Pre-flop mistakes

From your starting hand selection to betting, etiquette, tells, and
tournament strategy, pre-flop play is crucial

1. Looking at your cards before you’re due to act
If you immediately look at your cards you’re missing out on information others are giving out as they look at theirs and you’re liable to emit tells of your own the moment you know what you’ve got. In a cash game scenario you might also look at, or actually reach for, chips indicating your betting intentions. So in future, wait your turn!

2. Not paying attention
You should watch everything at all times to pick up tells, see patterns in play, and work out players’ strategies. It also means you won’t do what PP staffer Shafty did recently, when he raised and thought he saw everyone fold, only for the big blind to reveal he still had cards. Shafty had mucked and lost his 1000 bet. The clown.

3. Calling everything
The classic beginners’ mistake – calling everything and everyone – will result in elimination, or worse, going broke, in no time. Patience is crucial in NLHE, so learn to be selective with the hands you decide to play, and when you do want to play a hand you should be betting or raising, rather than calling.

4. Limping in
One of the biggest signs of a weak player. More often than not an early position call with a marginal hand will be raised somewhere along the line and then you’ll either make a poor call, or fold and have wasted chips. You should almost always open a pot with a bet, and only limp in late position with a decent hand when no more raises seem likely. Lastly, don’t limp with big hands – you’ll give inferior hands the chance to get lucky.

5. Dribbling out
Don’t let yourself get blinded out. If you’re getting a cold run of cards and your chip stack is dwindling you need to make a move while you still have fold equity. This means if your stack is around 10 times the big blind or less then you need to push all-in to either steal blinds or give yourself a chance of doubling up. Try and do it in an unopened pot and before the blinds hit you again. Good cards are preferable, but as Scott Fischman advocates, sometimes you’ll have to do it with any two cards.

6. Slow-playing monsters
Aces and Kings get cracked all the time. By not raising preflop you’re allowing at least one person (big blind) to see a free flop. So don’t let 8-3 offsuit flop two-pair just because you decided to play it cute. Raise to narrow the field and give yourself the best chance of winning the pot.

7. Never re-raising
When playing no-limit Hold’em you need to put people to the test. If someone is consistently raising in late position when you’re on the button or in the blinds, try a re-raise, even with rags, to see if they’re just stealing blinds (see Simon Trumper’s advice on short-handed play, p60). If they don’t have a hand they’ll have to lay down and it’ll make them think twice about trying it again.

8. Stealing too much
Play the role of the Artful Dodger once too often and you might find yourself getting caught with your fingers in the cookie jar, and facing a raise from a skilled player. So steal selectively and know when it’s time to retreat.

9. Not stealing enough
However, stealing blinds is essential to building a stack or surviving in any sit-and-go or multi-table tournament. So if everyone has folded to you on the button you should be looking to raise the big blind approximately two-thirds of the time. PokerPlayer strategy expert John Vorhaus talked about situational luck and a three-strike rule back in PP, Issue 5. He advocates stealing twice and then holding back until you have a hand. Then, if the big blind gets sick of your raises you may find yourself in a position where situational luck has brought your opponent into the hand at the wrong time and you can now take them apart. Or, so it doesn’t look quite so much of a steal, you can raise from the cut-off seat in an unopened pot and steal the button’s advantage.

10. Over-betting
The blinds are in the first level – 10/20 – and someone opens the betting for 800 in middle position. That’s a massive bet – 40 times the big blind! Why so much? Because they’ve probably got a hand they don’t want to be called with, like a small pair. They might even have a fairly strong pair – Tens or Jacks – and don’t want to see a flop with over-cards. The problem, of course, is that by betting this much, the only callers or raisers you’re going to get are those with stronger hands than yours. So what do you do if you’re re-raised? There’s just no need to put yourself at this much risk with these hands early in a tournament.

11. Failing to play position
The button is the seat of power, and if you’re in it you can make calls or raises you can’t make in other seats with inferior cards in a bid to take the pot away post-flop. You only get it once every rotation of the table so don’t relinquish it just because you don’t like your cards. It’s perfect for stealing blinds and re-raising someone’s continuation bet after the flop. At the other end of the scale, betting in early position with marginal hands is fraught with danger. Only play big hands here.

12. Calling the big blind automatically
If you’re the small blind don’t automatically complete the bet with any two cards hoping for a miracle flop – it’s a waste of chips. More often than not, with multiple callers you’re not going to come out ahead post-flop and you’ll also be first to act, so you won’t have any idea where you stand against others’ hands.

13. Protecting your blinds
It’s not your money any more, it’s the cost of the game. Protect your blinds too much and you’ll be playing out of position, and inferior cards. If someone is stealing off you every time try a re-raise, but in general, unless your tournament life is imperilled, respect raises and wait for a better spot.

