This discussion presents eight (8) common mistakes people do when playing NLH, particularly in tournaments. It is geared towards the beginning player and the player who is transitioning from Limit Hold’em to the no-limit game.
The most fundamental flaw you see in tournament players is that they play way too many hands from any position with insufficient holdings. It may seem innocuous to make a call for 100 chips on a speculative hand like pocket Deuces or Five-Four-suited when first to act. But by the time it gets to the blinds, it is likely that someone has raised and someone else has re-raised. Now you have to fold. While it may seem trivial to lose just a 100 chips here and there, the chips lost from these throwaway hands add up. If your online sit-and-go starting stack was 1,500 chips, and you sloughed off 500 chips from playing junk hands, you will lose equity when you finally do double up with your pocket Aces.
Remedy: The beginner and even advanced players should only enter pots with strong starting hands when far away from the button and mix in some medium-strength hands that do well in multi-way pots when near the button. The guidance found here on Pokersocialite.com shows you what hands these are.
Unless someone has been playing wildly and/or badly, a raise in front of you is a warning bell that the player has a very strong hand. If a tight player raises, you are probably up against pocket Aces through Queens, and Ace-King. Against these types of hands, calling with certain hands that are generally good, can be catastrophic here because of the risk of being dominated by the raiser’s range of hands. Domination pre-flop means at least one of your cards is tied up by the raiser’s holdings. For example, if you call an all-in with Ace-Queen and the chip-shover has Ace-King, you are now a 70-30 underdog as the opponent’s King-kicker is bigger. Hands like Ace-Queen, Ace-Jack, and King-Queen are hands you want to think twice about calling.
Remedy: The beginner should avoid any raised pots, unless holding an extremely powerful hand such as AA and KK. More sophisticated players may want to opt into a raised pot if there are callers in front of you to make the pot odds worth making a call with hands such as lower pairs (to spike a set), and hands like AJs, KQs, and JTs which have better drawing potential.
In NLH, drawing hands (e.g., suited Aces like A2s, and suited connectors such as T9s) are awesome when you flop the nuts, but the likelihood is much greater that you will be faced with a flush draw or a straight draw after the flop. In a pot that was raised pre-flop, good players will be on the lookout for drawing combinations (two consecutive cards (like 872), or two of a suit) on the flop. Players on a flush draw will call huge bets with incorrect odds (i.e., call a 1000-chip bet at the flop from the pre-flop raiser into a 500 chip pot. The player on the draw is only getting 1.5-to-1 (i.e., he’s investing 1000 chips to win 1,500 chips – not that great) for his call and is trying to hit a flush where he is about 4-to-1 against on the turn. When the pot odds are less than the drawing odds, you are making an incorrect call that will be costly to you in the long run. Yet many people with flush draws and straight draws still call an all-in on draws that usually never come. A poker tournament is littered with the skeletons of players holding suited cards that made flush draws on the flop, then sputtered out.
Remedy: Try and get to see a card on the turn (and river) as cheaply as possible. If you are short-stacked, be more willing to gamble on your draw.
When you look to be ahead on the flop, whether undercards to your big pocket pair or you spike an Ace with Big Slick, players mistakenly play these hands quite slow. Checking or minimum bets with top-pair or an overpair on the flop gives drawing hands just what they want. Maybe these players with a big pair are trying to trap, but it often ends up they trap themselves, when a flush is on the board at the turn. A pair is just that. Unless the betting pattern is evident that someone hit the flop really well, you should be protecting your hand and force draws to pay for seeing the turn card.
Remedy: When you have some certainty of being ahead, bets should be no less than two-thirds the size of the pot.
While many players are lions pre-flop, and even post-flop, they invariably become lambs on the turn. At the turn, if their hand does not improve, players make smallish bets that are not proportional to the geometric growth of the pot at the pre-flop and post-flop stage. A 300-chip bet at the turn into a pot that grew from 700 chips pre-flop to 1,500 chips at the turn won’t keep out players on the draw. By the river, when the dreaded Ace or the third spade makes its unwelcome arrival, two catastrophic things can happen to you:
1) You fold a winner and lose out on a big pot when a scare care arrives
2) You spew chips paying someone who hit their river card
Remedy: At the turn, you have two options: Either check at the turn to control the pot size when you have just a pair and the board is uncoordinated; or, bet decisively (again two-thirds the size of the pot or better) and try to take down the pot then and there. Do not confuse a value bet (a smaller bet when you know you have a winner and want to extract value from a hand that would fold to anything else) to a weak bet.
Players may bluff with greater frequency in low stakes games and small buy-in online tournaments. But in a larger online or live tournament, when he puts you to the test on the river, it’s probably not a bluff. Unless you have a very strong hand good enough to take to the death, you must assess that if a player has called your raise pre-flop and called bets on the flop and turn, you may be in trouble. At the river, you bet your top-pair for value; but, instead of calling, he fires back with a heavy raise. Unless you have actionable intelligence that the player is bluffing (i.e., you have seen him bluff in a previous session), he has the goods on you. If you still have a healthy stack, cut your losses and look for a better situation elsewhere. Folding decisions become easier when there are multiple players still in the pot. At the flop, turn, or river, a bet by one player followed by a raise from another before it gets to you, is a good time to muck them.
Remedy: If you follow Items 3 and 4 above, you should not be in this situation. However, if you are fairly certain all you can beat is a bluff on the river, checking may be the best option. If your opponent bets now, he most likely has you beat. Unless he has been slow-playing a monster all along, he may just check it back.
Unless your last name is “Nostradamus,” you can’t risk your tournament life on “putting someone on a specific hand,” when you have something that is beatable. Hand reading is a very inexact science. Even the loosest player can wake up with pocket Aces at any given instance. While I hear poker “geniuses” tell how they folded pocket Kings pre-flop because they knew someone had Aces or folded a set because he put someone on a bigger set (better yet, called with Queen-high and won when the player went all-in with Four-Three-suited and missed their draw), I think to myself, “Why can’t I play this guy”
Remedy: You should definitely be an observant player and profile players to establish their raising range and calling range. But use it as a decision aid only. Over-reliance on a specific read when faced with an all-in situation is, in actuality, a wild-ass guess on your part.
You’ve followed all the advice above and have gone deep in the tournament. But now blinds are 600/1200 with 50-chip antes and you have 9,000 chips left. When a tournament gets near the money bubble, many players clam up here and fold just about everything except pocket Aces to make it into the money. They take a “Let George do it” attitude, hoping someone more desperate than them will bust out when Big Stack George calls their all-in and sucks out on them. But what usually happens is George ends up doubling up other shortstacks and now you are the one everyone is targeting for elimination. Even if you do get a premium hand, you could be so short-stacked that players will call just to increase the odds of someone beating you
Remedy: Increase your starting hand selection and seek opportunities to go all-in when acting first after a player or two folds in front of you. This first-in vigor will help you pick up critical blinds and antes that will keep you from getting too short-stacked. You must be more willing to gamble here. That doesn’t mean risk it all on a hopeless hand like Nine-Two-offsuit when under-the-gun. Any pair, any suited Ace, Ace-Seven or better, or any two “Broadway” cards (Ten or better) has some chance of being the best hand at a short table. Another point to consider: the prize money for finishing in theTop-3 spots is much greater than just slipping past the bubble and getting swatted out shortly after. You no longer can stay in the game by folding all but your premium hands. Get aggressive.