3 Obvious Poker Mistakes Only Amateurs Make (Avoid This!)

3 Obvious Poker Mistakes Only Amateurs Make (Avoid This!)

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Making a proper bet size in poker is often more of an art than science. 

There are no hard and fast rules, and knowing when to and when not to bet, and how much depends on the situation. 

While there are no definitive rules to abide by all the time when it comes to bet sizing, there certainly are betting mistakes that should be avoided at all costs.

This article will take a closer look at 3 common betting mistakes a lot of amateur poker players make, why they are so costly, and what to do instead.

1. 3-Betting the Minimum Amount Preflop

3-betting a minimal amount preflop is just about the best way to botch your hand right from the start. 

When we talk about 3-betting preflop, we mean raising against another player’s open raise. 

For example, if your opponent open-raises to 3 big blinds, you can re-raise (3-bet them) to say, 9 big blinds.

3-betting preflop is a very strong play you should incorporate in your arsenal for a couple of reasons:

1. By 3-betting preflop, you can build up the pot very quickly and extract more value with your strong hands. 

On the flop, you can put the rest of your stack into the pot far more easily if you’ve already built a sizable pot preflop.

2. You can win money outright preflop by attacking the so-called dead money. 

By attacking loose and weak ranges, you can steal the pot preflop by applying a lot of pressure with your 3-bets, and you don’t need to play the rest of the hand if everyone folds preflop. 

Plus, you don’t pay any rake if you don’t get to the flop.

3. 3-betting makes you more difficult to play against. 

Your opponents will have to think twice before getting involved in a hand with you, or trying to steal your blinds with impunity.

So you can see that 3-betting can be very beneficial for your poker game, but only if you do it the right way. 

What constitutes a profitable 3-bet is a complicated question, as there are many factors to consider, but for the purposes of this article, one mistake you definitely must avoid is making your 3-bets too small.

For example, say you are dealt AQ on the BU (Button). 

Your opponent open-raises to 3 BB in the CO (Cutoff), and you 3-bet to 6 BB.

This is a terrible play for many reasons. 

In fact, it's almost always only amateurs and fishy players that do this. If you play online poker by the way, you can quickly find the fishy players by using a good free poker HUD.

So why is this play so bad?

Well, first of all, you’re giving your opponents absolutely no incentive to fold

In fact, you are giving them such an excellent price on a call, that they can basically call you down profitably holding two napkins in their hand!

Let’s look at it from their perspective. 

The villain open-raised to 3 BB, and you re-raised to 6 BB. 

The pot is currently 10.5 BB (1.5 from the blinds, 3 from the villains open-raise, and 6 from your 3-bet). This means the villain is getting 3.5 to 1 on a call. 

In other words, they only need roughly 22% hand equity to continue playing profitably. 

To put things more simply, you are giving your opponent(s) a favourable risk-to-reward ratio, and they have very little incentive to give up the hand.
Worse yet, they can (correctly) interpret your small sizing as a sign of weakness, and come over the top with a 4-bet (a raise against a 3-bet) of their own. 

If you have a really strong value hand, like pocket Aces or Kings, for example, making too small of a 3-bet is even more catastrophic. 

For one, you’re failing to extract enough value while your hand is likely ahead of your opponent’s range.

By failing to increase the pot size early on, you will find it much harder to extract more value on the future streets.

This is in fact one of the biggest reasons why poker amateurs fail to win at poker, as discussed at length in Crushing the Microstakes.

You also run the risk of inviting huge multiway pots (i.e. a pot with more than two players involved) by giving everyone an enticing price to call. 

The more players involved in the pot, the less likely you are to win the hand, as obviously more players equals greater chances of somebody connecting with the board. 

So if you have a feeling your pocket Aces keep getting cracked, this could be one of the reasons why. 

As a general rule, 3-betting a minimal amount, much like min-betting in general, should be avoided. 

What you want to do instead is size your 3-bets in a way that your opponents have an actual decision to make. 

You want to let them know that if they plan on getting involved in a hand with you, it’s going to cost them. 

While there are no hard and fast rules about the correct 3-bet sizing in every situation, as a rule of thumb, you should usually size it to 3 times the open raising amount, minimum, if you’re playing in position. 

