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Avoid Poker Surprises by Planning Ahead


Sky Matsuhashi

on November 10, 2023

I love surprises in life. That’s why I don’t watch movie trailers. Truly, I DON’T WATCH MOVIE TRAILERS. That might seem weird to most of you.  I simply decide to see a movie based on the actors/director/story/word of mouth, then go see it (or not).

I know the two movies that sealed the deal for avoiding movie trailers: Fast & Furious 6 and Fate of the Furious. They ruined the surprises of the last big action scenes by putting the in the trailers!

Listen to this episode as you follow along below:

I also don’t read Yelp reviews on a new restaurant. I want to experience all things fresh, basically be surprised by it, without going into it with expectations.

However, I DON’T LIKE surprises at the poker tables. I view poker surprises as a sign that I didn’t plan the hand and failed to put as much thought into my decision as it warranted.


Check-raise Example Hand

Hand History details:

  • Preflop, it’s folded to me and I open-raised to 3bb with KQo.
  • It’s folded to Villain 2 in the SB who called and the BB folded. Villain 2 is a loose-passive Fish given his VPIP/PFR of 43/13, his short starting stack and his tendency to call preflop (28% of the time). LIVE player translation: he plays almost half of his preflop hands, and calls way more than he raises preflop.
  • Heads up to the flop, and I hit a gutshot draw on the Ace-high board. Villain 2 folds to cbets 62% of the time, so I make a roughly ½ pot continuation bet bluff, expecting him to fold.
  • Villain 2 check-raised 3x my bet!

Now, if this play surprised me, I didn’t do my job properly.

After continuation betting, the action goes back to my opponent. He would now have the option to fold, check-call or check-raise.

It’s my job to put at least a little bit of thought into what each play would mean before I make the initial flop continuation bet:

  • A fold would mean he hit nothing and gave up. A lovely outcome when I just hold a gutshot draw.
  • A check-call means he likely has a pair or draw.
  • A check-raise on this board would probably be top pair or better, maybe even only 2 pair or better.

If his check-raise surprised me, my reaction could be, “Drat! What do I do now? Do I fold my gutshot? Reraise bluff him? Just fold and give up my equity?! This sucks.”

However, if I had put some thought into what each potential reaction says about his hand, I wouldn’t be surprised, and my play would be pretty obvious.


Think Ahead to Avoid Surprises

To help you avoid surprises and plan for the rest of the hand before you act, ask yourself this question:

“What hands would he action?”

This requires that you put some thought into his possible reactions to your action and his range at the time.

What hands would he fold?

  • Given that his Fold to Flop Cbet is 62% (meaning he folds almost 2/3 of the time against continuation bets), he’s folding most of his weaker hands.
  • Underpairs like 33 are folding, as are suited and off-suit hands that didn’t flop a pair nor draw (like 6c5c, Kd9c).
  • Maybe even weak 3rd pair hands with no re-draw could fold (like 7c6c, 9d7d).
  • I bet he could even fold weak gutshot draws (like 9c8c).

What hands would he check-call?

  • Since he’s folding most of the time, he probably only calls with decent pairs and good draws.
  • Flush draws with any two-hearts would call, as would QJ or A4, or even Kh7c with back-door draws and a big kicker.

What hands would he check-raise?

  • Passive players mostly just check-raise with very strong 2-pair or better hands, like AJ or 77.
  • If you know a lot about your opponent, you may have seen him check-raise nut flush draws in the past, like KhTh or Kh9h. If so, you can put those in his check-raising range.
  • Remember that you hold the Qh, so he can’t be check-raising with the 2nd nut flush draw (not possible for him to hold QhTh here).


The Good News

Now, if you thought about all this before cbetting, and you faced his check-raise to 12bb’s, what’s your reaction to his reaction?

Fold, of course.

Sure, it’s a bummer missing out on your gutshot equity.

But here’s the good news; you planned for this. His check-raise wasn’t a surprise, but instead, it was him revealing the strength of his hand.

“Awesome! Thanks Villain 2 for letting me know I was crushed. I’m just going to fold and move on to the next hand and plan for future ways to exploit your fishy tendencies.”


Take Action

In your next play session, plan for your opponent’s reaction to your play before you make it.

Before an open-raise preflop:

  • What will you do if anyone left to act 3bets?
  • What will be your general post-flop plan in case you get a caller?

Before you cbet from out of position:

  • What turn cards can you double-barrel if he calls?
  • What hands would he raise with?

Before you value bet the river:

  • What hands can he call and give you value?
  • What hands would he raise you with, and can you call or re-raise for value?

Good luck planning for their actions and avoiding surprises.


Plan Ahead Video & Podcast

Watch me discuss planning for the future with the 6 example hands from podcast #428:


Listen to the audio podcast for this episode #428:


Sky Matsuhashi

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