A much used piece of advice is the 6 P’s – “Planning & Preparation Prevent P*** Poor Performance”. Lets prefix it with another P “Poker”.
Within poker there are factors which we can control, those over which we have no control and those which we can’t control but can influence. Learning to apply good judgement and decision making to the areas that we can control is one of the keys to making us profitable poker players.
One of the factors over which we have total control is our planning and preparation before we sit down to play, how much consideration we give to this can have a direct effect on our performance.
I’m sure we’ve all done it at sometime or other, rushed home from work, college or wherever, fired up the computer, logged into our chosen poker site and entered the first cash game, SnG or MTT we could lay our cursor on. No plan, no prep just, wash and go.
Don’t get me wrong on occasions we will have successful sessions when we wing it and fly by the seat of our pants but my intention here is to give a bit of food for thought into giving your poker session a bit more consideration before the table pops up and the first hand is dealt.
Before these considerations you should first assess your state of mind. If you are ill, drunk, angry, stressed or have any other issues that are going to affect your ability to make clear decisions think twice about playing at all. For some a few glasses of wine or bottles of beer are good looseners but don’t over do it, you could wake up the following morning to find Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker have run riot with your bankroll.

Also ensure that you have available time to play with mimimum chance of interruption and avoid unnecessary distractions, one of my great failings is doing other things whilst playing, whether it be reading or posting in the Forum, chatting on Vent or surfing the web these all ditract from your concentration level and will have an adverse effect on your play.
So your mindset is good, you have the time with no distractions, I would then suggest even before you sit down that you now consider the following.
  1. Why am I playing
  2. What am I going to play
  3. How am I going to play it
To ask WHY am I playing may seem strange but there can be a number of possible reasons to play, you may have a spare 30 minutes to kill, you may want to try out some new piece of knowledge you have acquired, you may have pre-registered for a tournament, depending on why you are playing may influence the WHAT and HOW and will also undoubtedly effect your expected outcome.
If you are killing time at a cash table rather than a planned grinding session you won’t expect the same end result, similarly if you are trying to integrate or experimenting with a new skill in your game you won’t be looking for the same results that honing your existing skills would achieve.
Don’t play for the sole reason of recovering losses from a previous session, view each session separately, profitability should be a long term aim, it is not something to be viewed in isolation.
Determine why you are playing, your aims and objectives in playing and how you intend to measure your success or failure in achieving those aims and objectives.
I would then certainly recommend that before you sit down you have firmly decided WHAT you are going to play, it may be that you are pre-registered to an MTT in which case the what is a done deal, on other occasions you may decide to work on building you bankroll by playing cash tables or SnG’s, make a decision as to which and get your mind ready for the HOW, as no limit cash is different from fixed limit and a 90 player SnG is different from an 8 player, whatever you are going to play your mindset will need to be adjusted and readied.
You may wish to do a 30 minute recap on an article or book chapter you have read in readiness for your session, pointless reading up on 2nd quartile play in MTT’s and then deciding at the last minute to sit at a fixed limit cash table.
Sure you may decide within your session to try your hand at another format but take a break before doing so to prepare yourself again. I would also advise beginners to avoid playing multi-tables especially different formats, apply your full focus to one table only.
Another aspect that can be controlled within the WHAT is table selection for cash games and 8, 9 & 10 player SnG’s and this can have a decided effect on your results.
If you just jump onto the first cash table that is available you are asking for trouble, take time to select your table carefully, look at the table stats and use these to help you decide which table to sit at.
Cash Table Assessment  
A large average pot size and a low average number of players seeing the flop would indicate that the table is generally tight/aggressive. It is likely that there are few pre-flop callers with raises and re-raises by a small number of players involved in the pot being the norm.
A large average pot size with a high average number of players seeing the flop would indicate that the table is generally loose/aggressive. It is likely that there are multiple pre-flop callers, raises and re-raises which in turn are being called.
A small average pot size with a low average number of players seeing the flop would indicate that the table is generally tight/passive. It is likely that there are few pre-flop callers or raises and raises rarely being called.
A small average pot size with a high average number of players seeing the flop would indicate that the table is generally loose/passive. It is likely that there are few pre-flop raises but a large number of callers.
It is generally advantageous to play tables where the general playing style is opposite to your own so if you play a tight/aggressive game target loose/passive tables, if on the other hand you are loose/passive hit a tight/aggressive table.
Check the player stack sizes if you are going to play a $0.01/0.02 table and there are one or two players with stacks above the maximum buy in of $5 then you know they have earned that at the table and are potential “Sharks” picking off profit from weaker players, it could be that they have just hit lucky, but I would suggest you avoid these tables.
