Amateur mistakes – and how to avoid making them yourself pro Patrick Leonard talks us through the biggest mistake he sees amateur players making – and how you can avoid falling into the same trap

Previously I gave an introduction into a poker game plan and spoke about why it is necessary for you to have one if you want to be successful in modern day online cash games. In this issue I am going to talk about the biggest mistake I see from amateur players – playing good hands poorly!
I would say the most common and largest mistake I see amateurs make is that they will turn value hands into bluffs. They will often justify this by saying, ‘well, I found out where I was at’. If somebody six-bets pocket Jacks and then folds to an all-in before their opponent shows pocket Queens most people would be impressed. Heck, some people may even say, wow this guy is a real card shark! If they do then generally they won’t understand the real fundamentals of the game. Let’s break it down a little bit to the real basics of poker to understand why.

What is a bet?

Although there are some very advanced ways of approaching a bet, if for small stakes we only ever consider a bet to be one of the following two things we will be fine:
Betting for value
I make this type of bet because I expect my opponent to call me with a worse range. For example, an opponent raises to $3 from the cutoff in a $100NL game. I am on the button with K-K and decide to make it $9 because I think he will continue in the hand with a weaker range than K-K. Just because he may have A-A doesn’t mean we don’t make a raise!
Betting as a bluff
I make this type of bet because I expect my opponent to fold a range that is stronger than my hand. For example, an opponent raises to $6 from the small blind in a $200NL game. I am in the big blind with Q-4 suited and decide to make it $18 because I think he will fold a lot of better hands.
It is very important to understand the concept of both types of bet. Even if you think they are simple, read again and think them through. Let’s look at the following decision. We are playing in a $100NL six-max Zoom game on PokerStars and an unknown player with a 100BB stack raises to $3.50 from under the gun. We are in the cutoff and look down at A-K♠. It is automatically in our head that A-K is such a good hand so most amateurs won’t even think about both our opponent’s range and their own range. Generally all of the hands that we dominate now such as A-J, A-Q, and K-Q are going to have a very easy time folding if we decide to raise. If we continue with this plan we are likely to either win a small pot (he folds to our reraise) win a medium pot (he calls our three-bet and folds on the flop) or lose a big pot.
Now let’s look at the merits of calling instead. When we call we allow other hands to come into the pot, especially the blinds who may feel ‘priced in’. Hands that they will often call with will be A-x suited, K-9, and A-T which we will be able to play very well against. Secondly we allow people behind us to bluff – as we have shown a sign of weakness in these relatively aggressive games – we allow people to keep the betting round open and our hand plays very well versus somebody who squeezes.
In this spot, three-betting the first opener probably wont be the max EV play. A lot of amateurs will often have predetermined actions designed into their flawed game plan simply because of hand strength without considering the opener’s range and position, their own range and position and the range of the other players in the hand.

It’s getting ugly

Continuing on the ‘why am I betting?’ saga, the flop is another street where amateurs will generally overvalue hands and lose value. Let’s look at another example. We are playing in a $200NL six-max game on iPoker. A good player who has been causing us lots of problems raises from middle position and we decide to call on the button with Q-9. We go heads-up to the Q-8-7 flop. Our opponent bets $10, we raise to $30, the villain raises to $90 and we fold. This is something I often see players doing. It is the ‘lets see where I am’ bet. Often they don’t really know why they are raising or have a plan for the hand. By doing this we’ve turned a really nice spot (top pair, backdoor flush and straight draws) into an ugly spot. Even if the villain shows us 8-8 for a set you should not be happy that you lost the minimum there. That is flawed logic. In this hand our opponent has three options when we raise the flop;
Generally if they call they will have hands such as Q-T, Q-J, K-Q, A-Q, K-K and A-A. We have now inflated the pot against a stronger range – congratulations! Is this a value bet? Remember that a value bet is when a worse range will call us.
We just made a guy fold a hand when we had a good hand with good potential. This is not good.
If we get raised our opponent will likely have a better hand and we will have to fold. We also allow our opponent to sometimes blow us off our hand with an ambitious bluff too.

Here’s one I won earlier

The biggest winning hand I had last month was almost identical to this board. I called with J-T preflop and the board was J-8-3. I called a bet, the turn was 7, and I called once more. The river brought a harmless (or so he thought!) 2and I shoved over the villain’s bet. He called me instantly with 8-8. If I had decided to raise on the flop he would likely have kept raising because there was a flush draw. I would have lost my preflop call and the flop raise and not have won a whole buy-in.
Let’s look at some more hands in his range. If the villain had A-K instead of 8-8 then he would likely fold to my raise on the flop but there is a chance he would continue bluffing the turn. Let’s say he had a hand like 9-9. If I raise the flop he almost certainly would fold. If I call the flop and the turn is the same 7, the villain will often check here but there is a way higher chance that he will call with his hand on the turn than if we raise the flop. On the river maybe he folds and maybe he calls – it doesn’t really matter.
Betting is a very easy concept to remember but always ask yourself why am I betting? What worse hands will he call with and what better hands will he fold?
Good luck at the tables!
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