Friday, February 17, 2006

Top Ten Beginner Mistakes

Vassili: All these men here know they're going to die. So, each night when they make it back, it's a bonus. So, every cup of tea, every cigarette is like a little celebration. You just have to accept that.
"Enemy At The Gates"

1 – Putting all their effort into pre-flop play

Hand selection is one thing, and it is probably good to be a little tight on your hand selection when starting out. Remember that old saying “any two cards can win”? Yeah, all those idiots who don’t know what they are doing are always saying that one, right? Well, it is kind of true. Everyone has seen Aces get cracked by the hammer, it does happen. But here is a tip – you can have 72o beat you AA without loosing your entire stack. It can be done! AA might be a monster, but when it misses the board it is just one pair.

Of course there are times when you want to push it all in pre-flop, that goes without saying (even though I just said it), but for the most part you need to think beyond the flop. All those pretty cards out on the felt are there for a reason – people can use them to make a hand. Post flop play is just as important as pre-flop play. Don’t let the latter overshadow the first.

2 – Playing at limits too high / Playing at limits too high

Scared money is not good. It’s that simple. The golden rule of gambling is never bet what you can’t afford to loose. And don’t believe the crap that poker is not gambling. Every poker game in the world has an element of gamble to it, the good players are just able to minimise the amount.

So great, you are not putting the rent money on the line, good for you. Here is a surprise, there is such a thing as not gambling enough. This only applies when you are actually trying to improve your game. If playing the $5 tables doesn’t make you serious enough about the game, you won’t improve. You either need to change your outlook – 1 bet instead of 10 cents, or move up to a limit where you do care if you loose.

While scared money is bad, you need to be concerned about your money at least.

3 – Expecting other players to play the same

There are four players in a pot, and you have the top set. The river brings somebodies gut shot 8 high straight. What the hell were they doing drawing to that when it isn’t even the nuts? That’s none of your business. Just because you wouldn’t draw to it, doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t.

Expect other people to play differently to you, expect other people to play similar to you. Just don’t judge them by how you would play. Neglecting to consider all the possibilities can be fatal.

This goes both ways too – just because you would never call a bet that size without the nuts, doesn’t mean your opponent will. Judge them on the way they play, not the way you would play in their shoes.

I must admit this is an error of mine frequently, especially in MTT. When a small stack is all in and more than one player has called, we have a “dry side pot”. I’m always of the belief that if you bet into that side pot of nothing, you must have something. Apparently this is not the case for everyone, but there you go.

4 – Expecting monsters to get paid off every time

It’s hard enough for us poor poker players to go through hours of folding and folding, seeing a pot taken down by a 9 high flush, and then when we finally get a hand we steal the blinds only, or we flop an absolute monster and we get no action. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

One of the hardest hands to play correctly in holdem is the stone cold nuts. It’s easy to win with them, that is axiomatic, but it is hard to play them correctly. Flopped quad aces are extremely hard to get action with – unless someone wants to bluff at them or if they have a good pocket pair. All those aces on the board are scary if you are not holding any. Maximising a flopped monster is also absolutely impossible at times – your opponents may just refuse outright to put another cent in the pot. But then, I guess the “maximum” in question is “not a cent more”.

But you are winning that hand regardless – so that is good right? For most people it is, but some people can actually be put on tilt by winning a hand. And that’s just not smart. And we want to be smart, don’t we?

Sorry, that turned a little condescending there. I’ll try not to do that again.

5 – Playing too tight

If you only play AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ – not only will you find yourself playing about 1 hand every 4 orbits, you’re going to be far more bored than you ought to be and you will not gain enough experience.

I still maintain that it is better to be too tight than too loose starting out though, but there is a limit to this. Think about more than just the two cards in your hand – think about playing your position, calling with rags from the small blind in an un-raised pot, try a steal every now and then (here is where your tight image will work for you). Not only is it more profitable, it can be more fun too.

6 – Not playing tight enough.

Any two cards can win – oh, how often we have heard that quote. While it is true, it is also misleading. You will always have a better idea of where you stand in a hand after the flop, but it is usually better to be in front to begin with. It’s much easier that way. When you get better at the game and understanding implied odds and all that, then you can start playing like Gus Hansen. Until then, try to fold once or twice an orbit and see how you go.

7 – Playing several different variations of poker all at once

There is probably no more famous saying that “it takes a minute to learn and a life time to master”, and there is truth in them thar’ hills I tells you!

Go read some of the guys that make money playing Omaha – you know what nearly all of them say? They love holdem players. Love them! Why? Because they play their cards as if they were playing holdem.

I have been studying Omaha for some time, and I have come to this conclusion. In Omaha, you receive DOUBLE the amount of cards than you do in holdem, but so does everyone else! Therefore, you might need to play them slightly differently.

Ok, so the condescending thing didn’t last too long. Sue me.

Please don’t sue me.

So it should be obvious that Omaha is a different game to holdem, and likewise 7 card stud and so on. Don’t even get me started on Razz.

Poker is a hard game to master, and some knowledge in one form of the game can help you in other forms of the game, but it can hurt you more unless you know what you are doing.

For the beginner, I’d say you are best of sticking to one form of poker in the learning process otherwise you will get easily confused as to what works in which game in which situation.


8 – Having a lucky hand

Just don’t do it, not even the hammer. Even if the blogging community loves to drop the hammer and you want to be part of it, consider your timing.

If a blogger drops a hammer and nobody sees it and nobody hears it (and he doesn’t blog it), did he really drop it? You can’t answer that question, because it has never happened.

Unless your lucky hand is has won you a World Series of Poker bracelet twice, just don’t do it. If it has, then thanks for reading Doyle!

9 – Declaring they are a 100% “feel” player

You may have heard that poker players can be put into two broad categories – those that use the math and those that use their instincts, or “feel” players.

Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, a 100% “feel” player and a woman are in a car and it crashes. Who was driving? The answer is the woman because first of all they are crap drivers (boom-tish, try the veal) and secondly because the others don’t exist.

So you’ve got great poker instinct, you can “see into their soul”, wow, you must be amazing! Guess what, you still need to know some of the math. There is no such thing as a successful 100% instinct/feel player, so don’t try to be one.

And you don’t have ESP, get help.

10 – Expecting grinding to be exciting

Another often repeated quote is “poker is hours of boredom mixed in with moments of shear terror” or words to that effect.

They call it grinding because it can be boring. There is a massive difference between 3 tabling $2/$4 limit online and playing $2/$4 limit with your buddies with a couple of beers under your belt. One is for fun, the other is for profit.

There is nothing wrong with doing either, just be aware of what you are doing. You are not going to have the same amount of fun grinding as you are in your little home games, they are two completely different beasts.

1 comment:

HighOnPoker said...

The woman driving joke got me to smile. Thanks.

I agree that beginners should not have a 'lucky hand', but I do think that experienced players can benefit a lot from one, so to speak. Even when I'm alone, I'll play the hammer because it randomizes my bluffs. But, you are right. Novices shouldn't do this, because at least I have an idea of when to let the hammer go.