The Nature Of Poker Mistakes

Guide To Winning Poker (32)

  • Poker mistakes involve folding better and getting opponents to fold better
  • As simple as this is, few players really understand this
  • Successful poker need be so complex if you pay attention to all this

Seeing Mistakes More Fundamentally

As we know, poker is a game of incomplete information. We train ourselves to make the best decisions we can based upon what we know, which requires two elements. The first is the quantity and quality of the information itself, which is of great importance of course. The second is how we use this information, which is also critical to the quality of our decisions at the poker table.

The final decider in whether a decision was correct or not though does not reside in such practical applications, but in what we could call theoretical ones. What I mean here is approaches such as Sklansky's Fundamental Theorem Of Poker, which views these mistakes from the vantage point of what players would do if the cards were all turned up.

In a nutshell, any decision that conflicts with what a player would do if he could see the cards of his opponents is a mistake, and any decision coinciding with such information is seen as correct. Now a lot of players think that such an exercise is too contrived, as we of course cannot see our opponents' cards prior to making decisions while playing poker.

However, this isn't the point, as the idea here is to look to gain more insights as to what actually is correct versus what we believe to be so based upon what we may know. So what a lot of players misunderstand is that the goal is to learn from looking at mistakes more fundamentally, meaning what actually is a mistake or not regardless of our information, and then seek out lessons from this that we can use on a practical level.

Mistakes Here Mean Acting Counter To What Is Best

Let's take an example where I bet into you. So your options here are to fold or to play on, and we'll ignore whether or not you raise or call me if you decide not to fold, as that isn't important in this example.

You have a certain hand and you are trying to decide whether to fold to my bet or not. So to keep things simple you are deciding whether or not you have the best hand here. So you decide on what the average hand strength that I am betting here is, and then look at your own hand in comparison. Then you base your decision on that, and if your decision is correct more often than it is wrong, you have made a good play.

Depending on how good a player you are, you will have executed this process with varying degrees of accuracy. A correct decision here though means the best one based upon what we know or could know about the situation. That all makes sense and in fact is a fundamental component of successful poker.

It's not always as simple as that though and often we impart information into the equation that may not be ideal or even correct. For instance, if you have read my series on position you will recall that most players not only lose more money out of position, they lose more hands. This doesn't really make sense based upon the fact that players out of position play tighter and therefore will have the best hands more often than not.

The Truth Here Can't Be Found By Mere Assumption

So a lot of players will tell you that it's because they are out of position and it should be normal if you play more weakly out of position, meaning folding more. They say that being out of position requires you to fold more so it is natural that you would lose more hands.

It's definitely true that folding more will tend to cause you to lose more hands, but what we really want to get at the heart of is whether or not this is a good idea. Intuitively, we should be thinking that it is not. However, to gain an understanding here, we need to look to the actual hands and see where we are folding too often and when.

Sklansky's theorem would tell us that it's always a mistake to fold the better hand. This isn't some esoteric idea that requires a lot of deep thought and intimate understanding of the game and all of the intricacies involved. It is a much more basic concept and one who's truth is actually even self evident.

It may be true that there may some situations where a player could argue could end up producing bigger mistakes on balance than the ones being avoided, for instance by playing more strongly out of position you can lose some bigger pots that way when you are behind. However, this is true of all poker, and if we are giving up too many pots when we are ahead, that in itself is a mistake, and a clear and obvious one.

Getting Them To Fold Weaker Hands Is Also An Obvious Mistake

If we have the better hand, we should generally want our opponents to lose more money with their weaker hands. This is another obvious truth in poker. However, players tend to screw this up a lot too, and often play too aggressively for their own good. While poker is certainly a complex game, it makes sense not to mess up the simple stuff, the simplest of stuff in fact, if we seek to get the most out of our hands and our play.

Now there will be a lot of instances where we may not want our opponent to fold but they do anyway. This is only natural, and like always, we never want to look at individual instances of play, but instead look at the overall picture.

So there will be definitely times where we will be betting and risking folding out our opponent's weaker hands. Part of putting our opponents on a range of hands is knowing what they are likely to play on with and what they are likely to fold. Developing a very good understanding of the game in fact requires that we hone our skills in not just hand reading but putting that knowledge to work for us.

So if too large of a bet will get someone to fold weaker hands too often, but a more reasonable bet size will cause them to take the bait more frequently, and therefore lose more money to us overall, then it will make sense to go more reasonable. This applies to raises as well as bets.

A Lot Of Players Don't Follow This Advice Though

I've always played poker this way so seeing other players play too aggressively or too weakly at other times has always stood out for me. Overplaying on both ends has always been a big part of poker culture though and this has become even more the case in the past few years.

So you see players shooting first and asking questions later, or more often, not even asking them at all. Part of what inspires this is an unreasonable fear of getting drawn out on. This flows from the idea of feeling entitled to win hands when one is ahead, and looking to overplay them so that they minimize the times they lose. This commit's the classic error of paying too much attention to hands won and not enough to overall expected value.

Now we certainly don't want to play too passively here and give our opponents all sorts of chances to catch up to us without requiring them to pay for it. Some players do play too much this way and give away too many free cards. It's much more common to see players play things too fast though, and get in situations where opponents will most often call with better and fold with worse.

So when you do this you are making it easy for them to play correctly against you, and worse, you are leading yourself into worse and even negative expected value situations. For instance, if you know a player will fold worse if you attack but will bet often times with weaker hands if allowed to attack you, then it would be foolish to do the attacking. This is why it is fairly easy to beat maniacs, as they will hang themselves if allowed to, yet so many people struggle against this type of player.

Folding Too Much Is Silly As Well

A lot of these mistakes come down to players putting things like the other player's initiative or positional advantage over what kind of hands players may have. While these considerations need to be accounted for, it makes no sense to put them ahead of the cards themselves.

So if you have position on me, and bet into me, and I know that on average I have a better hand, it would be stupid to fold because I feel that my better hand is at a positional disadvantage to you. You may be able to build the pot more than I do, but whether the pot is small or large, I want to go against you with better hands.

Now you may be thinking that only weak or foolish players would play this way, but let me tell you, that's not the case at all. A great number of accomplished players make this mistake, and make it very often. In fact it is a cornerstone of their strategy. In fact, from my experience, only the best players really understand the nature of this, and you won't really read about it because anyone advocating playing with more common sense like I am advising you to do would be simply denied by almost all players without even any real thought, as these players have become so blinded to their assumptions that they simply refuse to even examine their strategies.

This Theorem Needs To Be The Bedrock Of Your Strategy

Sklansky's theorem is a very simple and elegant one, yet so few players really appreciate how brilliant it is, and it's even fair to say that even Sklansky himself may not either. It's very hard to argue with the idea that we should avoid putting money in the pot when we are behind, a mistake, unless we can force our opponents into making one themselves, which is folding better.

So when we have a good hand, it only makes sense to try to make as much money as we can from it, which means looking to take advantages of our opponents' making mistakes with their weaker hands. These mistakes always involve them putting more money in the pot.

When we have what is likely to be a hand that is behind, we either should fold it and only commit more money to it if on balance our opponents will make bigger mistakes more often, meaning folding their hand when it would be incorrect for them to do so.

So to sum up, what I am telling you is to look to what is more likely to be the case as far as our hand being ahead more times than not, or behind more times than not, then look to have our opponents make more mistakes than we do, and for bigger amounts of money. This is not such a radical idea at all.

Ken's Guide To Winning Poker - Index

Ken's Guide To Winning Poker

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series