game flow in poker

How “Game Flow” Should Impact Your Decisions in Poker

People aren’t robots.

Poker can be a very emotional game, which can cause even experienced players to lose control of their strategy as their stack rises and falls.

A tight player with well-memorized ranges might start spewing chips after losing a few big pots. A maniacal 3-bettor might take his foot off the gas if he feels like no one is folding anymore. A calling station might start hero folding after being shown the nuts one too many times.

This brings us to a recent question posed in our Upswing Lab members-only group:

Say you have an aggressive table image and you bluffed a guy two out of the last three pots. Would you still try to bluff him in the next hand if the situation (and your hand) warranted it? Or would you slow down because of your recent history?

Enter game flow.

What is Game Flow?

Game flow refers to the general feel for how a particular table is playing, as well as recent history between players.

How Does Game Flow Affect the Game?

Poker is a game of incomplete information, so it’s important to use any and all available to your advantage. If there is good evidence to suggest that a player is going to behave a certain way, it may very well pay dividends to adjust your strategy accordingly. 

For example, if a player is visibly upset about being bluffed, he may be less likely to fold in the near-future. In this scenario, it makes sense bluff a bit less and widen your value-betting range.

However, there are two caveats regarding game flow that cannot be stressed enough:

1) There is a big difference between reliable information and an assumption.

Players sometimes make very specific and non-standard plays because they assume their opponent is playing/thinking a certain way. This may be in spite of the fact that there isn’t much (or sometimes any) evidence to suggest that their assumption is correct.

This is a huge mistake you should aim to avoid.

Let’s say you have been 3-betting a lot since you’ve joined the table. In one hand, you 3-bet with a suited connector and the hand went to showdown. Should you be wary of 3-betting light next time?

The answer to that question depends on the answer to these questions:

  • Do your opponents seem to care that you’re 3-betting aggressively?
  • Do they know how to adjust versus an aggressive 3-bettor?
  • Did your opponents even notice that you 3-bet light?

When it comes to most of your opponents, the answer to all of these questions is quite likely no, which makes adjustments on your end unnecessary

To quote Upswing Coach Fried “mynameiskarl” Meulders:

I pay basically no attention to game flow [in my Zoom games]. So what if you are up against someone like me who isn’t even aware what happened in the previous pot? You’re just layering a level of complexity on top with no gain.

Now, let’s not throw game flow out of the window just yet.

Fried admits that his approach has a lot to do with the fact that he mainly plays Zoom games, where there are almost no table dynamics because of the constant table switching.

But even at regular tables or in a live game, which is a much more reasonable place to take game flow into consideration, you should always be very careful about factoring in game flow.

This brings us to the second point:

2) Make slight adjustments, not wild deviations.

Us humans are very eager to look for patterns, especially at the poker table. It is a very common mistake to see one showdown, draw too extreme of a conclusion, and make too big of an adjustment in pursuit of exploiting an opponent.

In reality, your adjustments should be directly proportional to the amount of evidence you have available. One of the moderators of our members-only group (Adam McLaughlin) put it really well:

Make small adjustments, but don’t go crazy without significant evidence from a large sample size or showdowns.

So, take things slow instead.

If you see something that indicates your opponent has a certain tendency or that his strategy is shifting, start by making a very slight change in your own play.

In the “what if I’ve been bluffing a lot” example from earlier, this would entail bluffing a little less often (cut out a few combos) than you normally would while widening your value betting range slightly.

If you eventually gain enough information to warrant making a more extreme adjustment (like never bluffing versus a player who absolutely hates folding), by all means, go for it.

Final Thoughts

How much game flow should impact your strategy depends heavily on what kind of games you play. The more time you spend playing with the same people and the more personal it gets, the more game flow matters. But even then, game flow can easily be overrated.

Rather than making big adjustments based on wild assumptions, wait to gather info that confirms your big adjustments are warranted. Additionally, the degree to which you should adjust should scale with the reliability and relevance of the information you gather.

Ready to learn more? Check out 3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Facing a Bet.

That’s it for today. Let me know what you think of game flow in the comments below!

Note: Ready to join 6,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!


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About the Author
Tomas Molcan

Tomas Molcan

Successfully trying not to be all that terrible at poker since 2009.

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