14. Bubble play 1
Play tightens up considerably when the bubble approaches so it’s the perfect time to bully. If you’re sitting comfortably with plenty of chips build your tower with positional raises. And if you’re getting short-stacked it can be a great time to rebuild with some aggressive all-ins against the rocks at the table.

15. Bubble play 2
When is aggressive play on the bubble a suicidal move? When you’re playing in a satellite where the same prizes are paid out past the cut-off point. Say you’re in an MTT where the first 30 places get a full Main Event package. It’s the bubble, you’re a big stack and you’ve just been dealt Aces. A bigger stack has moved all-in before you. Are you still going to call and risk getting them cracked? Or are you going to drop them, safe in the knowledge you don’t have to play a single hand to win? Answers on a postcard…

16. Etiquette
Don’t act out of turn or reveal what your cards were if you’ve folded and the hand is still being played. Both things have an effect on the hand or overall tourney.

17. Being predictable
Stick to the same pattern and any decent player will have you figured out within the first few levels of a tournament. Vary your plays, your bets and make moves that are unexpected to keep your opponents guessing.

18. Failing to spot tells
Study others players’ faces at the table when they look at their cards. Over time you should be able to pick up invaluable tells.

19. Not laying down
In some situations it’s okay to lay down Jacks and Queens pre-flop if there’s been heavy betting and raising in front of you. And don’t even think about calling an all-in with big slick in this situation if your tournament life is at stake; you could easily be up against two other pocket pairs, and maybe even Kings or Aces.

20. Playing too tight
In contrast, unless you’re certain someone’s got Aces, you need to have a gamble in NLHE, so it’s rare that you’d lay down Kings pre-flop. After all, your aim is to build a big chip stack by winning big pots. If you can’t do it with the second best hand in the game what are you going to do it with?

21. Not watching chip stacks
Betting into the chip leader can be a disaster, as can raising the small stack – who can’t afford to fold – with rags. It’s essential you pay attention to these factors as they should shape every betting decision you make.

22. Playing Ace-rag
You haven’t had a decent hand in ages and suddenly an Ace pops up, so you get excited and decide to play it. The trouble is, on a full table, there’ll probably be others out there playing Aces with better kickers or pocket pairs. Okay, if they’re suited you can hit the nut flush from time to time, but be very wary about playing Ace-x – it’ll get you into more trouble than it’s worth.

23. Sudden movements
Try not to make any sudden gestures or display any obvious body language when playing live. Don’t raise your eyebrows, or start chatting away, or lean back in your chair if you’ve got pocket Aces. Just sit still and place a bet in the usual way. And don’t alter the way you bet by, say, throwing rather than placing, your chips in – it’s another tell.

24. Playing small pairs
It’s easy to get sucked into raising up with small pairs, just like you see all the time in the crapshoots on TV tables, but most of the time you should be laying down 2-2 to 6-6. You’re looking to flop a set with these hands and the odds against you doing this are prohibitive – 7.5/1. Raising up in early position, getting two callers and then seeing three overcards come down leaves you with no option but to fold to any kind of bet or raise. Play cheaply only in late position in a family pot, looking to hit a set which can decimate an opponent’s stack.

25. Using auto-buttons
Clicking auto-call or raise is a signal to all others at the table that you’re not thinking about the game properly and adjusting your decisions based on the actions before you. So don’t do it. What happens when you suddenly deviate from the pattern and take a while to think? Your opponent is going to know something’s up straight away.

26. Not raising heads-up
Top pros advocate raising virtually EVERY time when you’re the small blind. Find what works best for you but aggression is key – giving the other person a free flop is weak and should be avoided.

27. Acting without thinking
It’s easy to get into a bad habit of tossing in your rags, or making a very predictable raise with A-Q, but you should take time – a few seconds at least – to consider your hand before acting. It helps to develop a confident, composed table image, which will make opponents respect you and, crucially, will stop you making any rash decisions.

28. Typing in the chatbox
Okay, it’s the only social interaction you can get playing online, but it’s generally a clear indication of who the fish are at the table. More importantly, you should be concentrating on the action at the start of each hand not commenting on how Mucky_McMuck from Tallahasee shouldn’t have chased their flush to the river on the previous hand.

29. Not adapting to the situation
Don’t get stuck in a set strategy or pattern. If the table’s tight, play loose, raising and picking up blinds. If the table’s loose, play tight waiting for a monster to take someone apart. And do alter your tactics again when the table is short-handed. Aggression and all-in pushes are far more common as the blinds escalate.

30. Starting hands
To be a successful NLHE player you’ll need to mix things up, but if you’re just starting to learn the game you should have a good idea of what starting hands you should be playing from which position. As a basic starting point play the following hands, but remember this is just a guide for beginners and it also depends on the amount of action before you.

A -10
Plus all other pairs and high suited connectors

Pin It

Comments are closed.