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A common preflop error

05/07/2018 by Jonathan Little

I was recently reviewing the hands of one of my new students who plays primarily $1/$3 no-limit cash games in live, local casinos. Today I will share with you a mistake he made that many amateur poker players make on a regular basis.

Everyone folded to the cutoff, a competent loose, aggressive player who raised to $18 out of his $215 effective stack. The button folded and my student called from the small blind with A9.

While this call may seem standard to many players, it is actually a huge mistake. Especially from out of position, you have to be careful calling large raises with any hand because, due to your poor position, when you flop a premium hand, you will have a difficult time extracting value, and when you flop a marginal hand, your opponent gets to decide how much money goes into the pot. This is a situation where my student should have either folded or reraised, taking control of the pot.

To illustrate this point, imagine the flop came K-7-4. If you reraise before the flop with A9 and continuation bet this flop, your opponent will almost certainly fold unless he improved to at least a pair. This will only happen about 35% of the time. By playing aggressively, you will steal many pots that do not belong to you. Compare this to what happens when you just call your opponent’s preflop raise. You will check the K-7-4 flop, your opponent will bet, and you will fold. This will result in your opponent stealing pots from you. I understand that playing aggressively may be uncomfortable at first, but you simply must learn to apply aggression if you want to succeed at poker. I recently released a book titled Bluffs that clearly explains how normally tight, passive players can get out of their comfort zone and start winning pots that do not belong to them.

This time, the flop came AKJ. My student checked, the cutoff bet $40 into the $99 pot and my student called.

This is exact type of flop that my student does not want to see. He often has the best hand, but if significant money goes into the pot, he is usually crushed. While I am fine with the flop check-call, this situation will usually become nasty by the river.

The turn was the (AKJ)7. My student checked, the cutoff bet $40 into the $99 pot and my student called.

At this point, I think folding is the correct play. Notice there are very few value hands that a competent player would bet in the cutoff’s spot that my student beats. The best my student can hope for is that the cutoff is betting with a slightly worse made hand like A-2 or K-Q, or perhaps that he is completely bluffing with a hand like T-9. Instead of only focusing on the hands you beat, you should also look for hands that would bet in this manner that you lose to. Here, there are many hands that A-8 loses to.

The river was the (AKJ7)5. My student checked, the cutoff bet $50 into the $179 pot and my student called.

Again, I am not a fan of the call, despite the excellent pot odds. The only hands that my student beats at this point are vastly overvalued marginal made hands (which many competent players would not bet) and total bluffs. I also don’t think many players would make this river bet size as a bluff, although perhaps some will. This time, the cutoff turned up the losing hand, JT.

I do not like how the cutoff played his hand at all. If he is going to take the bet-bet-bet line, he should have certainly went all-in on the river. Also, I think his hand is strong enough to simply check behind on the flop with the intention of seeing a cheap showdown. Notice that when he bets the flop, he will usually only get called by better made hands. My student should reassess his assumption that this player is a good, competent player and instead realize that he blindly bets for no real reason.