Looking at the Hand as a Whole

Antonio Esfandiari
You don't need a life coach to tell you thinking about the hand as a whole will help your game.

A mistake too many small-stakes players make is looking at each decision in a hand as a separate entity.

In reality, each and every play you make affects the entire course of the hand.

The problem with taking each decision as it comes is that you don't take into account the potential cause and effect of each play - you just act, and then are surprised when you're left with a tough decision.

Good players understand that each decision affects the final outcome of the hand.

They know that what they do before the flop and on the flop is going to dictate what happens on the turn and river. And they plan ahead for probable outcomes.

Taking each decision as it comes

An example:

$1/$2 six-max game, effective stacks $200. A fishy player under the gun raises to $6 and you call on the button with T T. Everyone else folds and you take a flop heads-up of T 4 3.

Your opponent bets $8 and you raise to $16. He calls. The turn is the 4. He checks, and you check behind to slow play.

The river comes 2. He checks. You bet $35. He calls and shows A J. Your full house beats his flush and you win a $117 pot.

Lex Veldhuis and Noah Boeken
Each play you make is not separate. They are all connected.

Because you took each decision as it came, you lost out on a lot of money. If, instead, you had a plan for the hand, you would have played the entire hand differently.

When you flop big, your goal is to win your opponent's stack. So plan for that and make it a possibility.

If you had a plan

$1/$2 six-max game, effective stacks $200. A fishy player under the gun raises to $6 and you call on the button with T T.

Everyone else folds and you take a flop heads-up of T 4 3. Your opponent bets $8 and you raise to $34. He calls.

The turn is the 4. He checks and you bet $65. He calls

The river comes 2. He checks and you bet your remaining $95. He calls and shows A J.

You still win, but this time because you thought about the entire hand and had a plan to build the pot, you win his entire stack instead of just a small portion.

A few changes in strategy and you win almost four times as much.

One more set of examples:

Taking each decision as it comes

$1/$2 six-max game, effective stacks $500. It's folded to an aggressive regular on the button who raises to $7. You feel you're better than his raising range so you three-bet to $30 with the J J. He calls.

The flop comes T 5 6. You c-bet $40 and he calls. The turn comes 4.You bet $90 and he calls.

The river comes 2. You bet $140 and he shoves for $310.

You're now in a miserable spot and talk yourself into calling. He tables 7 8 and wins the $1,000 pot with a straight.

You didn't think about the hand as whole. You just took each decision as it came and you ended up getting into a tough spot and losing a ton of money.

If you had a plan

$1/$2 six-max game, effective stacks $500. It's folded to an aggressive regular on the button who raises to $7.

The dollars
Plan your hand and profit.

You realize that one pair plays poorly deep and you will either win a small pot or lose a big one. So you elect to just call and play pot control with the J J.

The flop comes T 5 6. You check. He fires $10 and for the same reasons you called pre-flop you just call again on the flop.

The turn comes 4. You check and he bets $22. You once again just call. The river comes 2. You check. He bets $55.

You know he's capable of value-betting worse, and three-barreling air to try and get you to fold a hand like 8-8, so you call.

He tables 7 8 and still wins with his straight. But this time you lose just $95 rather than $500 (or even $300 if you fold the river in the other example).

You looked at the entire hand as a whole and had a plan.

You didn't needlessly build a giant pot because you know one pair doesn't play well deep - and that your opponent could put you in an extremely difficult spot in a big pot.

You ended up losing, but you lost the absolute minimum because you weren't just mindlessly making a decision every time the action was on you.


Each time the action is on you, look at the hand as a whole and realize the possible ramifications of each potential decision.

Each decision changes the course of rest of the hand, and if you don't realize the ramifications of each possibility, you're going to be left in difficult spots on the later streets.

Know your goal for the hand and plan your play around that goal. It's a little more work, but the potential effects on your win rate will be very real.

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Doug 2014-02-24 19:25:35

Wow, that's terrible poker you've recommended on the JJ hand! Ever hear of betting for value?! You need to raise him PF the size of the pot because an aggressive player is going to play 78s when it's been folded to him in that position every day of the week and twice on Saturday night.

You bet the pot ($17). He calls. There's $34 in the pot.

On the flop you need to BET TOP PAIR FOR VALUE ($34)!

He calls. If he mucks, you win ($17 profit).
If he calls, there's $95 in the pot ($51 of it yours).
If he reraises, you can:
bail ($51 loss, Proceed to the next hand);
call (see the turn, $190 in the pot); or
reraise all in. He'd set you in anyway if you simply make another pot-sized bet, so it's time to make him make a decision for all of his chips.

Obviously, you have to know your player to decide if he's aggressive enough not to just call, looking for his straight card but would choose instead to reraise. If you think he is, and that that's what he's doing here--shove! Make him pay steep for that card. Does he really want to put his remaining $400-ish in to continue fishing? Maybe. And, yeah, if he does and it comes, you lose. But passively allowing him to run you off the much better hand is terrible poker. I mean, TERRIBLE! It sets you up to get picked on the rest of the night and you may as well give him your $500 clams now, if he's just going to take it from you $95 at a time, as suggested here.

Of course, it isn't easy to know every player well enough to know they're playing the draw THAT strongly, and folding is much more often the more prudent play in the overwhelming majority of instances. In which case, you lose the $51 not the $95, as in the example. Jeez!

