Through trial and error – mostly error – I have learned a lot playing online poker for the past 13 years or so. Here are a few pieces of advice for new players who are just beginning their online poker experience. I hope this can help you avoid making some of the foolish mistakes I, and many others, have made.
Don’t Make it Rain
The biggest mistake inexperienced players make is to play way too many hands. The last thing you want to do is start giving your chips away to other players by entering into too many pots. When I am doing my best in a tournament, my percentage of flops seen is usually around the 15-20 percent range.
In the early stages of tourneys, when effective stack sizes are high and blinds are low, that percentage will probably be closer to 25-30 percent. As the tourney progresses, and chips become more precious, I engage in far fewer hands. I aim to have the number of hands I’ve won be roughly equal to the number of flops I’ve seen.
In cash games, the percentage of flops I tend to see is a little higher, but not a lot.
Ace Rag, Stack Buster
I’ve seen way too many players go a little crazy when they get an ace in their pocket. If you don’t have at least a 10 for a kicker, or if the other card is not the same suit, then you should proceed cautiously. If you’re playing ace-rag in a multi-way pot and an ace hits the flop, you could be in trouble. The chances are probably decent that another player in the hand also has an ace with a better kicker, and unless you pair your kicker, you may be on the way to losing a lot of chips. Aces are great, but they can also be troublesome.
This is when you need to pay attention to position. If you’re in late position and it folds to you, a raise would be in order. If you are in early position and get A-4 off, a fold would probably be your best move. Limping in would make you susceptible to a re-raise. Then you’d have to decide whether or not to put more chips in with a weak starting hand and play the hand out of position.
Bluffs Gone Wrong
Bluffing is an integral part of poker, but there is an art to it. This pattern is what I see frequently from inexperienced players – check flop, check turn, shove river. That’s not a bluff. That’s a desperate attempt to steal a pot. Good players will see right through this.
A bluff is a lot easier to sell if you make it a multi-part story. It is critical to bet the flop or turn – or both – especially if you have position (i.e. are last to act). Your river bet will be much more believable if you have done something earlier to make your opponent believe you have a strong hand. Plus you can build a pot with a turn bet by taking advantage of players who are chasing flushes or straights.
There are a lot of other poker lessons that players have to learn for themselves. Fellow CardsChat blogger Justin Buchanan has a nice series now on 10 mistakes poker players make. Check it out. Any lesson you can learn vicariously is much cheaper than experiencing it for yourself.