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10 typical rookie mistakes
IntroductionIn this article
- Everyone makes mistakes, some more than others
- Mistakes that your opponents make mean profits for you
- Mistakes that you don't make mean profits for you
In poker, there is a very simple principle: you will always make a profit when you can get your opponent to make a mistake.
But of course the opposite is also true: you will always lose money when you make mistakes.
It is of course possible for an opponent to make a huge mistake, such as playing bad cards to the river, and still he hits his magic card to win the pot. This might even happen over and over again. However, from a professional player's point of view, he is losing. Your opponent has made a mistake and will make it again, which means he will lose in the long run. Short-term results, or how much he wins in these instances are now irrelevant; you will see the real results at the end of the week, month or year.
If you want to play poker successfully, build your bankroll on a long-term basis and possibly aim to play at the highest limits, it is important to have the following professional 'goals' in mind.
- To try to make as few mistakes as possible to maximise my profit.
- To get my opponent to make as many mistakes as possible to maximise my profit.
This article lists the 10 most common rookie mistakes. You should read this somewhat self-critically, because only by finding your mistakes will you be able to correct them. In the next pages, you will find out how to do that.
1: Playing too many starting hands
It is a mathematical fact that only 20% of starting hands are profitable with 10 players at a table. Playing a bad hand is just gambling with a negative expected value.
If you have a hand like A2o (o stands for offsuited) in a late position, 2 players are already in the game so it will cost you a small bet (SB) to see the flop. The expected winnings are smaller than 1 SB so playing this hand is not profitable. Of course, you could get lucky and win this hand in a particular situation, but in the long run you will lose.
Patience is one of the most important virtues in poker. Impatience: not having the discipline to wait for the right cards, is a mistake that many newcomers make.
This mistake is technically easy to correct. Stick to the starting hands chart, explained in the next article. With this chart, you can be sure to play only long term profitable situations.
You can find the aforementioned chart in the basic article on preflop play
Once you have mastered the notions explained in that article and want to improve your game, you can read the Bronze article on Advanced play before the flop.
With regards to your attitude, all there is to say is that without the patience to put into practice, you won't get very far. But like they say, practice makes perfect!
2: Cold calling with weak hands
A cold call is calling two bets at a time before the flop. One opponent raises, you are the next to act and make a cold call. You pay two bets, the big blind plus the raise, to see the flop.
It is rarely correct to cold call a raise. To highlight these situations, US poker professional and author David Sklansky came up with a simple concept: the gap concept.
Assuming you have AQ. If somebody has raised before you (assume for simplicity they are in an earlier position), he's showing you that he has a premium hand.
What are premium hands? AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, AK, AQ, and possibly AJ and 99. Your AQ only dominates AJ. Against the other hands it's an underdog.
Why would you get involved in such a troublesome situation when you aren't being forced to pay anything?
If you are the first to raise with AQ, there is a good chance that you have the best hand at the table. You might even bring another AQ hand to fold, if that person is playing carefully, as advised by PokerStrategy.com.
You can also force small pairs like 88 out of the hand, even though AQ is a slight underdog against these hands. Your opponents don't know that you only have AQ. They may think you have a high pair (99 and above).
A standard pair's probability is less than a higher pair, with a winning chance of about 20%. For this reason you should not call 2 bets at once with a small pair. You would either be a close favorite against two overcards, like AK or AQ, or a big underdog against a higher pair.
This is a difficult situation. Your raised AQ will do well against small pairs, and has possibility of becoming a strong pair. You also have the initiative, which is a very valuable advantage in poker.
Stick to the charts! There is no way around that. And whenever you are confronted with a raise and look at your hand thinking, "My, these look like good cards", remember the gap concept and ask yourself whether your hand is strong enough to cold call. Remember, to cold call you must have a stronger hand than you would for a normal raise.
3: Limping with AK or high pairs
Occasionally you'll find some players who call with hands like AK, AA, KK, and QQ pre-flop to trap their opponents. This is almost always a mistake, even more so with QQ as this hand can easily be devalued by two overcards (ace or king) on the flop. If you play this hand passively to invite more opponents along to see the flop, the chances that one of them hits an A or K, or even a two pair, are very high .
