It’s common for beginners to set themselves up for disaster by misplaying hands before the flop. Then, they complain about their bad luck when they lose.
Well, bad luck has nothing to do with it. Rather, they likely committed a critical error by misplaying a pot against limpers who called their too small pre-flop raise.
Here’s an example from a recent tournament.
The blinds were 100-200 with a 25 ante. A beginner was in the small blind with pocket aces. He didn’t want to scare off the other players so he tossed in a very modest 300 chip raise.
Two players limped in and called, as did the big blind. They correctly believed it was worth risking a mere 300 chips to try to crack any hand, even pocket aces.
Here’s the first tip: When any player shows interest in a hand by calling the initial bet, they almost certainly will call a tiny pre-flop raise, too.
Okay, so the rookie is now in a four-way action pot. He has exposed the strength of his hand by his pre-flop raise yet has failed to gather any information about what hands his opponents might have. To make matters worse, he’ll need to act first after the flop.
The flop comes 10c-8d-5c. This time he decides to make a stronger bet, throwing out 2,000 chips. The first two players fold but the next player shoves all-in for 10,000 more. The beginner calls.
His opponent turns over 8s-5s to win the pot. The beginner moans about his back luck and berates his opponent for playing a bad hand.
Let’s dissect this hand.
I rarely use the term never when it comes to poker but I’ll use it here — never make a stingy raise before the flop after someone has called in front of you. If you want to raise, make it meaningful.
With two players already calling the 200 chip big blind, a post-flop raise to around 1,000 would have been considered standard. But the beginner’s initial small raise only served to reveal that he had a decent hand. With that knowledge, other players simply wouldn’t play the hand after the flop unless they’d caught a big piece of it.
Another error in the beginner’s play was that he raised from the small blind. It’s the worst seat at the table because you are forced to act first on every street after the flop.
Remember, position is a powerful tool. Avoid getting tangled up in tough situations after the flop when you are out of position. That, of course, doesn’t mean you should automatically fold pocket aces. But make a sizable raise that protects your hand.
Professional players would never play this hand the way the rookie did. Instead, they’d punish limpers by raising large amounts before the flop, especially when they had position. They’d use the power of position to isolate weak players and then try to outplay them heads-up after the flop.
Say a weak player limps in for 200. A pro in position would raise the bet to 800 with a hand like J-9. He wouldn’t necessarily be hoping to catch a straight or a full house; he’s simply trying to knock everyone else out of the hand and steal the pot away from the weakest player at the table.
Position in poker is similar to being the dealer in blackjack. The dealer has a big advantage because if you bust, he wins. At the poker table, when a weak player busts by missing the flop, a skilled player will go for the win with an aggressive bet on the flop.
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