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Intermediate Lessons

Another High-Profit Mission For The Next Time You Play Poker

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

This summer, I was rummaging through the garage and I came across a document I had almost forgotten. It was one of my early products, copyright 1983, and the computer files for it could not be located. The title of the document was Poker Plan 3, and thousands of copies were sold.

After a few years, I had decided to take Poker Plan 3 out of print and to revise and expand it. It looked too ugly in its unimaginative format – old-fashioned typewriter pages with side-by-side columns. But, you know me, I never got around to revising Poker Plan 3. What is Poker Plan 3?

Good question. It was really the prototype for my mission-method of teaching. That’s the method where I tell you to play poker the best you can, but forget about everything else except the one specific mission I want you to accomplish right now. So, several months ago, I took one of the 15 missions from the long-lost document I’d just found in the garage and published it in this column.

I even suggested that I might publish more of the missions in this column. The response has been much more favorable than anticipated – so here’s another mission from Poker Plan 3, which we might reintroduce as a product in the months ahead. No promises – I’ve made too many and fallen behind schedule. The two mission-type documents that followed PP3 into print in the early eighties – 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.

Before we get to today’s mission, here’s the explanation of how it works, repeated from the earlier column:

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.

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 another mission from Poker Plan 3.

Another mission.
In PP3, this was Mission 3. You’re going to like this mission. It’s fun because it deals with the most primitive nature of poker. You get to choose an opponent as your target. You will study that player and examine his weaknesses, then you’ll try to bluff him … twice.

That’s just the first part of the mission. In the second part, you’ll concentrate on just two players of your choice, observing and making comparisons. The ability to focus in poker is almost a secret art. Yet all world class professional players use this art effectively — whether they know it or not.

You can study a whole table of opponents all at once and, no matter how hard you concentrate, the information you gain about their habits is apt to be trivial. One of the most important things I can teach you is: Don’t watch too many things. Instead you must watch selectively. On this mission you’re going to try to focus on one opponent and then on two at once. You won’t excel at this right away. But the realization of the power behind this method will hit you almost immediately. Pretty soon you’ll be focusing unconsciously, isolating on what’s really important.

Something I’ve discovered while talking with professional poker players is that the good-but-not-great players try to take as much as they can into consideration. Their minds work feverishly and with great effort as they struggle to grasp everything.

The truly great players do quite the opposite. While they take very many factors into consideration, and while they seem to be aware of everything, they really spend most of their energy focusing on one goal (and no more than two players). True, they’re aware of many other things, but they usually focus on one thing. The rest comes naturally and unconsciously, as they soon will for you. In fact, each of these missions puts something new in your head that will keep helping you win, whether you concentrate or not.

You see, these missions are evidence that you should only focus on one main thing. As you undertake the later missions, you’ll be surprised how many times your previous missions will reward you — often when you least expect It. So, right now, let’s focus …

Today’s mission, part 1.
Isolate on the player to your left. Watch every hand he or she plays and study the gestures. Remember to listen for voice tells.

Don’t try to draw conclusions! Drawing conclusions is a mistake. Observation is the key. Usually the major conclusions will come to you effortlessly.

So, study that opponent to your left. Try to find an opportunity to bluff him. Keep these things in mind:

Most players are easier to bluff after they’ve come from behind and have just gotten even – especially if forfeiting the money they have in the current pot will not put them behind again.

Most players are easier to bluff after you’ve made some friendly gesture. If you’ve shared a joke or let the player share your hand while he’s out of a pot, it could be a good time to bluff. If you’ve accepted coffee from or bought coffee for this opponent, it could be a good time to bluff.

Most players are easier to bluff when they’re conspicuously looking at you or at their chips.

You can get away with a large share of bluffs if you bet decisively while a player is reaching for his chips as if to call. That’s because the player is usually just trying to prevent your bet.

Also, keep in mind that it’s much easier for your bluff to succeed if you make a sizable bet in a no-limit or pot-limit game than if you are confined to betting a fixed limit. You have two hours to run two bluffs against your target to your left.

Today’s mission, part 2.
Simply try to focus on two players at the same time. Pick these players at will, but don’t include the one who figured in your bluff exercise.


Follow-Up: Don’t worry if your bluffs failed. In limit poker, because the pots can be many times the size of the bet, your bluffs can fail most of the time and still be profitable. The point is, in Part 1, you became very familiar with one player, and you learned things about him that would otherwise have escaped you. You tried to bluff, and whether or not you succeeded, you took that action with a better understanding of your opponent’s behavior. You might have gotten unlucky and targeted an opponent who was difficult to bluff. That doesn’t matter, either. The value is in having accomplished the mission and knowing how to apply this type of observation to your future games.

Let’s talk about part two. Answer these questions about the two players you focused on: (1) Which was more conservative? (2) Which had the better emotional control? (3) Which would be easier overall to bluff? (4) Did either player seem to dominate the other? That’s all.

The main thing that PP3 taught with this mission is that you need to learn to focus on one thing at a time. You can learn to be conscious of other things going on at the same time, but this should happen automatically. Your focus should be on one thing. When you try to monitor many things, you usually fail. You’d be surprised how many more things you will be aware of, when you concentrate on one thing at the poker table. It’s magic

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