Against a single opponent, your chances to win would remain strong. Even AA is vulnerable against multiple opponents. For this reason, you should try to knock out at least the blinds with a raise. How often do you see AA lose against a lucky two pair, simply because the blinds are allowed to stay in cheaply?
Moreover, at lower limits players like to cold call (see point 2). Raising with AA gets more money in the pot here than a call would. You don't need to try and play tricky. You should rather avoid this type of play altogether, as it will lose you more money than you will make because this style of play often backfires.
If the pot is already big (because of a raise), players tend to call on the flop with hands that probably will not develop into anything. Again, the AA player wins money here.
Play straightforward and follow the charts strictly! No tricks, no traps! If you have a good hand with which you should raise, then raise. Many beginners think that with a very big hand like pocket aces, they should limp to get more money in the pot. Nonsense!
These are the same players who will complain about a sick bad beat when the big blind hits a two pair with his 72o to crack their aces. Raising pre-flop will force the blinds to either fold or make a mistake, which will bring you money in the end. This is one of the basic principles of poker (see introduction).
4: Playing potentially dominated hands
Many players learning the game seem to have problems with kickers. They will play a hand like A3o and when they hit an ace on the flop, will think they have a good hand. Then they'll call down to the river to be beaten by another pair of aces with a higher kicker.
If you like to play small aces like A9 and worse, or small suited aces in an early position, you will often be dominated by other hands. If an ace shows up on the flop there are usually two possible scenarios:
- No opponent has an ace so everybody folds and you only win a small pot.
- A player has a bigger ace, in which case you have an expensive second best hand, and you will have to pay your way to the river to discover this.
Other examples of potentially dominated hands (trap hands) are KJ, KT, QJ, QT and JT. If you get a top pair hand with one of these, you'll often run into a 'legitimate' hand with a better kicker. For instance, KJ is dominated by AK, KQ, and AJ.
These trap hands are not legitimate hands when played from an early or middle position, where the danger of domination is too great. Dominated hands seldomly win and often lose!
Avoid trap hands and stick to the chart! Poker isn't a beauty contest where you play pretty cards. Two picture cards like king-jack, might look good, but they will lose often if played incorrectly. It is commonly said that learning not to play KJ is the first milestone towards becoming a good poker player.
5: Calling with weak draws
Many players do not understand the basic concept of pot odds and outs: a mathematical evaluation of the payoff and risk of a bet.
Granted; it is not easy to get used to this idea, but it is vital in order to make correct decisions. Above all else, you have to be capable of laying down your hand.
A draw is an unfinished hand that you bet on because of it's expected value. You only want to call a bet from an opponent if, on average, you will make more by hitting your draw than you will lose by missing it.
Most players go too far with their hands and pay too much for them. They might have, for example, A2o on a KQ7 flop and think: "I have a chance of getting an ace, so I'll call".
They forget that there is only a 1 in 15 chance of an ace appearing on the turn and that they would still have a relatively weak hand. You would lose to any bigger ace and against many better hands.
Calling regularly in these situations costs a fortune in the long run. This is the most common mistake that your opponents will make and from which you will make plenty of profit. They don't lay down their hands, instead they hope that the one card they need will fall on the turn or river to win them the pot. They don't consider that they are paying way too much for their draw.
It can be hard to master pot odds and outs because of the complex theory behind it. However, first learn how to count and discount your outs based on their strength, and then try calculating the odds of improving your hand in the next round (see The mathematics of poker - Odds and Outs). Stick to it and you'll get it soon enough!
6: Playing good hands passively /slow playing
Many Hold'em newcomers think: "My opponents play with all kinds of cards. I bet and raise like crazy, but they don't fold and instead call all the way to the river. Then they suddenly get just the right card and beat me. Therefore, it is better not to bet in the first place!"
This is a clear mathematical mistake. First of all, you are giving away potential winnings and second, you allow them to see the next card for free!
Let us look at an example mathematically: you have AK, an opponent has 76 and the flop is K62. You are ahead for now. On average, you will win more than 80% of the time.
If you bet 1 dollar and your opponent calls, then from the 2 dollars in the pot, percentage-wise 80% belongs to you ($1.60). Your opponent only gets 40 cents. This means that you would make a profit of 60 cents on your $1 bet, and your opponent would have paid you this money.
