Texas Holdem Strategy: Mistakes Home Game Poker Players Make
This article is not meant to be an exhaustive article on poker strategy or even necessarily to provide insight into poker strategy for Texas Holdem played in other venues. This article will specifically address particularly poker strategy mistakes made by Texas holdem home game players that you will likely see if you are playing in a Texas Holdem home game where you have players with differing skill levels.
In my Texas holdem home game, we have players who have played a decent amount of tournament poker, casino poker, and various other types of poker. We have players who have played home game poker all their lives, but are new to Texas holdem. Usually each week, a new player will show up and have absolutely no experience. Then we have players who play every week and still don't understand the basics of Texas holdem and make the same mistakes over and over again.
If you are reasonably skilled at playing Texas holdem and play in or conduct a home game, these observations about poker strategy may help you fine tune your game since the home game of Texas holdem can frequently present unique challenges to the skilled player who is used to applying poker strategy in a casino or tournament poker setting.
So here are the main things losing players do consistently in the Texas holdem home game:
- Not raising good hands pre-flop - This is the most common mistake most new players make in most poker games, but it's also a common mistake among home game players who never quite understand Texas holdem. During the course of a night of poker, it's often the difference between winning and losing. Bad players simply don't know how to play their good cards and allow too many people into the pot pre-flop thereby decreasing the value of their good hands. They make this mistake over and over again, even with their high pairs.
- Overplaying/underplaying top pair - I see this problem in players with mediocre skill. They simply don't recognize when they're beat and cannot get away from top pair. Sometimes they combine that with the previous problem after the flop and allow players who are drawing to continue on in the hand because they don't bet enough. Bottom line is that if you hit top pair, make a bet, and somebody reraises you, you can't push all-in. Particularly in home game poker where more players are in the hand than normal, most of the time somebody has hit something.
- Chasing draws - Players at the home game almost always play suited cards or connected cards and simply cannot get away from open-ended straight draws and flush draws. The worst approach to this style of play is calling large bets that diminish your chips. The right way to approach draws is to see cards for cheap, if possible, or use your draw to make a large bet that forces everyone else out of the pot. Players who draw need to have control of the pot. If they do not, they end up losing a lot of chips.
What's the most common mistake in home game poker?
- Assuming other players have the best possible hand - Otherwise known as "monsters under the bed". This usually comes from low-skilled players not bothering to think about reading other players because most of the time the other player does not have the best possible hand. In fact, in the home game, it's a frequent occurrence that players have no idea about the strength of the hand they are holding or are bluffing or are just making a mistake.
- Small bet-sizing when they are ahead- Because mediocre players by definition have a hard time reading the board and their opponents, they often don't realize when they're ahead. The worst example of this offense is when the offender is last to bet after the flop and everybody checks and the offender puts in a non-threatening amount even though he's hit top pair with a good kicker or two pair or whatever. Then everybody calls and inevitably somebody hits something or ends up on a draw that hits leaving the offender saying things like "I was winning that hand until the river."
- Overbetting the nuts - This drives me nuts when I watch somebody who loses a lot hit the nuts on the flop or very damn near it, then go all-in, thus driving everyone else out of the pot and winning nothing. Bad players get so excited about having good cards that they just can't help themselves, but when you hit a hand that other players have extremely long odds to beat, you don't drive them out of the hand, you want them to hit something so they hang around and build the pot. I watched my friend hit the nut flush on the flop recently only to force everyone to fold when he bet way too much because he got overly excited. If you don't do well with your great hands, you're not going to do well overall.
- Not reading the board - All players are in a hand (known as a "family pot") and the flop comes down JJ6. If you don't have a J in this situation, you fold unless you're drawing to a flush and nobody bets. It's amazing though, how many players will bet their 6 in this situation because nobody bets. Um, do you think somebody with a J is really going to bet much, if at all, in this situation? Probably not. Then there are the vast array of other things like not seeing straight and flush draws or missing the fact that there are four cards to a straight on the board.
- Ignoring position on a bad board - I like to use the paired board for this example because it's illustrative for others. The flop comes up A99 and the bad player is first to bet. Because he has an ace, he leads out with a significant bet, not even thinking about the fact that five other players have yet to bet and the odds of one of them having a 9 are great. The player with the 9 either just calls or raises and the player with the ace is either forced to fold or gets sucked out for a few other bets before finally realizing his initial bet was stupid.
These are the main problems I see in bad players in our Texas holdem home game. Hopefully these observations will allow you to improve your poker strategy.