I was recently told about a hand from an amateur poker player that illustrates two detrimental mistakes that many amateur players make on a regular basis.
In a $1/$3 cash game, a tight, solid player raised to $20 out of his $800 effective from third position at a nine-handed table. An unknown player in the cutoff called. Our Hero decided to call with 9d-8h from the big blind.
Calling a 6.7 big blind raise with any hand that is unlikely to be best at the moment (premium hands) or can easily improve to be best on the flop (implied odds hands such as pairs, suited Aces and suited connectors) is a huge mistake. From out of position when getting poor odds, you should simply be tight. Calling with a hand that will usually make one weak pair is one of the biggest preflop blunders you can make, yet you see countless amateurs make calls like this every time they have the opportunity. Most amateurs see their opponents (also amateurs) making similar calls and assume it must be fine. In reality, they are lighting money on fire.
The flop came 9c-8s-3h, giving Hero two pair. Hero checked, the initial raiser bet $30 into the $62 pot and the cutoff folded. Hero called.
While I am fine with Hero’s flop check, I would have certainly check-raised the cutoff’s bet. When you are playing deep stacked and the board is somewhat connected, you should almost always check-raise your best made hands and decent draws. On this flop, Hero should check-raise 9-9, 8-8, 3-3, 9-8, J-T, T-7, and 7-6, assuming all those hands are in his range. He should also consider check-raising Q-J and Q-T, especially if T-7 and 7-6 aren’t in his range. I understand that check-raising makes the opponent fold some hands that are drawing thin, like 8-7 and A-K, but it also ensures you get to play a large pot against overpairs while also charging the draws.
When Hero calls the flop bet, he runs the risk of the turn checking through, allowing his opponent to realize whatever equity he has while also keeping the pot small. If the opponent happens to bet the turn and Hero then check-raises, it will look incredibly strong (as most amateurs don’t check-raise the turn with their draws), allowing the opponent to frequently get off the hook with all but his best hands.
The turn was the (9c-8s-3h)-4c. Hero checked, the opponent bet $45 into the $122 pot and Hero check-raised to $115.
As previously stated, this turn check-raise looks quite strong. In fact, some tight, solid players may fold overpairs when check-raised on the turn. If Hero would play some of his draws in this manner, I would be fine with this play, but I am not sure that is the case. That said, check-calling is not attractive either because the river could easily check through. Check-raising the flop would have sidestepped this dicey turn scenario. The opponent called the turn check-raise. The river was the (9c-8s-3h-4c)-Ks. Hero bet $120 into the $352 pot.
This is an interesting spot because Hero is trying to extract value from A-A, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, and perhaps top pair. Given most of that range got much worse on the river, I think Hero should bet small, as he did. Especially in small stakes games against weak opponents, you are best advised to choose your bet size based on what you are trying to get called by. If you are trying to get called by premium hands, bet large. If you are trying to get called by marginal made hands (as is the case this time), bet small.
The opponent raised to $420. Hero folded.
While it is never fun to get raised on the river, I think Hero made a fine fold. The only times he can justify calling are when his opponent will always overvalue A-A (which I don’t think is the case) or when his opponent will bluff with all his missed draws (which he should, but probably would not do). Some people may look at this river bet and think “You have to call. Your hand is too strong!” Even if your hand is strong, when you lose to most of your opponent’s raising range (primarily sets), you should fold. That said, if the opponent is anywhere near competent and capable of bluffing the river with his busted straight and backdoor flush draws, you have to make the call.