I have worked with many people, who vary widely in ability and poker experience, but have remarkably similar problems they need to overcome. Of course, they all want to be winning players. Here are three major barriers they need to surmount.
- Overcoming an exorbitant rake. How would you like to be a track coach for an athlete that wants to run a fast time for the mile, but his home course where he will be trying for that fast time is up a steep grade? You would say, “I can help you run more quickly, but neither I nor anyone else can instruct you how to get a fast time on an uphill course.” How can the student expect me to teach him how to win in a game that I would be hard-pressed to beat myself? If the rake is too strong, you can’t win. My poker experience has taught me that when the rake gets above five percent, nobody wins except the house. The first thing every poker player needs to do is find a place to play poker that charges only a fair amount for playing the game.
- Playing too many starting hands. I have never met a limit hold’em player who’s vice was playing too tight before the flop. I am convinced such an animal exists only in theory, and does not actually occur in the real world. Nearly everyone I know, from pro to beginner, plays too many starting hands to get his or her optimum result. The two main sins weaker players commit are playing small pairs and small suited connectors, and not tightening up sufficiently in pots raised by a player who is marked with a good hand. Anytime you have to pay a full bet to play a hand composed entirely of little cards, you are making an error. Hands such as 5-4 suited or 3-3 are not playable hands. Being in a volume pot or being on the button hardly ever makes these hands playable, it only reduces the crime of entering the pot from a felony to a misdemeanor. In raised pots, the raiser is supposed to have big cards or a big pair, unless he is in position to steal the blind money. The worst type of hand you can have is where the raiser has one of your cards and a bigger sidecard, or a pair of the rank of one of your cards. In such a case you have a crippled hand in competing with the rest of the field, and are in serious danger of flopping a second-best hand when you do hit. The implication of this is hands such as K-Q or A-J are unplayable in raised pots when unsuited, and far from a bargain even when suited. I believe more money is unnecessarily lost in a poker session from calling raises on inadequate values than any other poker error.
- Playing wimpy poker in shorthanded pots. In hold’em, a player who flops a solid hand that is not the nuts (or is no longer the nuts after the next boardcard) is pretty lucky if he can get a card off the deck that looks innocuous. Most of the time the player has to deal with the possibility that an opponent has outdrawn him. The test is how realistic the threat is, because it is unfortunate to dog the best hand and lose a bet or more of profit. It is a huge swing if your failure to bet results in losing a pot you were supposed to win, either by getting bluffed, or having a free card provide a miracle drawout to a player that would have folded had you bet. The danger of a card is judged by two main factors; the likelihood of an opponent being helped, and the number of opponents. Against one opponent, if I had enough of a hand to like it on the flop, I am going to bet again on the turn. He does not have to be holding a flush-draw if a third card comes on suit, or a card in his hand of the same rank to pair with that overcard. Against a crowd, I am much more cautious when a bad card for my hand appears. The important thing to note is that against precisely two opponents, my betting behavior is a lot closer to how I would have handled the situation with only one opponent than how it would have been facing a whole crowd of people. If you bet and get raised you’re probably beaten. If you check-showing weakness-and someone else bets, then whether you opt to continue competing or abandon ship, it is hard to be confident you are making the right decision.
There are a lot of other factors affecting your play besides the three mentioned in this article, but these are three main areas that control whether you are a loser or a winner. Do your repair work here and watch your “luck” turn around.