What are biggest poker mistakes even pros make?

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Poker is a game of decisions. Mistakes often occur as a natural consequence. Some are more serious than others, with greater impact on the results.

In early December, the Normandie Casino in Gardena, Calif., hosted our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group and friends to a very professional limit hold’em tournament with cash prizes.

While watching the game (I don’t play against my “students”), I had the opportunity to observe mistakes being made. Even top pros make mistakes. So what are the biggest mistakes?

Starting-hand selection: In my opinion, the most serious and most frequent mistake was staying to see the flop with a hand that should have been mucked. I observed several players making that mistake – a big one!

I know they were all anxious to challenge the others at the table in “mortal” hold’em poker combat. In war, the good generals know when to attack and when to retreat. Likewise, there are good times – and bad times – to pay to see the flop.

I was somewhat surprised because most of those making this mistake have been taught the hold’em algorithm and the Hold’em Caveat.

On the other hand, one of the newcomers to our group – with no prior poker experience – played really well; she took time to check her notes on 3×6-inch file cards. The other players – like it or not – waited; she was not going to be hurried. The result was she almost made it to the final table – but not quite into the money. (I was proud of her!)

Chasing: Another frequent mistake. Calling bets when the chance of connecting is poor. One player started with pocket 9s in a late position. On the flop, he did not catch a set. (The odds were over 8-to-1 against him; no surprise that he missed.) And there were two overcards on the board. An early-position player bet and was raised by the next player.

I was somewhat surprised when the pocket 9s cold-called the raised bet. Based on the cards on the board and the betting/raising, he should have surmised that one or both of his opponents had a bigger pair after the flop. (I assume he considered the types of players involved.)

On that basis, most likely, at best he had just two outs – the other two nines. Only two outs! The card odds against him were huge! No way were there enough chips in the pot to warrant a call! It would take a minor miracle for him to win that pot; and, of course, that miracle didn’t happen. Chasing cards can only cause you to lose more chips. Indeed, it wasn’t long before he was knocked out of the tournament!

Protecting vulnerable hands: A significant third mistake was when a player in a middle position, failed to raise to protect his vulnerable hand. This player had flopped bottom two-pair. With two suited cards on the flop, it was quite possible an opponent had a draw to a flush. And, of course, an opponent might be holding a small pair.

If either one connected, it would have been really bad news for the bottom two-pair. At that point, he would have just four outs to catch a full-house. A big longshot!

In this case, it would have been prudent to force out opponents who had the potential to draw out on him, by betting or raising on the flop. Instead, this player just checked along with the other players in the hand. He failed to protect his vulnerable hand!

You can easily guess the consequence of his mistake. The opponent with a small pair in the hole – who probably would have folded against a bet on the flop – caught his set on the turn. The middle two-pair called all the way to the river, suffering a huge chip reduction as he lost to the set of fours. Failing to protect his vulnerable hand: a costly mistake!

What do you regard as the biggest mistake poker players often make? A prize to the best response.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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