Put aside bad calls and bad bluffs, a large percentage of a persons ability to win, or their ‘winrate’, actually rests on aspects of the game that are a lot harder to perceive. Comparing the hands you play against regular poker players with those you play against ‘fish‘(the name was given to players who are new to the game and not very good) you will see a lot fewer ‘showdowns’ against these better players and it is, unfortunately, not always easy to understand why another player wins or loses more than you when they do not even reach the ‘showdown’.
Identifying the poker errors (‘leaks’) in your opponents game can bring you a lot of money, not only because you will often be playing against the same regulars, but also because it can take a long time to dawn on a player that they are performing the particular ‘leak’. Often a player is not conscious of their ‘leak’ because they do not realise that it is this fact that is making them lose money, in most cases, at least, not before somebody has pointed it out to them
In this article we will thus be talking about a few ‘leaks’ that occur pre-flop and which I have encountered many times with regular poker players, I will also be explaining how to exploit these ‘leaks’ in others and how to identify them in your own game.
Poker Error #1. Calling too many hands against attempts to steal.
When playing against aggressive raisers pre-flop and in the last position to speak (the button and the cutoff), it is essential to defend aggressively your blinds. If you abandon too many pots under these conditions and your opponent has raised your opening at the button, you will end up losing a lot of money. A very frequent error committed by players whilst they try to defend their blinds is to content themselves too often with ‘flat calling’. With a stack of 100 x the Big Blind against some fairly competent opponents, it is quite difficult to play profitably with an average hand outside position, even if your hand is stronger than their complete hand. The advantage of being in a good position is then a lot more important than the advantage of the cards that you have in hand before the flop.
If I know that a player sat at the Big Blind is often going to flat-call me when out of position and then raise me at the flop, then I will begin to play in a looser manner. In the majority of cases, my opponent will not touch at the flop. If I combine this with my advantage of being in position and the fact that I am the aggressor pre-flop, I will bring in the pot a lot more often, and without ever having to go to the ‘showdown’.
The best manner of defending against big raisers pre-flop is to re-raise more hands rather than to satisfy yourself with following. Often you will bring in the pot because your opponent will raise here with a large variety of hands. If he calls you will still have a hand that has some value, and if you justify your aggression after the flop, you will often bring in the pot later in the round. This strategy will also increase the range of your re-raises, and your monster hands will be paid more often.
You can easily identify these ‘leaks’ with the aid of some statistics. A computer programme, such as HoldemManger will furnish you with the statistics on the percentage of defences of the steal in Small Blind (the average percentage here is around 12-14%), re-raises of the steal in Small Blind (9%), defences of the steal in Big Blind (16%), and re-raises of the steal in Big Blind (9%). Make sure that you select the ‘Button/Cutoff’ as the position of the first raiser when using this software; otherwise, the programme will also include the battles of the blinds.
Poker Error #2. Making mistakes when calculating the implicit odds.
When calculating their implicit odds at the pre-flop, many players often make mistakes. For example, a ‘regular player’ (one that plays often and therefore knows the game), opens at the button with 2.5 x the Big Blind and you have a 2 of Clubs and a 2 of Hearts at the Big Blind. You will flop three-of-a-kind at a rate of about 1 in 9. Because you will have great difficulty in bringing home the pot if you do not manage to get anything at the flop you will only ever play this game for the ‘set value’. As you will invest an average of 9 x 2.5 Big Blind= 22.5 x the Big Blind, if you flopped a three-of-a-kind, you will need to win at least 22.5 x the Big Blinds in order for this to be profitable. However, the ‘regular player’ type that you are playing against opens on average with 1 in 3 hands at the button. Against a range this varied, you will not win 22.5 x the Big Blinds each time that you manage to get your three-of-a-kind. Players speak from the rule of 5/10, which means that if you need to invest less than 5% of your stack pre-flop, then it should always be a call, whereas if they ask you for more than 10% of your stack, then it should always be a fold. In my opinion, the battle is elsewhere and you should, before everything play in relation to opponents hands. The more of a tight style they are playing, the greater is your implicit odds and the more you can fight over hands.
An even larger error involves following on a re-raise with hands having implied odds. A standard re-raise would normally require an additional raise to about 8.5 x the Big Blinds; this means that you should de-stack your opponent each time that you touch the cards you want if you want your calls to be profitable. Even if your opponent does not re-raise unless they have an Ace-King or Queen-Queen, or more, this is a negative Expected Value because even with a very good complete hand, you will not be paid each time that you touch at the flop.
If I see a player regularly calling re-raises with small pairs, I will notice this fairly quickly. Because I will be able to re-raise that player with a great deal of hands: he follows pre-flop because he thinks that he has some good implicit odds but will fold easily each time that he passes the flop. In truth, he is committing a great error because you re-raise with a very strong complete hand. It would be better to follow the re-raise with some assorted connectors, rather than with a served pair, because with the latter you will be able to complete the hand more often at the flop, and even if it is not always a monster hand, it will still be sufficient most of the time: the best thing to do, though, is to call the re-raises with a hand that can flop a max-pair providing that, in re-raised pots, all the money will often be won with a simple pair.
The ‘Vs-3bet-fold %’ (percentage of folds faced with a 3-bet) is a new statistic that is provided by HoldemManager that is useful but can itself present some problems. The average fold rate of ‘regular player’ faced with a 3-bet in my database is around 65%, but I know that at least two of the players re-raised 65% of the time with a whole range of hands. With players who are close to the 65% average, it is quite hard to deduce which types of hand they are currently playing with unless you have also taken some notes about their game. For players who are located far from the average, in contrast, it is a lot easier to determine the structure of the hands they are playing with.
