There are several expensive errors that are frequently made in poker, especially Hold’em. This article will discuss the 2 most expensive errors that players make.
What makes these errors so expensive? For one thing, we get an opportunity to make them frequently, and even errors that only cost a portion of a bet can add up to big dollar amounts if they are made often. As well, sometimes when we make these mistakes we are rewarded by winning a big pot, leading us to believe that they are not errors at all. All of us tend to remember the big pots we win with a miracle flop, and forget the thousand times we called a few bets and then lost. This encourages players to make those mistakes even more frequently.
The first error that most players make is to play too many hands. Poker is a game of patience, and it can be boring to throw somewhere between 75% and 85% of your hands away before you even see the flop. The truth however is that you must do just that.
The first 2 cards in Hold’em have some value, the percentage of times that they are expected to win. Another way of looking at this is that over thousands of hands, some starting cards will make a profit, some will approximately break even, and some will lose money.
Of the 169 possible starting hands in Hold’em, only 40 show a profit in the long term. That is less than 25% of the starting hands. After the first 40, there are a few more hands that are break even, or close to it, that can be played for a profit in certain situations, but only in a very few specific situations. I have a table on my web site that shows all 169 hands, their expected value, and the amount you will win or lose over the long term. This data is derived from more than 120 million actual hands played, so it should be fairly accurate. For instance, the data shows that playing a pair of aces over this long term, in a game with a $1 big bet, you can expect to come out ahead by $1.25 million. Now, of course none of us is going to live long enough to play that many hands, but it gives us an idea of the difference between good and bad cards to play. If you compare the pair of aces to say an ace and eight of different suits, which will lose $77,031 over that same number of hands, or an ace and a two of different suits, which will lose $165,968, you begin to see the problem. And hands like these are routinely played by many people at the tables.
Now some of you may be thinking that since you win so much on the pair of aces, and also do pretty well on some of the other top hands, and only lose numbers like $77,000, and $165,000, on the bad hands, that you are still in pretty good shape. If so, consider that if you played all of the 169 starting hands over this long term sample, you would win $7,248,687 on the 40 premium hands, a pretty nice figure. But, you would lose $10,787,747 on the bad hands. After playing for a very long time, you would be $3,539,060 in the hole. Not many of us can afford to play poker that way.
The second big mistake that many players make is to cold call too many raises. Cold calling a raise is putting multiple bets into the pot when it is your turn to bet. For example, if someone in early position raises, when the action gets to you in middle position you must call 2 bets in order to play.
There are three reasons why this is a big mistake. First, a player in early position liked his hand enough that he was willing to raise with most of the table still to play. Second, if anybody called before it got to you, they liked their hand enough that they were willing to call the 2 bets. Third, there are still players to act after you who could very well re-raise, which would not only cost you more money, but indicates yet another good hand out against you. Also, the original raiser may re-raise again, meaning that it will be 2 more bets when the action gets back to you.
In a situation such as this, with at least 1 big hand against you, and possibly more, you must play only the best hands, AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK suited and AK un-suited. Furthermore, with the AA, KK, QQ and AK suited you should re-raise. If you think that the raiser would raise with hands like AQ, AJ, or less, you should also re-raise with the JJ and AK un-suited. Throw everything else away, it just isn’t worth playing.
There are 2 reasons for raising with your premium hands. First, you get more money in the pot with hands that you have a good chance of winning. Second, you will hopefully eliminate a few players from the pot. Big hands like these are best played against fewer players, and you don’t want someone with a 5 and 6 to hit 2 pair, or a straight and take the pot away from you.
Remember, play fewer hands. Throw away those ace nine off-suit hands from early and middle position. Don’t play a 5 and 9 just because they are suited. And if there is a raise in front of you, fold unless your hand is good enough to re-raise.
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