Greatest mistake at poker table – not learning from it

Oct 23, 2012 3:00 AM

“A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is making another mistake.” – Confucius 

We all make mistakes on occasion, be it error, oversight, miscalculation, misjudgment, or personal fault…So too do we make mistakes at the poker table.

Perhaps the greatest mistake is not to learn from these. How can a poker player avoid mistakes? First, be aware of the most common mistakes. Let’s focus on this important question starting with the preflop round of betting. 

Preflop mistakes

The most serious mistake is to call the blind with a poor starting hand, especially from an early position. Indeed, that is the most grievous error made by chronic losers. Then they wonder why they always lose – except when they get unusually lucky and quit early before they lose back their winnings plus. 

There are many books available that teach how to avoid that mistake, such as Lou Krieger’s Hold’em Excellence (with his “Start Chart”); and, George “The Engineer” Epstein offers his amazing Hold’em Algorithm in Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision

Another common mistake before the flop is not raising with a made hand (A-A, K-K, and Q-Q) to narrow down the number of opponents staying to see the flop. Many players mistakenly always just call the big blind so as not to force out any opponents, hoping for bigger pots. Then they wonder, “why do my pocket Aces always lose?” 

Winners know their pocket Aces becomes a long shot when more than four opponents stay to see the flop. Raising is the only tactic to achieve that goal. It’s far better to win a small pot than to lose a huge one. 

On the other hand, in a limit game, if you are in a late position with your made hand, and only one or two opponents call the blind to see the flop, it would be a mistake to raise. Ideally, made hands are best played against three or four (no more than four) opponents. 

In this case, raising to force out the remaining opponents would be a mistake. It also warns your opponents to be wary of you. If an Ace falls on the flop giving you a set of Aces, it then will be difficult, if not impossible, to get full value from your monster hand. What a shame! A mistake.

Many players always raise with premium drawing hands – A-K, A-Q, A-J, and K-Q, suited or offsuit. They do it to build the pot. I agree that a raise with K-Q offsuit is appropriate from early or middle positions, but not to build the pot. 

Raise hoping to force out opponents with A-rag so your K-Q has a better chance of being favored to win the pot. But raising with A-K, A-Q, or A-J is a mistake. The last thing you want to do is force out an opponent holding an Ace with a smaller kicker. 

If the flop brings another Ace, not only are you the favorite to win, but that opponent will call your bets all the way to the end, adding to your winnings.

Perhaps what most distinguishes winners from losers is that losers will mistakenly play Ace-anything, including Ace-rag offsuit, to see the flop. Calling to see the flop with A-rag offsuit is a big mistake. If an Ace flops, an opponent holding an Ace with a higher kicker has you beat because of the kicker. Your hand is “out-kicked.” 

There are only three possible outs that will help you – provided your opponent doesn’t hit his kicker too. That’s a situation that could easily prove very costly. It would be a mistake to put yourself in that position. (Note: It’s OK to play Ace-rag suited from a late position, to see the flop, hoping to catch four to the nut flush or better.)

Understand the mistakes most often made so you can take steps to avoid them. In my next column we will discuss mistakes following the preflop betting round.

Contact Irene at [email protected].

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