Structure Structure Structure

Poker in Three Acts

Poker Structure"A place for everything, and everything in its place."
-- Samuel Smiles

Everything in life has a beginning, a middle and an end. It is also normally true that good organization leads to higher productivity. The cliché is: Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance. Exceptions exist but a combination of these two concepts will usually be a part of winning poker player’s makeup. Winning poker players do not just "show up." They plan. They have goals. They think ahead.

Thinking ahead can be on a huge scale, like building a bankroll so a year from now you can be playing a game two or three or ten times the size you play now. But it also occurs on the smallest scale, like checking on the flop so you can checkraise on the turn. On the Internet I often read descriptions of hands people played that feature a dilemma late in a hand (like on the turn in Holdem). They ask: "what should I do?" A common element in ninety percent of these hands is that either the player bungled the hand on an earlier street, or the player played the hand in such a way that he should have expected this dilemma was coming.

There is a scene in the movie "Who’ll Stop the Rain" where two thugs bide their time playing chess. After the dumber thug makes a move, the smarter thug smacks him upside the head and yells at him for playing "jailbird chess": "Oooo, here’s a good move." No thought, no planning, no strategy, just a random move divorced from the rest of the game. The majority of poker players play "jailbird poker" the majority of the time. They don’t look at either their poker life, or even a single hand they play in a complete fashion. They show no sense of understanding that there is a beginning, a middle and an end to everything, including a poker hand -- and that all these are fundamentally parts of the same, single thing.

Sometimes it isn’t possible, but normally if you bet the turn, you should already have an idea of what you want to do on the river no matter what your opponents do on the turn or what the river card is. The turn bet should be one piece of a puzzle where you know where all the pieces go.

Syd Field says movies are "structure, structure, structure". Watch a well-made movie and you will see how a beginning, middle and end create a sensibly unified whole. The beginning of the movie we get our hero in a tree. In the middle of the movie we throw rocks at our hero in the tree. At the end of the movie, we get our hero out of the tree (one way or the other). When the filmmakers make the movie, they know how it ends, so the actions in the beginning and middle make sense at the end. It’s like traveling with a roadmap. You start at your front door, navigate the streets, and then get where you want to go. Traveling without a roadmap is a wasteful, ineffective, losing way to travel.

This is exactly how poker works. It’s true that even if you use a roadmap you might run into roadblocks and detours and heavy traffic, but deliberate planning makes a successful trip far more likely.

Poker is again like a well-done movie in that the whole movie (your poker life) is broken down into scenes (sessions, single tournaments) and single lines (hands). Every movie scene has a beginning, middle and an end. Your poker days should too -- go in ready to play, play your best, leave when should. Every movie joke has a beginning, middle and an end. The rest of the joke is planned in such a way as to create a satisfying ending, the punch line.

Modern journalism has a different way of putting this, called the three w’s. Old-style journalism had the five w’s (who, what, where, when, why). These days there are three: wake 'em up, wind 'em up, whip 'em up. Aggressively attack your opponents, make playing against you difficult (throw stones at them), and when all is said and done come out of events a winning player.

If you don’t know where you are going in your poker life or in a poker hand, you are going to have a heck of a time ending up somewhere you want to be.

Also Poker Vision, A Variety of Skills, Poker Preparation and Knowing Opponents