If you’re playing out of position, you should bump it up to at least 4 times the open-raise. 

So if your opponent open-raises to say, 2.5 BB, you should 3-bet at least 7.5 BB when playing in position, and 10 BB out of position.

These are just general guidelines, of course.

And it won't guarantee that you win at poker every time.

But 3-betting the minimum amount is a great way to try and lose at poker every time!

The amount you choose to 3-bet will vary on other factors as well, such as the amount of limpers, the players behind you left to act and so on. 

As with anything else in poker, you shouldn’t just follow the rules mechanically. 

Instead, use them as a guideline and be prepared to deviate from them if the situation requires it. 

But when in doubt, it’s usually a good idea to go for a bigger 3-bet size instead of a smaller one.

By the way, for more on how to actually play 3-bet pots I have already written the most comprehensive free guide to 3-bet pot strategy available anywhere online.

2. Betting the Minimum Amount Into a Huge Pot

Min-raising simply means wagering a minimum amount of money possible into the pot, either preflop or postflop, and it’s one of the telltale signs of a recreational poker player. 

If you are min-betting or min-raising, you are basically announcing to the whole table: I’m a huge fish, please take all my money.

The reason why this kind of betting is so egregious is that it makes zero strategic or mathematical sense. 

If you are betting, say, 5 cents into a $2 pot, you are giving your opponents absolutely no incentive to fold whatsoever. 

You are giving them 40:1 on a call, which basically means they can call you down profitably holding any two hole cards.

And yet some people still tell me they think online poker is rigged when they bet like this, giving their opponents odds to call them with literally anything!  

What’s more, they will (usually correctly) interpret your bet as a sign of weakness, and come back at you with a raise of their own.

So why do some players insist on making these ludicrous bets? Well, they have their reasons, albeit not very good ones. 

Some players use min-bets as sort of a blocker bet. 

(A blocker bet is a small bet made in order to prevent your opponent from making an even bigger bet when you are playing out of position. 

The hope is, your opponent will just call you instead of making a medium or large bet themselves).

Going for a smaller bet size may be a good play in some spots. For example, you are hoping to get a cheap card on the next street. 

But if that’s your intention, you are better off choosing some meaningful amount that might give your opponent pause, instead of betting a minimum amount. 

Using a bet size of say, 20% to 33% of the pot should do the trick. 

But only when we’re talking in the context of blocker bets, of course.

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When you’re betting for value (meaning your hand is comfortably ahead of your opponent’s calling range), you should obviously go for a bigger bet size.

Another reason some players min-bet is to “get information” and “to see where they are in the hand”. 

This one also makes no sense.

Since betting a minuscule amount into a giant pot is mathematically meaningless, you can’t derive any meaningful assumptions about your opponents. 

Say you bet 5 cents into a $2 pot and your opponent calls. 

What does that tell you about their range? Not much. 

They could have a monster hand they are slowplaying, they could have a mediocre or a drawing hand they are hoping to improve, or they could just have Ace-high, but are getting such a good price that they have to call.

What about if they come back at you with a raise of their own? Same thing. 

They could have a monster hand and are trying to extract value, they could be semi-bluffing with a drawing hand, or they could have a weak or marginal hand, but are trying to push you out of the pot because they sense you’re weak. 

Either way, you’re none the wiser.

Some players also min-bet for deception value, but this just goes to show that mistakes in thinking compound, and two wrongs don’t make a right. 

Some players have picked up on the fact that min-betting is perceived to be weak, so they min-bet when they actually have a very strong hand, and are trying to trap their opponents. 

This kind of thinking is quite common with beginner poker players who falsely believe that a good winning poker strategy is all about using deception. 

It’s not. 

If anything, going for deceptive lines, especially when you’re starting out, is one of the worst things you can do for your poker results. 

For example, you might try to conceal your hand strength by slowplaying, and appear to be strong when you’re bluffing. 

But in practice, this will mean that you will usually win a small pot with your strong hands, and lose a big one with your bluffs, instead of the other way around. 

Being deceptive for deception’s sake isn’t something you should fret too much about, or even at all. 

Just by keeping things simple and avoiding mistakes, you will already be ahead of the curve.

