The internet is a wonderful place. With a few nimble keystrokes, you can find out how to do just about anything at an expert level, from ending all wars to making the perfect margarita. Okay, we’re still working on that first part.
But there’s a lot of incredibly useful information out there – if you know where to look. That includes poker, of course. We’ve come a long way over the past 20 years or so; thanks to the information superhighway, anyone who wants to learn how to play poker at a decent level can do so, without having to shell out a ton of money in the process.
How do you filter all this information, though? Try placing it in the following three buckets: strategy, tactics, and logistics. These are three different concerns in poker that tend to get lumped together. Let’s un-lump them right now, so we can think more clearly and start playing better poker.
When we talk about strategy in poker or anything else in life, we’re talking about planning. You need a plan for how you’re going to put food on your table; you also need a plan for how you’re going to deal with players who 3-bet you every time you open from the button.
This is where strategic thinking comes in. By taking a closer look at the game of poker and what makes it tick, you can create a detailed blueprint that covers all (or at least most) of the things you need to do at the table to achieve your goals.
Math will play a big role in this investigation. So will psychology. Today’s poker wizards tend to think about winning strategies as being either exploitative or balanced. An exploitative strategy takes advantage of your opponents by identifying their weaknesses and pouncing on them; a balanced strategy (typically referred to as “Game-Theory Optimal” or GTO for short) uses the right blend of value bets and bluffs to keep your opponents from exploiting you. Both strategies have their time and place – which is where the next buckets come in.
The difference between strategy and tactics may appear subtle at first, but it’s very important: Tactics are the specific actions you take to execute your strategy. For example, with that player who’s 3-betting you relentlessly, you might decide to use an exploitative strategy instead of a balanced one.
The tactics might include opening from the button with a stronger range than normal, and calling your opponent down more frequently when they raise. “Open tighter, call lighter” is the mantra.
Welcome to the top floor of the poker thoughtscape. Logistics is where you consider how to organize your strategy, so you can successfully complete your tactics. In other words: How do you best marshal your resources? Bankroll management is the most obvious application of poker logistics – and maybe the most important.
If you don’t have enough buy-ins for the stakes you’re playing, your chances of achieving long-term success go down. Game selection is key, too; a tough $10/$20 No-Limit Texas Hold’em table presents a different challenge than a soft $30/$60 Limit Omaha Hi/Lo table.
Eventually, once you’ve put enough thought into poker, you’ll come up with a solid strategy that employs effective tactics, and there won’t be much room for improvement left – some, but not much. Logistics is a whole other animal.
Which poker rooms offer the best deals? How should I set up my monitors when I’m playing online? What should I eat when I’m at a live event? There’s always something new and important to discover on the logistics front, much like life itself. Ignore these considerations at your peril; as they say, amateurs study strategy, professionals study logistics.