Tactical Thinking . . . Is it Enough?

Carl Sampson


Wherever you go these days, be it on poker forums, poker websites or poker magazines, you will be confronted by a myriad of information concerning how to play certain hands in certain situations. Now before I go any further, there is absolutely nothing wrong with educating yourself by reading this stuff.

There is also nothing wrong in bettering your game by “knowing” good solid default plays for as many situations as you possibly can. But what you have to remember is that however many situations you memorize or learn, you are still learning something that is tactical and not strategic.

It doesn’t matter what the game is, tactics will only ever take you so far. To take that quantum leap in any field then you are going to have to start looking at things in a different way than just looking at isolated tactics in a vacuum. Tactics after all are just something that we use to try and implement our strategy.

Tactics and strategy predominate in games like Chess for example but this is one of the reasons why intermediate players struggle to break into master levels and beyond. The main problem is when players only ever think tactically and try to win games by using tactical measures and nothing more. This can work if your opponents are not sophisticated but the problem arises when you progress to playing better players.

They understand and know all of the tactical measures that you know so your method of winning Chess games is now no longer giving you an edge. What has this to do with poker? Well the similarities are self evident, too many poker players spend far too long discussing the merits of how to play certain hands in certain situations. As I have stated, there is fundamentally nothing wrong in this…..as long as you understand that there is a case of diminishing returns when you do this as tactical prowess has serious limitations.

It is why so many good and knowledgeable players struggle to make money. Having “knowledge” is only worthwhile if it is used correctly and is pertinent to making money. Most of the time, most situations in poker can be played differently anyway but yet people still persevere in trying to literally analyse things to death.

I have been recently ghosting the games on Pokerloco after not playing online for a while and to me, nothing seems to have changed at certain levels. I see the same players making the same silly mistakes for the same reasons although this may be because the Ongame network is currently weak and that will merit further analysis.

There is so much available information now that the ability to play hands relatively well is all too easily learnable. What does this mean? Well it means that you need something else in your arsenal if you want to make money above and beyond being able to play “hands” well. This can still give you an edge but only against players who don’t have solid tactical knowledge and this tends to mean players at the lower levels.

A good example of a solid tactical player who cannot seem to make money is a player who doesn’t take advantage of rakeback and sign up bonuses. How many players who are failing to make money could do so just by doing these two very simple things? In no way am I saying that acquiring rakeback and sign up bonuses is deeply strategic because it isn’t. My point was that tactical prowess isn’t always enough irrespective of the level that you are playing at.

You need to develop a strategy for making money to be able to do so and this applies even more now that the online game is getting tougher. But strategic thinking basically involves the formulation of a long term plan or objective. How you play each individual hand is tactical and merely serves as a tool to achieve the strategic objective.

Don’t get me wrong, just like in warfare, if the tactics are very poor (playing of the hands) then the strategy could be a sound one but yet still fail. But the difference is that even bad tactics can be enough if a good sound strategy is in place. An easy example to highlight this comes in the role of bankroll management.

You could be tactically flawless (playing your hands perfectly) but yet lose money simply because you are under bankrolled or you insist on playing too high for your respective bankroll. The pursuit of a strategic objective in poker is not satisfied by knowing how to play certain hands. Because as I have already said, that isn’t always enough and is why players in many games are now struggling to find value online! They will insist in trying to make money by purely tactical measures and the days when these were enough are disappearing fast.

Game selection, seat selection and even time selection (choosing the time of day to play) are strategies that have nothing to do with actually playing hands. If your tactical game is pretty good then there really isn’t much mileage in trying to make it better. So what do you do if more and more players educate themselves to your tactical level…..what do you do then?

More and more in the future, players are going to have to start concentrating on issues that have nothing to do with the actual playing of the hands if they want to make money playing online poker. They will need to start thinking differently than they do now because they probably already know the game very well on a tactical level…..but to make money we need to start thinking strategically and over a much longer term than merely looking at the intricacies of how to play individual hands in a vacuum.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson can also be seen on his blog at www.pokersharkpool.com

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