Poker Error #3. Raising too often when (good) short-stack players are at the table
On PokerStars, for example, you will see a lot of the winning players using the ‘short-stack strategy’, who are stacked around 20 x the Big Blinds, which can be very frustrating to you if you are sat there with a stack of 100 x the Big Blinds. While they play with a stack of 20 x the Big Blinds, the rest of the table will vary between 100 x the Big Blinds and 20 x the Big Blinds, and consequently, this has a large impact on the hands that are played pre-flop. A large portion of the money that is won by the adept short-stack-player is won pre-flop, without them ever having to see the showdown, by re-raising All-In against players with a strong opening hand.
In order to defend yourself against this, the only effective method is to tighten your game and raise less aggressively. If, for example, you are at the button and there are two short-stacks sat at the blinds, undertake a mini-raise rather than raising at 3-4 times the Big Blind and do not open with marginal hands, such as an assorted 5-2. This way you can often follow the bets of your opponents and lose less money in the event that you have to fold your hand. On their part, a short-stack will fold as often as a large-stack when faced with a raise of 2 x the Big Blind rather than 4 x Big Blind.
Poker Error #4. Betting when there is more value in calling.
The idea that you have to play in an aggressive manner to win is true, for the most part, but you have no need to play from the point of view ‘raise-or-fold’ all the time either. Pre-flop, you will often find yourself in situations where it is better to flat-call, whereas the majority of players will re-raise in these situations.
Out of position, players often take a very tight approach to the game when faced with a re-raise, because they believe it to be very difficult to play a large pot profitably against an aggressive player. Out of position, hands that are well played against an opening raise are more numerous than those which allow you to call a 3-bet. Take, for example, a hand such as a King-Queen against a raise at the cutoff. If you re-raise here, the hands that will follow you will rarely be inferior to your own (e.g. King-Jack or Queen-Jack). It is too bad that your hand will play well against a simple opening raise.
If you anticipate a multi-way pot (in which several players are implicated), simply follow the bet, as it will be more profitable than re-raising. In this case, your position will have less importance because multi-way pots are generally less aggressive. In fact, there is a good chance that at least one of the players has touched a good flop. Additionally, by flat-calling, you invite the not-so-good players, who think they have good odds, to join in the round. It is a concept that is often poorly understood: although your odds increase in relation to the number of players implicated in the round, your chances of winning the round, are themselves, reduced.
Another example: If the button raises and a ‘fish’ sat at the small blind calls, it is not really worth your while to re-raise with a hand such as a 56 assorted or a 44. There is a lot more value in a flat-call and, if you re-raise, the button will often follow in the hope of playing a 3-way pot in position with a poor player in the round. And, you will see, the fish will often call, with any old pocket pair or any old broadway, and it will be quite hard to eliminate them from the round if they touch there wanted cards. You often bring in the pot by raising pre-flop in this type of situation, but in satisfying yourself with limping you bait the fish and win more money in the long-run.
Poker Error #5. Limping at the Small Blind.
Players that limp are, in the majority of cases, weak players. The good players will often raise the limp or Small Blind. Forget the odds of 3:1. Even if it appears very profitable on paper, this type of situation does not compensate for the disadvantage of your position. In fighting a battle of Blinds or Small blind, knowing that there is a good player at the Big Blind, I would confine myself to play by the ‘raise or fold’ rule. If a player in the Small Blind position limps and it is me who is in the position of Big Blind, I will always undertake a raise pre-flop or bet the flop, in fact, it depends on the course of the game. What I mean by this is that if I raise three times in a row when in position, the fourth time I will prefer to bet the flop than to raise again at the pre-flop. In so doing, you force your opponents into playing a more significant pot out of position and you will see that this type of situation apportions a lot more ‘fold equity’ (i.e. the strength of your ability to make an opponent fold their cards).
Poker Error #6. Betting too much, too little or with bad hands.
Once you have taken part in a few 3-bets and 4-bets with a particular player, you will, maybe, want to begin bluffing from time to time. A normal 3-bet is around 12 x the Big Blind and, in playing with a stack of around 100 x the Big Blind, a 4-bet will cost 27 x the Big Blind, which is generally sufficient enough to force your opponents into the ‘push-or-fold’ mode. If you do this with every hand, it will be impossible for your opponent to distinguish a bluff from a monster hand. In this way, you can make your bluffs more economical and still garner the greatest value possible from your monster (under the condition that your opponent does go into ‘push-or-fold’ mode). You should pay attention to the amount you wager and not wager too much, given that many of your opponents will have flat-call mania, which can give rise to some post-flop pots that seem a bit out of the ordinary.
Because practically all the 4-bet situations pre-flop are played in ‘push-or-fold’ mode, there is nothing wrong with varying the range of your opening hand. What I mean by this is that once you have managed to effectuate a 4-bet, this will be with a monster hand or with a complete bluff. If your opponents rarely flat-calls and you have decided to fold your Jack-Jack in case of a misplaced All-In re-raise, it brings little benefit to know whether you played Jack-Jack or 32 unassorted. That said, hands such as Jack-Jack, 10-10, 9-9 and Ace-Queen are played well in flat-calling only adverse 3-bets. You will, the majority of the time, be in front of an adverse hand and, since you often flop a top-pair, they are thus easy hands to play. If you decide to undertake a 4-bet with one of these hands in revenge, you should only do it with the intention of following an opponents bet, otherwise, you risk invalidating the value of your hand.
I hope that you not have lost the thread of this article among the many poker error examples given, if this is the case, then you should now have at least a little understanding of leaks to help you with your poker skills. Once you have more experience, it will become easier and easier to detect these types of error that are committed by ‘regular players’ of poker, and this will help you to win a lot more money.
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Gordon Dyke has served as our poker expert since 2017. Gordon has been playing poker professionally and recreationally for nearly two decades.