As a poker coach, I see my newer students making the same type of mistakes. Here are my candidates for the most common and costly mistakes made by the people who approach me for lessons.
1. CallingBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play. Bob's website is www.pokercoach.us preflop raises with inadequate values
A hold’em player who raises the pot is saying he has a premium hand. Typically, that is a pair of aces through jacks, A-K, or A-Q. The other players have been given a cue to avoid certain hand types, because they are in grave danger of being dominated by the raiser’s hand. Domination means having an opponent’s card tied up, so if he pairs that card, the dominating hand will have either a bigger kicker or a set. The hands you want to avoid are big cards that will likely be where the raiser lives, but not as big as the ones he holds. The two worst hands with which to call raises are A-J and K-Q. Note that being suited does help give you a better chance of getting out of a trap, but you don’t want to be in a trap to start with. Hands like K-Q suited and A-J suited are good hands in unraised pots, but are to be avoided in raised pots in which the raiser is expected to have a premium hand.
2. Building drawing hands in early position
In no-limit hold’em, a drawing hand will play much better when it has good position. Of course, any hand plays better when in position, but at least a good hand like a set can live with acting first. A drawing hand, particularly a flush draw (where it is obvious whether the flush comes in or not), will play much better with position. Look at what happens on the flop when you have to act first. If you bet the hand and get called, your opponent can see if the flush hits on the turn. You may well not make any more money with the hand if it does. Most of the time, the flush does not come. (You had nine outs in 47 cards on the flop, so you were a 38-to-9 underdog.) If the flush doesn’t come on the turn, you have two options, both bad. You can make a large bet with only one card to come, or you can check. At this point, one thing is certain. You will be wishing that you had good position instead of bad position.
3. Underbetting premium hands
I recently wrote an entire Card Player column on this subject. Many players have a bad policy of betting a larger amount on their bluffs or mediocre hands than they do on their good hands. Before I took up no-limit play, I had the idea that the bigger the bet, the better your hand was. Aside from the fact that any system of this nature would be easy to play against (because of transparency), I found that many players actually depart from it by 180 degrees. They bet a large amount when they don’t want to get called, and a small amount when they do. The result is, they may win a little something on their good hands, but lose a lot when someone takes advantage of the cheap price and draws out. For most situations, you are better off betting the same amount regardless of your hand strength — and that amount should not be peanut-size.
4. Not betting decisively enough on the turn after betting the flop
The turn is the place where the big players really shine, compared to the weak players. The weakie when holding a moderate hand is afraid to check, for fear the pot will now be taken away from him. And he is afraid to make a substantial wager because his hand is not that strong. The result is, he bets again, but just a wimpy amount. This usually is the worst of the three choices. The result is that the hand continues — and he has all the same problems at the river that he just faced. Since he did not bet enough to run out an opposing drawing hand, he still has little idea of what sort of animal he faces, despite the fact that it is the last betting round and the pot is now pretty big. It is no wonder that he often makes a very bad decision, either folding a winner or paying off big time to a hand he could have run out of the pot. The good player knows he must make some sort of commitment on the turn. Maybe he will check; maybe he will make a big bet. If that choice is to bet big, he usually will have gained enough info to make a good decision at the river — if he still faces an opponent.
5. Failing to realize when the opponent has a strong hand
At some point in the hand, after the opponent has passed a testing bet, you should give him credit for having a strong hand. If you have been following my exhortations, you will have made a bet somewhere along the line that put the opponent to the test. When he passes it, act accordingly. Lots of players think each bet that they fail to raise ensures that they will be presented with another bet on the next round. In other words, they trap. At some point, you need to back off. Do not be afraid to check. If your opponent then makes a bet, he has you beat. If for some reason he does not have the strong hand he was supposed to be holding, he had extended himself with his call and may well check it back.
6. Putting an opponent on a particular hand when having insufficient evidence
Maybe my students are trying to give me the impression that they are astute at putting an opponent on a hand, because they often give me a betting sequence preflop and on the flop, and then say, "I put him on (a particular hand)." Very seldom do you know what an opponent has on the flop with any degree of assurance. You simply have not received enough information to do this. Yet, I often see players acting as if there was only one possible hand for an opponent to have. This false assurance will cause you to act precipitously, instead of catering to the various possibilities. Be flexible in your thinking.
7. Playing too tight when the table is shorthanded
I often see this error made by a solid player who has most of his experience at a full table. When you are down to three or four players in a tournament event, the blinds are sky-high and come around every few deals. You must play many more hands than normal, and reduce your criteria for raising and reraising. Yes, you must gamble, but that is what tournament poker is about. You no longer can stay in the game by folding all but your premium hands. Get aggressive.
Remove these seven sins from your play and you will see a dramatic improvement in your no-limit hold’em results.
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