Whether you’re just starting out in the ultra-competitive world of Texas hold’em poker, or you are an intermediate player that’s looking to refine your gameplay at the tables, it’s important to be aware that every little detail counts to become a winning player over the long-term. Winning players are those that seek to eradicate the costly leaks within their poker game, helping them to make consistent profits that are kinder to their poker bankroll.
What makes poker such an interesting and diverse game is the many ways to defeat an opponent at the tables. Whether it’s through playing the pot odds and probability of catching that winning card on the river or knowing when to place that stress-inducing bluff, by honing these skills you can minimise those critical errors that are costing you money. We’ve subsequently put together our top-five mistakes that beginner and intermediate players make when playing no-limit Texas hold’em.
Calling with a weaker ace
Those new to the game of poker find it all too easy to grow attached to aces in their hole cards. While everyone knows that an ace is the highest-value card in Texas hold’em, you need a solid kicker (second hole card) to be able to call down your opponents if another ace appears on the flop, turn or river. Amateur poker players are seemingly blind to their kicker and will continue to plough more chips into the pot with just a pair of aces and a low kicker. If it transpires that your opponents are calling your bets without hesitation or, worse still, raising you, the chances are that your weak ace is just that and you should muck your hand by the turn.
The issue with weak aces as a whole is that if, for example, you’re holding an A-5, there are very few flops that can enhance your hand. Of course, you might find the rare occasion when a 5 and an ace both appear on the flop, giving you two-pair, but the reality is that the odds of pairing both your hole cards is something like 49-to-1.
Using continuation bets at the wrong time
A continuation bet is when you make the same size bet on the flop as you did pre-flop. It’s designed to demonstrate a position of strength in a hand, even if you’ve failed to hit any of the three cards on the flop. However, if you place your continuation bets at the wrong time, it can cost you dearly in the long run. It’s a fine art knowing when to throw in a continuation bet. Ultimately, the number-one factor when weighing up a continuation bet is what type of opponent you are up against on the flop. Are they aggressive players that are likely to be happy to call again? Are they tight players that generally fold to other players’ continuation bets? According to a recent continuation bet guide written by poker pro Chad Holloway, your opponents will miss the flop almost three-quarters (70%) of the time, so it is a valuable play if you know the right opponents to use it on.
Becoming the table calling station
One of the biggest challenges novice and intermediate Texas hold’em poker players face is that they crave action. They want to be involved in as many hands as possible, even if it means they are long-shots to win the hand. Those who continue to call bets and raises are known within the poker community as ‘calling stations’. Knowing when to fold is a critical skill in preserving your chips at the table. Stop putting your chips into the pot for marginal hands like small flush draws in a pot with multiple opponents invested; it will rarely end well for you. Instead, try to focus on the ‘quality over quantity’ mantra when it comes to your hands. Be more selective about the starting hand you call and bet with and you’ll have a much stronger table presence for it.
Missing out on profitable opportunities
There is no denying that poker is a battle of minds and wills as much as the cards themselves. Those incapable of handling the psychological element of poker will almost always miss out on playing on in hands that present highly lucrative opportunities to profit. It’s therefore important to be able to spot bluffs and recognize when you are actually in the lead in a hand. Paul Ekman discusses the classic saying: “You can’t win without bluffing, but you can’t win if you can’t spot the bluffers”. If you are playing offline, it’s important to focus firmly on body language. Bluffers will make more profound hand gestures when they are nervous. Bluffers also tend to try and appear serious and cock-sure of their hand, whereas opponents that try and appear nervous or unconfident in their hand are more likely to have the nuts and are trying to dupe you into a call.
On the subject of bluffing, it’s important that when the time comes to make a bluff of your own, you are making it against an opponent that will give it the respect it deserves. Unfortunately, some beginner and intermediate poker players are incapable of spotting donks and table whales (those happy to flat call large bets and re-raises). The onus is on you to estimate your opponents’ abilities and calling ranges. Most professionals would never attempt to bluff a beginner, simply because they know that their calling range is so vast and unpredictable. You’re much better off playing tight-aggressive ABC poker against those stupid enough to call you down with ridiculous holdings.
If you are desperate to make immediate changes to your gameplay and mindset in Texas hold’em, these five potential leaks above are the ideal starting point. Even plugging just one of the leaks above could be the difference between being a losing player and a break-even player, which might be all that you are looking to achieve, if it’s a hobby. If you recognize multiple leaks in your game, don’t fret. Even the world’s best players have to work on their weaknesses to win the big-money pots that capture our imagination.