Don't Jump The Gun: Get Full Value From Your Best Poker Hands
You've been sitting at the table for over an hour now with a crazy player on your left.
You finally connect on the flop and make a monster.
You play it cool and check, the aggressive player bets...you have him now
It's a fairly connected board so you check-raise, knowing he must have a strong range.
Does this sound familiar?
One of the most common mistakes that beginner (and even intermediate) players make is getting too excited when they make a big hand. There are many ways to blow the hand and ensure that you don't get maximum value, which we'll soon go over.
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Learning to extract maximum value from any good hand, let alone your best hands can make a huge difference in your winrate.
In this article we'll look at the most common mistakes and how to fix them.
Mistake #1 - Pushing Too Hard
When you read about "getting maximum value" for the first time, the typical impression is that you need to try and win your opponents full stack every single time.
What ends up happening, is that every big hand you make, you start bombing away making pot-sized bets (or more). This, of course, in most situations, drives away those with weak-medium strength hands.
While you may think it's justified because once in a while you do win someone's full stack (usually because of a cooler), you are missing out on a ton of value on all those other hands where you push people out.
Mistake #2 - Tricky Play Syndrome (TPS)
This mistake is much more common with beginners in poker. You make a big hand and are hesitant to make any bet at all in order to keep people in the hand.
What often happens is that the hand is checked down to the river, and you end up looking like a dolt for checking multiple streets with a great hand.
Alternatively, if you play too passively with a strong hand (but not the nuts), you also give opponents the chance to draw for free or end up making some weird hand by the river. Following this, there's a classic complaint along the lines of "why does this always happen to me".
Mistake #3 - Playing Uncharacteristically
Against good players, there's an extra element.
A solid player observes how you play. If you play extremely tight and rarely bluff, he's going to respect you. So if you make a big hand and all of a sudden come alive betting, it sets off alarm bells in your opponent's head.
Likewise, if you usually time down before making your bet due to playing on multiple tables, but are all of a sudden very attentive on a particular hand that doesn't appear all that interesting by the board, it may set off some sirens.
Okay, so it's really easy to miss out on value, but you can improve by following a simple decision making process. Here is what you should do instead when you make a big hand.
Step 1: Identify the Level of Your Opponent(s)
The first step before even considering anything else is to identify the skill level and the play style of your opponent(s).
Start by broadly labelling them as a good or bad player. A bad player (level 0) considers only their own hand when making a decision. A good player (level 1+) will consider your skill level and playing type in their decision making.
Next, classify their play style.
? Do they play loose pre-flop and aggressive post-flop? Betting often when checked to?
? Do they call bets too often and rarely raise?
? Do they simply fold unless they have a good hand?
Break it down as much as possible.
Step 2: Read the Board
Next you need to determine how your hand stands in relation to the board. Your decision if you have a strong hand, versus if you have the best possible hand (the nuts), may differ substantially.
Step 3: Identify Their Range
Along with your own hand, you need to start putting together a likely range of hands for your opponent.
Determining if he likely has a strong or weak hand in this situation often is one factor. Another is whether he usually has made hands, like pairs, or draws.
If the board has many suited or connected cards, that typically means your opponent will have more draws in his range. It can be dangerous going for a check raise against a passive opponent who might have a powerful draw that can beat you.
Step 4: Understand Their Perception of You
Both your action and bet size will be affected by how they see you at the table.
While a beginner player may not be considering your hand, they might be intimidated by you. In those cases, you can make them take a desirable action in most hands by simply altering your betting sizes; e.g. betting larger to scare them out, or betting smaller to try to keep them in with weak hands.
Step 5: Make the Right Decision
By analyzing their range of hands, and comparing your own hand against those, make a decision that will maximize your profit over the long term. If your opponent has a strong range overall, your best bet may be to make large bets. Alternatively, if this opponent is very aggressive, you may be able to check-raise him to get him to commit a larger portion of his stack.
All your analysis has to come together to make the best game plan for the hand. There's no shortcut to making the right decision all the time, it comes from experience in trying to apply the first 4 steps.