Author's note: This short article is inspired by one I read in either Poker Digest or Card Player about 6 years ago. The content is all mine, but the idea of there being 8 fundamental errors is not.
Limit poker, at it's heart, is about making decision. You have basically 5 choices: check/bet if no-one has bet yet, and call/raise/fold if there is a bet (yes, you can fold to a check, but that's an obvious error, and won't be covered here). Now, anyone who's read The Theory of Poker
is familiar with the Fundamental Theorem of Poker, "Any time you act differently than you would if the cards were dealt face-up, you've lost money." Given that, and the limited number of decisions allowed, there are eight fundamental errors that are possible in any given hand of poker (yes, there are more errors possible, such as game and limit selection problems, and where to sit, but here we'll concern ourselves with play of the hand only).
Bet instead of check
: This is the classic loose-aggressive mistake; you have 8
in an unraised big blind with 2 other players, and the flop comes out T
. Betting here would be a bet instead of check mistake -- there's a strong possibility that one of your opponents holds Ax or Tx, or even a middle pair, and you're holding nothing more than 6 straight outs (3 of which allow for a higher straight), 7 flush outs (one of which pairs the board), and 2 straight flush outs. Yes, your hand is strong, and yes, you should take the turn (and, indeed, probably the river), but no, you probably shouldn't bet. This mistake is a middle-of-the-road one, as it costs you a bet or two (two when you're raised and then call through).
Check instead of bet
: This is the classic passive mistake; it not only costs you bets, but it also
allows hands to stay in to draw out against you. As an example, you've got A
, and the board is J
. You've got an overpair, and if you raised preflop, a number of players will put you on an overpair. A check here would let any 9T or any two spades draw for free, not to mention allowing players with an underpair to you try and spike their kicker. Bet, make them pay! This mistake is probably more costly than betting when you should check
Call instead of raise
: Again, another passive mistake. A wonderful example of this would be sitting with K
on a board of A
and calling a bet from an early-position player. Yes, you've got only 5th nut, but the possiblity exists that any number of other hands would be betting into you (Ax, any two diamonds, and JQ come to mind). This is a minor mistake most of the time, as it only costs you one or two big bets.
Call instead of fold
: Do you like being called a calling station? Do this! Every time you put a bet into the pot saying "I know I'm beat, but I'll pay you off," you're doing this! If you know you're beat, why call? Because this mistake only costs you one bet, usually (it's a common river mistake), and it does make sure you'll hardly ever be bluffed out.
Raise instead of call
: This is an error of aggression. Again, not as bad as some, but it's costly (usually to the tune of about 2 bets). Think of something like raising with Q
into a bet from the BB with a board like Q
. Top pair, weak kicker, facing a straight and flush board, not to mention the possibility of two pair due to the two pairs of middle connectors. Call, sure, but don't raise here!
Raise instead of fold
: This is a hyper-aggressive mistake. Usually it's an error made on the river, trying to over-extend something like second pair, or top pair bad kicker. You know you're beat, but you think (or convince yourself) that your opponent is weak, and you raise their bet -- usually to only get reraised. It'll cost you at least 1, and usually 2, big bets (if the reraise comes, most players then call instead of folding, due to the size of the pot).
Fold instead of raise
: This mistake is rare; ususally only the fishiest of fishes doesn't realize that they have a raising hand and folds instead. The most often cause of it is misreading your hand (missing a straight or flush), or getting bluffed out with a weak-ish middle hand (ie, 5
and a board of 7
. It'd be rare for JT to stay with that flop). However, it's a mistake that will cost you dearly; you lose the whole pot!
Fold instead of call
: Again, another rare-yet-expensive error, similar to folding instead of raising. It happens a bit more when the pot is large and you've got a medium-strong hand (especially with a ragged board).that can beat "big card only" hands (ie, you're holding A
on a board of 9
-- you can beat a lot of hands that will be in the pot). Still, it costs you the pot to make this error!
So next time you sit at the table, after each hand (win or lose), ask yourself, "how many mistakes did I make? What kind?" Recognizing your errors is the first step towards fixing them, tightening your game up, and winning more.