A profitable decision making process

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In an increasingly complex game, ‘bencb’ shares some advice on how to simplify profitable decisions.

Good decision-making in poker requires asking the right questions. When most players find themselves in a difficult situation, they tend to usually start by asking themselves things like “how do I balance my range here..” or “what am I trying to represent..” While these questions have merit, they aren’t very productive when it comes to actually solving the situation you are facing in game. Instead, this short article will give you a blueprint for making quick, effective decisions at the poker table. Let’s dive in.

1) Two foundational questions


It may sound overly simplified, but there are truly only two questions you need to answer with every decision in poker:

  • Is this a profitable play?
  • Is this play profitable enough and worth the risk?

If the answer to either of these answers is a solid no, you can just immediately fold and move on! However, if you decide that the answer to both questions is yes, you can move forward and put the chips in.

Of course, you still need to study a lot in order to get an idea of how much bb/100 or EV you will make in a certain spot, but you’ll develop a feeling for it over time by using poker study tools like Pairrd. It’s very important to have a simple and logical thought process that you can repeat over and over again across different situations. This is how top professional poker players can play 20+ tables at once – they follow a simple formula for making complex decisions quickly. 

2) How to decide if a play is profitable enough

The deeper you get to more careful you should be in marginal spots

The second of the two questions we ask ourselves when making decisions is a bit more complicated to answer, but could save you a lot of headache over time. In tournament poker, knowing when you should take a marginal spot and when you should pass on it and wait is incredibly important.

Typically when you are short stacked (10BB or less) you can take most +EV spots without a second thought, as long as ICM isn’t a massive factor. As stacks get deeper however, the amount of expected value (EV) you need to make a play increases. This means as you gain more chips in a tournament, you should be less willing to part with them in situations where you only have a slightly +EV play.

In order to understand the logic behind a play being profitable enough you need to study away from the tables using tools like Hold’em Resource Calculator or ICMizer to see the EVs of certain plays. It should be obvious that a lot of these +0.5bb bluffs or hero calls in 50BB pots are pretty stupid to take in tournament poker, given how much you’re risking for so little gain.

3) Making decisions as the bluff catcher

GTO calling ranges are useless if Villain never bluffs

When your opponent has bet and you’re in a situation where you’re thinking about calling with a marginal value hand, you need to ask yourself some more specific questions:

  • Can Villain have enough bluffs to make my call profitable enough?
  • Is this opponent (or the population) bluffing enough in this spot?

In many lower-mid stakes tournaments and especially in low stakes live tournaments, many players will not want to part with their chips in big pots unless they have a big hand. Many players will also be bluffing much less than GTO suggests, even if they can have some bluffs in their range. This is why it is so important to adjust your play based on who you are playing; if the old man who has played three hands in the past two hours jams into you on the river, you should not be calling him down with a GTO calling range.

4) Making the decision to bluff

Ask yourself if your opponent has enough hands they can fold

Finally, if you are trying to decide on whether or not to bluff, you need to ask yourself three questions:

  • Does my opponent have enough hands that will fold?
  • What sizing will attack their range best?
  • Is this opponent or population folding enough to justify bluffing?

Similar to making the decision to bluff-catch, you must first decide if your opponent can even have enough combos that will fold here, and if the player you’re up against is capable of folding much at all. If for example a big draw misses on the river, your opponent may have more hands that will fold than on a drier runout. You also need to decide what bluff sizing will work best against your opponents range, if they have a lot of missed draws in their range you may be able to get away with a smaller sizing, but if they have a lot of made hands you can bet a bigger, more polarizing sizing to try and get these hands to fold. Again, drilling spots like this away from the table is key!

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