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How to Destroy Beginners at the Poker Table
If we're being objective about the whole thing, you shouldn’t really try to "crush" new poker players.
It’s unsportsmanlike, unfair and it can potentially cause your friends to outright quit playing the game before they’ve really started.
If anything you should be teaching them how to play. Or at least toning down the aggressive play a bit.
We’re not the morality police, however, and this post is about smashing rookies into a fine dust.
Use at your own discretion and feel free to submit your own observations in the comments below.
In the following article we’ll take a look at tips for playing new players in a basic friendly No-Limit Hold’em cash game that’s most likely played at someone’s house.
Please note the majority of these tricks will not work versus a competent player.
Categorize Your Opponents
At the most basic level a lot of poker players can be categorized into two distinct categories: scared or careless.
It’s pretty easy to tell them apart in a few orbits. The scared player will call frequently and fold to most raises. They’re not gonna stir the pot and it’s rare to see them open the betting.
Meanwhile the careless opponent will make wild raises despite having weak cards.
You should employ a very different strategy against each playing style. Against the “scared” player you’ll want to bet aggresively and consistently chip away at them. Watch out for raises because they usually have something.
On the other hand if you’re playing against a “careless” player it’s worth value-betting your strong hands. You can call down big bets with big pairs.
Finally did you realize there’s one other good player at the table?
Well this is simple: avoid playing against him or her. Don’t be an idiot.
Bet… A Lot
Here’s a concept that’s difficult to grasp for new poker players who’ve been subjected to an endless parade of royal flushes versus four-of-a-kind in TV and Movies:
Most of your hands are going to miss and premium starting hands like aces and kings are rare.
Plenty of beginners (especially the "scared" variety) are simply going to lay down their hands after the flop if they don’t connect in a big way, which means you can bet at almost every flop.
Going one step farther you can raise almost every other hand and everyone else will be confounded by how you keep getting such good cards.
Here’s another fun betting trick you can use against completely green poker players: make a minimum bet on the river.
New poker players usually don’t understand the concept of pot-odds and if they miss their draw there’s a good chance they will fold to anything.
That means you could get bet 10,000 or 100 with the same result. It’s essentially a low-risk, very high reward tactic.
Take Advantage of Poker Rank Misconceptions
This will only work with people playing poker for the first or second time but simply knowing the hand rankings is a tremendous advantage.
In fact there are some very common misconceptions that people tend to have when they are learning poker.
The most common are:
Three-of-a-Kind beats Two-Pair (New players think Two-Pair should be valued higher because it utilizes four cards… Or something).
Flush beats a straight (straight just seems harder to assemble to new players)
High cards actually do matter in a flush (self-explanatory).
How does this help you? There’s a better chance you’ll get paid for flushes or sets and sometimes you’ll even be able to deduce what your opponent thinks he or she has. Bet accordingly.
Punish Non-Stop Calling
All of poker can be distilled to three distinct choices: bet, call or fold.
New poker players love to call. It’s a fact.
They understandably view it as a low-risk way to remain in a hand and avoid embarrassment.
The idea is that by the time the river is dealt they can always just make the safe play of folding.
If you have a premium pair just bet every single street. Because new players also have no idea about bet sizing you can make your bets fairly big, probably in the range of 75% to 100% the pot.
Another trick is to use smaller denomination chips to make it seem like a smaller bet. Experiment to see what works best.
Beware of Aggression
It’s rare that new players get out of line with bad hands. Not impossible, but rare.
If a relatively new player bets a lot pre-flop it’s safe to say he probably has a premium hand - or at least a decent one (pair or pretty-looking face cards).
It’s just an easy fold most of the time.
Use Basic Math to Hurt Your Opponents
There are plenty of ways you can use basic math to extract value from your opponents and optimal bet-sizing is a concept that most new players simply won’t be able to grasp.
They won’t be able to understand that you can call a 3X raise every now and then with J-T but calling a 10X raise preflop with the same hand is a recipe for disaster.
Therefore you can make larger bets with your big hands.
On the other hand new poker players will quite frequently min-bet and then call, call, call, call, call for the charming “family pot.”
A raise in this situation is always fun but you can also get incredible odds when calling with a weak hand. 7-5 isn’t so bad when you are only risking a minor amount to win a huge pot.
Plus if you flop big there’s a good chance someone else got a piece of the flop too and you can bring them along for the ride.
Pay Attention to Simple Body Language
This is first-level stuff but the most basic rule of poker psychology is people tend to get more comfortable when they have a big hand.
Quite frequently you’ll notice rookie poker players engage in banter when they have a strong hand despite being quiet for the rest of the game.
Of course if they’re incredibly quiet that can also indicate a bluff.
This obviously doesn’t work 100% of the time but it’s a basic tell that can be quite accurate over someone’s first few games of poker.
Here’s a couple more obvious ones for really new players:
- Checking hole cards most commonly indicates players double-checking the suit of their cards.
- If a player looks directly at their own stack after the flop it can be a sign of strength.
Watch Your Opponent’s Stack
When people are just learning poker they get really excited about even a small win.
Therefore if someone bought in with $20, leaving with $30 would be a huge victory.
How does this help you? Sometimes you’ll notice extremely new players start to set aside chips as they are getting ready to leave. That’s what’s called their “loss threshold stack" for lack of a better term.
They are OK losing that amount but not one cent more. If you pick up on this "strategy" get them to contribute that amount to the pot and then raise big. It’s like free money!