To learn from your mistakes, you must first be aware of them. Sadly, at the poker table, you seldom know it when you make a bad decision.
Most blunders simply go unnoticed because they’re rarely revealed as mistakes. It’s easy to ignore a leak in your game when it only happens once in every 10,000 hands.
But where you find one rare mistake, you’re guaranteed to find a dozen more.
I recently witnessed a common example of this phenomenon.
While playing $2/$5 no-limit hold ’em on a slow day in September, two of my opponents got into a significant pot. The player in the big blind, a familiar face named Andrew, got dealt Kh Qh. He called when a tight player in middle position raised to $20. Everyone else folded.
On a flop of Ks 9d 3d, Andrew opted to make a completely standard play and check, intending to call a bet. He felt that his top pair was likely good and that his opponent would probably take a stab at the pot no matter what he held, hoping to taking it down right away. As expected, the middle-position player bet $30, and Andrew made the call.
When the turn 10s landed, Andrew potentially had a lot to think about. A second flush draw had come out, with a straight now possible, and a few reasonably likely hands could have picked up two pair.
But I suspect that Andrew was focused on only his own hand at this point, and this was where he made a crucial error.
He checked again and was faced with an $80 bet. Andrew didn’t hesitate to call a second time.
This left Andrew in a pickle. Many river cards could either kill his hand or guarantee that he would not win another bet. Even worse, he hadn’t thought carefully about where he stood.
Luckily, the river brought the 3h, a welcome card for Andrew’s top pair. But he checked again, and when his opponent bet $175, Andrew thought for a few minutes.
Eventually, agonizingly, he folded his Kh Qh face-up, grumbling in frustration. His opponent, proud of his hand and happy to have won a nice pot, graciously showed Ac Kc.
Andrew shrugged it off, as most players would, seemingly happy about having made a good laydown. The truth, however, is that Andrew lost $80 more than he should have.
Andrew knew three things: that his opponent was tight and likely sitting on a strong hand, that there were many dangerous river cards and the simple fact that players these days rarely continue their aggression on the turn unless they hold the goods.
Added together, these factors made it far better to have just folded the turn straight away.
In my experience, turn play is a common weakness. Players who make one mistake on the turn invariably make many more.
But hands like the one above are few and far between, and many struggle to learn how to play them correctly.
The best players, though, all share one belief: Even one mistake is too many.
Corwin Cole is a poker coach whose instructional videos can be found at CardRunners.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.