If I had to pick the most common mistake that is made at online poker tables, and go out on a limb and say that the same mistake is far less prevalent and your local card room, it would have to be over-betting or overplaying poker hands.
It’s a very easy mistake to make because most players who do not have a lot of experience playing poker tend to err on the side of aggression (when they are online and anonymous – at your card room the identical profile player tends to be passive and nonthreatening).
Let’s say you flop bottom two pair in a limit hold’em game. You know that two pair is a strong hand and that you are probably in front right now. But if you’re a novice you might not be aware of the long road that has to be traversed before you can take down that pot. Let’s say that the board brought at least two cards of the same suit, which is going to happen frequently, and let’s also say that there’s an Ace on the board as well as two cards that are connectors, like 6-7. Finally because this is an online limit hold’em poker ring game, let’s also say that there are 5 players left to contest the pot.
Even if we could tell for certain that your holding of 6-7 is best at this stage it counts for very little. Should you bet? Definitely. Should you raise or re-raise? Absolutely not. While your hand figures to be the best it cannot chase away flush and straight draws right now, nor will a holding of A-x back down in most limit games.
The difficulty of playing a hand of this nature, one that is strong in a snapshot moment but not robust enough to withstand pressure from multiple drawing hands, is why most experts would have you fold a hand like 6-7 pre-flop. When you do improve it makes your life so complicated and could cost you so many more bets that it just isn’t worth speculating with in the first place.
The key is to exercise caution because there are a lot of gamblers out there who love poker and care little about the maths. They will chase with 8-9 when the board comes A-6-7 and they won’t let go. They figure (rightly in our example) that if they hit their miracle 5 card they will make so much money this one time that it makes up for all the times they chase and miss. Your job when you are in front is to extract money from them, but not at the expense of your entire session.
When you are in front with 2 cards to come or 1 card to come you must pay attention to the board texture. Is the board favorable or are their drawing hands out there that were helped by the last card? What could your opponent have been playing with initially in order to hang around in the face of your pressure? If that third suited card drops you need to know with some degree of certainty whether your hand is still best. If you have overplayed your hand from the outset it will be too late.
Novice hold’em players love top pair with a good kicker, and become positively orgasmic at the sight of two-pair. They haven’t even considered the fact that every hold’em flop brings with it the possibility of three players holding sets, flopping straights or flushes or drawing to the nuts. Exercise caution when you have the best hand at that time but not the nut hand. No one ever got paid out for the best hand on the turn. There are 5 community cards for a reason.
If you bet a horse and he was leading around the turn or with 1/16th to go but ended up finishing in the pack you wouldn’t think you were that unlucky – you should have the same attitude towards poker. They pay out based on the finish not based on the splits during the race. If your front-runner hangs on to win that’s great, but by no means is it a fait accompli…