Scooter 2010-08-05 17:56:01

Those criticizing passive play in the JJ example don't see the main point: tiny pot + big stacks means that stack protection is most important!
If the pot were large in relation to the stacks, then you'd want to play aggressively to protect the pot. Players like me who come from a limit holdem background are averse to playing big pairs passively like this. But in deep stack, no limit holdem, you want to win the pot yes, but are willing to risk losing that small pot in order to protect your large stack.

Great article, thanks!

T-Bone 2010-02-24 00:25:39

Why in the world in the example with pocket jacks, would you not raise the flop with your overpair? Why not fold pre-flop if your going to just check and call to any player who has a draw or a weaker hand? You should be aggressive with your overpair in that spot. If he wants to draw heads up let him call a 75 dollar raise in that spot?????

Sean Lind 2010-01-18 20:20:17


You're welcome. Dan writes some great articles for sure, if you haven't read his TAGfish article, you should do that.

Play, think, discuss, read, observe and play some more. That's how you get good at this game.

Vincent 2010-01-17 22:11:53

Sean Lind, I don't know you from Adam or what your experience is, but thank you. You really clarified some things for me. I thought it was a good article. I am still a level 2 thinker that would like to graduate to a level 3 thinker, but am aware that it'll take some time and work.

Sean Lind 2009-12-22 22:44:23


My take on the first example against a good player isn't too far from how you would handle it with a bad player.

When you flop top set, you go from whatever plan you may have had pre-flop, to formulating a plan to play for your opponents entire stack.

You are concerned about a flush draw, but not enough to make you even hesitate before chunking.

I would still raise the flop to $24 or $30 (I typically always bet a little less than Dan for any given scenario). You're making this raise to force a flush draw to pay, but mostly to bust up the size of the pot to play for stacks.

When the heart comes on the turn, you make your full house. You're now hoping your opponent has the flush, and are going to play your hand as if you know they do. Since you raised the flop your opponent is putting you on a strong hand, most likely TPTK or an over-pair, or he's hoping you have a smaller flush.

Anything but a bet on the turn would look fishy, and you need to bet something that makes it look like you're trying to protect against a one-card flush draw.

Also, you want to size your bet here to be not enough to make your opponent want to fold, but just enough to completely commit them to going all in on the river. Basiclly, you're moving all in on the turn, you're just doing it in two steps to keep your opponent from getting afraid.

Once you bet $60 or so, you're left with a stack about half of the pot, so the only bet that makes sense on the river is a ship, it's no longer a threatening bet to your opponent.

So yeah, against even a good player I'm going with Dan's "if you had a plan" strat almost verbatim.

A very good player will have the ability to fold on the river here, if they feel you are a tight player who wouldn't bet in that spot with anything less than a boat.

If you're image is almost anything other than that of a nit or rock, you'll probably get paid out in full here.

Paul 2009-12-22 19:54:25

Regarding the first example.....

While the "taking each decision as it comes" part makes sense, the "if you had a plan part" seems a bit fanciful to me, but perhaps I am overestimating the quality of players at that level (this opponent must really suck). if raising an $8 bet to $34 on the flop does not scare him off, which if it does not I can understand (you have a wide range on the button and might just be punishing him for c-betting too much), then does that explain why he tries to get all fancy and slow-play his turn flush? I am confused about the quality of this player because his post-flop play seemed okay (he allowed you to be in control of the hand because he had the "nuts" or what he thought were the nuts). But at the same time, him smooth-calling the turn should, I think, set off alarms to you as the initial better (why would he call the turn heart with his perceived range). Check-raising would seem to be a more fishy play because it is fancy and fish love some fancy play syndrome. After all that my main problem is that this player calling what I thought was a pretty high raise on the flop and then exhibiting a mix of what I thought were decent and poor plays confuses me (i guess this is why he is a "somewhat fishy player"?. Against a GOOD player, how do you vary your play in contrast to how you played against this fish?

Sean Lind 2009-12-14 20:07:23

Just because a player's aggressive, doesn't mean he's going to stack off to you with nothing. If you bet your hand heavy and hard you lose all bluff equity, only ever get called by a better hand and never make money off him if he's holding a worse hand with value.

You have to remember you're sitting 250bb deep here, this is a very poor spot to stuff your stack in the middle just because you have pocket jacks. As Dan said, you're in a spot where you're most likely losing a big pot, or winning a small one.

This means that over the long run, you're going to lose a lot of money in this spot with JJ unless you keep all pots small, that way you win small pots, and you lose small pots.

JJ is a great hand, but it's not a hand worth losing 250bb with. One thing to note, Dan's not saying you should always soft-play JJ, he's saying that in this situation, it's probably the correct choice.

You're out of position against an aggressive, somewhat solid player with a big stack. You can always find a better spot to play a big pot than this.

James 2009-12-13 02:55:25

I agree with Erin and Confused. Why would you play so passively against an aggressive player when you hold pocket Jacks, unless you know he's going to end up making a straight. Sure it's good to keep the pot small when you know you're going to lose it.

Erin 2009-11-22 12:07:00

I don't like the second example.

The play is so passive. Why against an aggressive regular would you just call pre-flop with jacks when it's only the two of you? Why wouldn't you want to bet the flop hard when you're clearly ahead, giving him the wrong odds to chase his straight? I can see slowing down if he calls a big bet on the flop, but I don't really understand the call pre-flop or the check on the turn to a rainbow underboard. Sure it makes sense to have a plan, but it just seems that the way you're explaining things allows people to just chase hands and draw out on you, unless you hit a monster on the flop and slowplay or suck out somehow on the turn or river. I'm confused!

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