These equations are of course based on average values, but in the long term, they will bring you the money. Every incorrect call by your opponent gives you a profit.
What if your opponent's call is correct? You would have loved it if he'd folded, but best forget about it! Opponents already call too often with weak hands. You will not be able to get them to fold a legitimate hand.
Your profit comes from them making bad calls. What you must do now is protect your hand because it's ahead with bets and raises. Make it as expensive as possible for your opponent to see the next card. In this way you maximise your gains and minimise his.
What about hands that are so good that they don't need protection? This is called slowplaying. Since your opponents on the lower limits call too often, slowplaying will not get you very far in most cases. For one thing, your opponents will call anyway and they will also suspect a bluff if you raise too often.
7: Not letting go
It is hard for many players to part with their hand, even when they are clearly beaten.
Scenario 1: You have A 2 in the big blind. The flop is A 5 9. Flush and straight draws are impossible. You bet, get called once and then raised. It now looks like your hand is beaten. A call-down (calling in all betting rounds) to the river would be a big mistake.
Scenario 2: You have A A. The flop is 7 8 9. An early position player bets, gets called and then raised. In this case you must part with your aces. In all probability you are already beaten, and even if you are still in front, there is a great danger that this will no longer be the case on the river.
8: Neglecting position
Poker is much more than just playing cards. Many beginners have a somewhat narrow vision of the game, and play only their cards. However, Hold'em is also a game of position. You already learnt this in the beginner articles: The strength of your hand also depends on your position. This is of course also true for your opponents.
Scenario 1: A player calls with AT in the UTG position (under the gun: the first player to make a decision pre-flop).
AT is not a bad hand and would warrant a raise from middle position if no one calls before you. But it is weak if UTG, since 9 players are left to act and every one of them might have a higher ace or a high pair.
Scenario 2: You catch a flush draw on the flop. The player to your right bets, you raise and all other players fold.
The raise was a mistake, since you have now probably isolated yourself against a player with a made hand, when you would have preferred to play a flush draw against 2 players.
With a flush draw, you should rarely drive opponents away (unless the pot is already very large).
One of the first things you should do in Texas Hold'em before making a decision, is checking your position and that of your opponents. You should therefore study the position and hand charts thoroughly. The difference between correct and incorrect can be just one or two seats apart.
9: Ignoring opponents and their betting actions
Similarly to underestimating the importance of position, some players ignore the potentially dangerous nature of the opposition and stubbornly just play their cards.
No hand has an absolute value. A three of a kind is only strong as long as nobody else has a straight or a flush. Every decision should be made with consideration of the actions of the opposing players, which can indicate the strength of their hands.In any case, poker is about quality and not quantity. A raise from a shy, passive player might mean a monster, whereas a raise from the table maniac (over aggressive player) might only mean that he's holding two cards and wants to bet.
Stay alert! Always watch what's going on at the table. When making a decision, think about the opponents' actions and what they could mean.
If you aren't in the hand, carefully observe your opponents and pay attention to the following:
- Do they play loose, that is, playing too many starting hands and unjustified calls?
- Do they play tight, that is, playing only good starting hands and good calls?
- Do they play passively or aggressively?
10: Unfounded bluffing
Poker in the movies is all about bluffing, and doing so is pictured as the way to win. This is blatantly wrong. A bluff is only justified if there is a good chance that all opponents will fold. Poker isn't a bluffing contest, contrary to what some players might think. In extreme cases, like with maniacs, you can sometimes tell he has a good hand because he stops giving it so much action.
You must realise that the main mistake made by lower limit players is calling too often. They are not very bluffable.
Except for in certain situations, you should not bluff lightly even though you think it's the best course of action. If you raise with AK, for example, and then have 4 callers on a T92 flop, there is almost no chance that a bet will make your opponents fold. The only right play here is to check and see what happens.The correct approach is to play the big pots with your big hands and the small pots with your weaker hands.
SummaryEveryone makes mistakes. The difference between a good and a bad player is that the good player makes less mistakes. To do this, he constantly evaluates his play and his decisions. You have to learn from your mistakes.
In the beginning it is normal to make mistakes. What this article should have taught you is how to notice and correct these mistakes, so as not to make them again. To help you further, there are lots of articles, videos, coaching sessions and forums available at- PokerStrategy.com.
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