Another thing worth looking at is player location, if you’re in the US and its 9pm and there is a table with a few Europeans on it you know it’s the early hours of the morning for them, chances are they are tired, chasing earlier losses or possibly on a bit of a bender getting drunk, whichever it is I would suggest that you are going to want to play these opponents.
Select a table where the number of players is only 1 or 2 short of the maximum, you don’t want the blinds coming around too rapidly and you don’t want too many unknowns joining the table after you. A full table will also help maximise value from your winning hands.
You should check which seats are available, ideally you want the current biggest stack as close to the seat to your right as possible with smaller stacks to your left. You want the big stack to be acting before you to help you in deciding your actions. Similarly if you have played some of the opponents before and they are known to be aggressive you would like them to your right also with any known passive players to your left.
Once you have selected your table and clicked your chosen seat buy-in for the maximum available, if this is stretching your bankroll get off the table immediately and look up an article on bankroll management.
The point of buying in for the maximum is simply that chips are power. Sitting at the table with the max buy-in shows the other players you are confident in your ability and are positive in your approach. Buying in with the minimum or low amounts gives the opposite impression. It is worth noting what players buy in for as min or low buy ins may also indicate that a player is playing at the limit of their bankroll or is coming off the back of a losing streak, either way they are not going to be willing to risk too much especially if your stack can swallow them in a single hand.
Other benefits of having a large stack is that it gives you fold equity and gives you bluffing power should you choose, it also gives you the opportunity to maximise the value of winning hands, imagine you’re at a $0.02/0.01 table and flop a Royal Flush and a $7 big stack goes all in on set Aces, the return on your min $1.60 buy in compared to the max $5 buy in pales in comparison.
It also allows you to be able to play the table for a longer period, profitability will generally come long term not short, time will provide you with more information on your opponents too.
If you find that the table doesn’t suit your style, are unable to get a read and feel for the table and players or the dynamics alter due to changes of players simply give up your seat and try another table.
So you’ve selected your table, chosen your seat, bought in for the maximum, I would now advise that you sit out for a couple of orbits and observe and take notes on your opponents. Never but never sit and buy in a BB immediately, you are paying money in to a pot unnecessarily, just don’t do it.
8, 9 & 10 Player SnG Table Assessment  
Unlike cash tables the lobby to these allows you to do a bit of pre-tournament research on those already registered. Check them out at Pokerprolabs or other similar websites or if you have Poker Tracker or other software see if they are already in your system.
It is also worth checking the registration of other identical tourneys, a lot of SnG players will register for a number of identical formats at the same time, if they have you know they won’t be giving their 100% concentration to each one. It is also worth noting if players are using auto-fold/check during the game, an indication that they are indeed multi-tabling.
Use the “Find Player” feature to see if these players are already playing and what and how many games they are already involved in, if time allows go to those tables and observe them for a while.
As with cash tables check the location of entrants to see if they are burning the midnight oil. Be cautious if there are two or more entrants from the same location, there are unfortunately instances of players using SnG’s for collusive play. Keep a watchful eye during the game for any signs of suspicious play.
Another thing worth noting with regards to location is that these will often give you an indication of playing styles, it may seem a sweeping generalisation but it broadly runs true that Eastern European, Spanish and Portuguese players tend to be loose/aggressive whilst British, German and Dutch players tend to be tight/aggressive.
Don’t be the first to register, try to get in as close to being the last player to register as possible, this gives the others limited opportunity to check you out.
So you know why you are going to play and decided what you are going to be playing surely you can’t know HOW you are going to play before the game starts, can you?
Whilst you can’t legislate and plan for each hand I would suggest that you need to have some general idea of how you at least intend to play, whether you are going to adopt a tight/aggressive stance and then loosen or initially play loose and then tighten, it maybe you intend to play a certain style throughout.
Are you going to sit out the first couple of levels or orbits just to observe your opponents or go for it from the off to try to build up an early chip advantage.
Don’t get me wrong as your chosen game progresses the dynamics may force you to alter you style of play accordingly, you may find the table you are at to be very passive and allow you to play looser than you had planned to.
Being able to change style and adapt is all part of your armoury and again is something you should have been prepared for.
Whilst this isn’t a comprehensive guide to pre-play preparation and planning it will hopefully give an insight into how you are able to control various aspects of the environment in which you play, the more you are able to control the less you are likely to be controlled.
Any feedback or additional suggestions would be certainly welcome.