, you have now effectively turned your hand into a bluff. You are unnecessarily bloating the pot in an attempt to get somebody to fold a hand that you are already beating. You have now forced yourself into a spot where the bets are bigger, while still giving reasonable odds and having a significant portion of your stack invested. You had one goal, but accomplished something completely different. Playing these spots by taking the perspective of how they are going to be playing the different parts of their range is more optimal than trying to protect your hand against a specific portion of their range. Seeing a turn while keeping the pot small takes the “oomph” out of a lot of drawing hands and will give you a better idea of what they think about their spot.
This is also where trying to dissect what your opponents are doing becomes important. Once you start thinking about what you're doing and why you're doing it, start incorporating those same questions into what your opponent is doing. Whenever you see somebody make an action, ask the same questions you ask yourself. The more completely you can define these thought processes, the better you can answer the third question, “how can I exploit this?”
I have two good examples of this. There are two regulars in my games with similar stats. One has 22/18/3 with a 45 attempted to steal, the other is 22/18/3 with 28 attempted to steal. The attempted to steal stat tells us all kinds of things about how these players think and play and how we can exploit it. The first player is very tight in early position and raises nearly every button and most cut offs. This player we can destroy by simply 3betting nearly every time he opens in late position but staying away and do more trapping when he is in early position. His range is slanted to a very specific, exploitable, position-oriented game that makes him extremely transparent in most situations. The second player is much looser in early position and plays roughly the same hands in late position. His range as a whole is likely fairly balanced but it doesn't take into account position very well and doesn't vary much from spot to spot. Against this player, you can do the exact opposite. Since his ranges are very similar in most positions, you can 3bet him relentlessly while in position and less so when out of position. Being in position will give you more control over the hand postflop as well as a significant number of folds preflop. These are just very basic insights into their games by seeing what their stats are and how often they are raising in late position, along with ideas about how you can adjust to best exploit these thought processes. You take their game plan and you damage it at its base.
The second thing that I think most people overlook is a game plan - approaching your game as a whole. Your play must be able to tell a believable story. Not just throughout singular hands, but from hand to hand, session to session. You must show consistency and believability. You must make an identity and a poker mind. You must view the game as an entire entity and play as you can best understand that entity. It's not merely "raise this hand because it's strong"; it should be "raise this hand because I raise strong hands here.” And beyond that. What's important in the game? How can you best take advantage of how the game plays and operates? Don't just dissect yourself and the players, dissect the game. Position, bet sizing, planning, strategy, mind games, hand selection, hand reading. What, why, and how? Once you begin to better understand the dynamics of the game itself, what is important, and how to best use that, you can really begin to exploit your opponents. You can exploit why people are doing things because you are able to play beyond the dynamics of the game. You understand the what, why and how of you, them, and the game you're playing. That is complete game approach.
I think a powerful approach to the game is by far the most important aspect of poker. The intangibles. The decisions you make that effect your other decisions in the game. Balance, consistency, reasoning, understanding. Interconnecting everything into a powerful, complete poker mind. Think about the game and never stop thinking.
I know this article may seem pretty basic but I figured it would be good for a start. If there is anything in particular you would like me to talk about just leave a message in the comments and I'll do my best.