This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
In 1983 I released a document that has been out of print for 10 years. It outlined my personal method for teaching players how to think about poker, and how to win consistently. It was called POKER PLAN 3.
I have lost the original computer file of that document, but I recently discovered a copy of it lying around the garage. In this and upcoming columns, I’ll bring you parts of PP3. It was the first of my “mission” documents. The two that followed – called “11 Days to 7-Stud Success” and “12 Days to Hold ’em Success” – are still in print, but will be replaced in the next few years by book-length versions with more missions and analysis.
HOW THE MISSIONS WORK.
I called PP3 “a structured, precise game plan for mastering poker.” The introduction explained the concept. “Each time you play, I will give you one mission to accomplish. Sometimes it will be a single thing and sometimes it will be short series of related objectives. Except for fulfilling your very specific daily goal, you should simply play your normal best game of poker.”
Then I gave a warning. “Here’s a problem: You may decide that some of the missions are trivial or unimportant. You may feel you already use some of these tools effectively, and therefore, it may seem reasonable to skip the mission. DON’T SKIP THE MISSION! You may not now understand why it’s necessary to do some of the things I instruct, but once you’ve successfully completed your 15th mission, you WILL understand.”
By the way, I recently began to instruct a student – the first time I’d agreed to teach poker to anyone in over 15 years – using this same method. The student (a beginner) immediately objected, asking to know the REASONS behind the missions in advance. I explained that students must discover the reasons for themselves, and it would spoil the lesson if I explained it prior to the mission. This student “couldn’t learn that way.” I said, “I won’t teach any other way.” So far, we’re both right.
LET’S DO IT MY WAY.
Someday, this student will probably be one of the world’s top players – having done it MY way. I’ll let you know who it is when that happens. But, trust me, my mission method of learning poker will work for you right now. Try it.
The point of the game plan is to force you to go out and accomplish the task of the day – even if it seems like something you already understand. Understanding and actually doing it are two very different things. There are short follow-ups that you are instructed to read AFTER you accomplished the mission. Now that you know what to, here IS the first mission from POKER PLAN 3.
There are two things you must accomplish today.
MISSION 1, PART 1.
The first objective is to ignore everything your opponents say or do and concentrate ONLY on the way they play their cards. You’ll do this for exactly one-and-a-half hours. (By the way, you’ll need to know the time for many of your missions, so a watch will be useful.)
During this 90-minute period, you must NOT be influenced by any body-language tells or by any verbal tells, EVEN IF YOU’RE 100% CERTAIN OF THEIR ACCURACY! It is very possible that you’ll sacrifice some advantage during this period, but it is extremely important that you participate in this observational exercise.
In particular, pay no attention to anything your opponents do to influence you. (Often, using the new science of tells, you’d figure them for a hand exactly opposite in strength from what their acts convey, but that is not important now. Ignore everything but the way your opponents play their hands.)
During this preliminary hour and a half, play very conservatively. Additionally, you are to use a straightforward strategy (i.e. one that contains no tricky tactics). After each major hand, reconstruct what happened, omitting all behavioral clues such as gestures and comments. Remember who made the early bets and raises and equate that with the final known strength of the hands.
Get as vivid a picture as possible, but DO NOT STRAIN YOUR MIND. DON’T CONCENTRATE TOO HARD. This exercise MUST be painless. What sinks in, sinks in. What doesn’t, doesn’t. That is not your concern; it is mine. Your ONLY objective is to observe the card playing tactics of your opponents and to ignore their words and actions. Pretend these opponents are faceless and formless. Pretend you know only their final decisions and that you observe nothing leading up to those decisions.
If necessary, you can think of your opponents as lifeless computers who merely write their decisions and display their hands on a video screen.
After one and a half hours EXACTLY, get up from the table for a few minutes. Mentally circle the table clockwise beginning to your left. Based on the way they played their cards and not on their actions or comments, rate each
opponent: LOOSE, AVERAGE, TIGHT, or INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION.
Now, mentally circling the table once more, rate each player: PREDICTABLE, AVERAGE, TRICKY, or INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION.
Finally, make a third mental circle and identify any player who you feel is DANGEROUS enough to cost you money.
Now, return to the poker table…
MISSION 1, PART 2:
Listen to the voices. For half an hour, try to determine the natural tones of voices of your opponents. Each may have his own manner of speaking, but try to focus on it. Try to speculate how each would sound and what he or she might say under these two situations:
EXPRESSING SORROW TO A FRIEND OVER THE DEATH OF A BELOVED SAINT BERNARD;
WINNING A LARGE BET ON THE SUPER BOWL DUE TO A LAST SECOND MIRACLE.
Deciding how these opponents might react will NOT be easy, but give it a try. Keep those two events in mind. EVERY TINE a player says ANYTHING, decide which category it most fits. Of course, very little will fall into EITHER category, but don’t let that discourage you. You’re on your first step toward mastering one of the most powerful techniques in poker. You won’t be very good at it today and, in fact, you don’t even know what I’m talking about yet, but try to place these opponents into the SAD category or the HAPPY category.
Simply do that for the rest of your mission.
Now reread the previous instructions. Take notes, if needed. Make sure you know EXACTLY what you must accomplish.
Okay, happy mission!
STOP HERE UNTIL AFTER MISSION 1. FOLLOW-UP:
In PART 1, did any of the categories your opponents fit into after you “tuned them out” surprise you? It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that sometimes the players we fear or the one’s we think are the most liberal do NOT play the way we perceive that they play. Remember to TUNE OUT AND OBSERVE from time to time.
What should you have heard in PART 2? It’s a very well established fact that, with few exceptions, the players who BET using voices you correctly put in the SAD (dead Saint Bernard category are much LESS LIKELY to be bluffing than those you placed in the HAPPY (Super Bowl miracle) category. For now, that’s all you need to remember.