NLH Tournament Poker-Having A Plan


Many times when I am coaching players, I notice that they don’t have a plan. Particularly in NLH tournament poker, having a plan is not only a good idea, but a must. Before you misunderstand me, I do NOT mean having a plan for the overall tournament as to how you are going to play. I hear a lot of players say things like ‘I plan to play super aggressive’ or ‘I will always defend my blinds’ or ‘I make Button raises all the time’. I think having an overall plan can, in fact be limiting and put you into bad position. In tournament play it is nearly always a better idea to let the tournament come to you. Poker is a game that requires you to change on the fly, all the time. If you don’t adjust, you will get run over. You never know how you are going to end up playing until you are able to assess the dynamics of any given table. What I am talking about is having a plan for any specific hand that you are playing.

As I coach players, I have them describe to me what they were thinking as they played a hand. Much of the time that thinking is sound, but it is also incomplete. For example: ‘I had Q-Q in middle position so I raised.’ That’s fine, but before you make that raise you should have (loosely) worked out in your head how you are going to continue with this hand based on the various reactions of the other players at the table.


What if you are 3-bet?

What if the Flop is A-K-K?

What if you make a continuation bet and your opponent jams on a dry board of 9-8-5?

What if he calls your bet on the Flop, Turn, and then pushes on the River?

My question is simple: ‘When you begin to play the hand, do you know how far you are willing to go with it and if not, why not?’

I talk to players all the time who tell me that they don’t want to risk their tournament life on just top pair, but then they get into a hand, out of position with something like K-Q suited, the flop comes K-5-2 and they end up all-in with exactly top pair and nothing more. But if I asked them before the hand if they were willing to put all their chips in the middle with top pair, decent kicker,  they would say no. How then did this exact same player end up committing all of his or her chips?

What happens in poker tournaments is that you get caught up in a situation. No, I don’t mean that you get flustered or make bad decisions, I just mean that most players tend to isolate solely on a given situation without taking a few seconds to examine the big picture. What range of hands could my opponent have? Is he bluffing? Did he flop a monster, for example a set? Don’t get me wrong, many time you might WANT all your chips in the middle with top-pair, decent-kicker, but I do thinking it is worth examining all the possibilities and to do that, it is best to have a plan before playing the hand. When you look down at Q-Q, you should know in your mind how you will react to various plays that your opponent might make so that you are not caught by surprise.

Are you willing to play this hand all the way to show-down depending on the board?

Are you going to try to control the size of the pot by betting out at your opponent rather than risk a large portion of your chip stack?

Is your opponent short stacked or big stacked, thus making him more likely to go all-in even if he misses the flop or fold to save his chip stack?

There are a hundred of these thoughts that should be going through your mind prior to randomly throwing chips into the middle simply because you have a good hand. Know it advance that you are willing to shut this hand down and not risk your tournament life if your opponent shoves on you. Or, know that this is where you are making your stand so YOU are going to shove on the flop/turn/river before he can. Whatever the case may be, you should have an idea in your head how you will react to various plays that may come at you during the heat of the battle as the hand is playing out. If you do, you save yourself trying to make a tough decision on the fly because you already had a plan for scenario A,B,C,D,E,F…….etc.

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