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3. Not Betting For Value = Leaving Money at the Table

One last betting mistake a lot of amateur poker players make is actually a mistake of omission, i.e. not value betting enough, or value betting the wrong amount. 

A value bet is a bet made when you believe your hand to be stronger than your opponent’s calling range. 

It’s worth mentioning that a bet is only a value bet when your opponent is likely to call you and continue the hand. 

So if you think your hand is fairly ahead of your opponents’ range, but they will likely fold, you can’t really make a value bet then. 

This is a subtle, but important distinction, because a lot of players make the mistake of not making a value bet, because they believe their opponents will simply fold. 

In other words, they don’t want to “scare them off” with huge bets. This is understandable to a degree. 

Very strong hands don’t come around very often in no-limit hold’em, so once they do, you don’t want your opponents to just give up right away. 

You want to get paid. 

But the only way to get paid is to build up the pot as quickly as possible, and unless you are playing against a totally out of control maniac, you’re usually better off building the pot yourself.

People often tell me that they have trouble beating the bad poker players but they make this basic mistake over and over again, of winning a tiny pot with their big hands.

How can you expect to beat them if you always win the minimum when you finally hit a big hand against them?  

Now, some players object that if they do bet or raise a lot, it will become too obvious they have a strong hand, so they go for more deceptive lines like slowplaying.

(Slowplaying means playing your hand passively, i.e. checking and calling, instead of aggressively, in order to conceal your hand strength).

While there are situations in which slowplaying could be a good idea, it will usually just result in you picking up a mediocre pot instead of totally stacking your opponent. 

As mentioned previously, you shouldn’t try to be deceptive just for deception’s sake.

When playing poker, your goal is to win as much money as possible, not to outwit your opponents. 

Let them do that themselves. 

Especially at the microstakes, most players fall to the more passive side of the spectrum, meaning they don’t bet or raise as much as they should. 

So relying on someone else to build the pot for you is  usually counterproductive.

As for “not wanting to scare them off” objection, it’s true that you probably don’t want to just shove all in when you hit a set on the flop. 

But the opposite approach of foregoing betting altogether hoping your opponent will do the betting for you isn’t a great strategy, either. 

If you’re worried your opponent might fold to your value bet, there’s not much you can do about it. 

You can’t compel someone to put money into the pot against their will, and you can’t do it by slowplaying, either. 

What’s going to happen more often than not is your opponent will simply check behind you, and the pot won’t grow at all. 

Think of it this way. If your opponent has a hand worth calling with, they will call, and if they don’t, no amount of slowplaying will incentivize them to bet anyway. 

So when you find yourself in a spot where you can bet for value, do so, and forget about being deceptive. 

If you get a call, great, and if not, you win the pot outright, which isn’t bad either.

Bottom line, if you want to know why some people win at poker (but most don't), this is it.

3 Obvious Poker Mistakes (Summary)

Poker is a pretty simple game at the end of the day.

You honestly don't need to spend years studying highly advanced strategy in order to have some decent success or even go pro one day.

But you definitely do need to avoid some obvious amateur mistakes. To recap, here are 3 most common betting mistakes you should avoid at all cost:

1. 3-betting the minimum amount preflop

3-betting is a very important tool in your poker arsenal, because it allows you to: 

a) extract value from your strong hands,
b) easily steal pots preflop
c) create a more formidable table image.

3-betting a minimum amount accomplishes none of these things. Instead, it will put you in a lot of awkward situations where you don’t know what to do. 

So either bump up that 3-bet size, or don’t 3-bet at all.

2. Betting the minimum amount into a huge pot

If you want to be pegged as a recreational poker player right away, this is the best way to go about it. Min-betting makes zero mathematical sense. 

The reason some players make this kind of bet is “to get a read”, or to get a cheap card on the next street. 

Neither of these reasons hold up, so ditch this play from your repertoire.

3. Not value betting (enough) 

Most of the money you win at poker will come from your strong value hands, not from outwitting your opponents.

Don’t expect your opponents to build the pot for you, and don’t worry about “scaring them off”.

If they have something worth calling with, they will, and if they don’t, they aren’t going to put any money into the pot, anyway.

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3 Common Mistakes Most Poker Amateurs Don't Even Know They're Making