How to get inside the mind of a newbie

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I spent some time teaching the game to some new players recently and there are a few universal challenges they face that I want to share. If you’re new to the game, take a moment of self-reflection to see if these apply to you. If you play a lot of low-stakes game, take note as to how you can exploit these weaknesses.

First, new players will overplay second- and even third-best hands. For instance, having been dealt a big pocket pair such as kings, they will often call that hand down to the river even in a multiway pot with an ace on the flop and lots of action. This falls into the “my hand just looks too pretty to fold” category. A common running theme will be the inability of players to move on from a hand.

Next, newbies often will hope to hit their hand against all pot odds and common sense. With a small pair or gutshot straight draw, they will stay to the end in hopes of hitting a “miracle” card, even if they could be drawing dead.

As I was teaching players the relative strengths of hands, they would still hope to hit a straight with a paired board or potential flush showing.

One of our players showed me a hand he reluctantly folded on the turn after a lot of action came from two other players. The flop came 9-9-2 and the turn was a five. Multiway action came on the flop and turn. Our player finally folded his A-2 and said to me, “You see my dilemma.” I informed him that no, I didn’t. He had no hand and no draw. At least one of his opponents was likely to hold a nine and he was drawing dead. In fact, both opponents had a nine.

In both of the first two scenarios, new players often play their hands in a vacuum without regard to opponents’ likely holdings.

Couple that with an inability to fold pretty but losing hands and it’s a recipe for disaster. Don’t get emotionally attached to a hand. A new one is a few moments away. You’ll be dealt plenty of beautiful starting hands in your career. When things go bad, don’t be afraid to get out.

New players mistakenly believe it’s a badge of honor not to be bluffed. “Well, I have to keep him honest.” No, you don’t. If there’s not a compelling reason to be in a hand, get out. If you think a player is getting out of line, there are plenty of ways to exploit his aggressiveness. Keeping him honest is not one of them. Your job is to make money, not to willingly donate. One of poker’s oldest maxims is you can’t bluff a sucker. Don’t be a sucker and don’t try to bluff one.

— David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker strategy books including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.