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The Biggest Mistakes Poker Beginners Make on Every Street
In 2015, Nick "caecilius" Petrangelo won over $3.4 million playing cards.
I know. It boggles the mind.
He's won the PokerStars Sunday Million. He's won a World Series of Poker bracelet. Last year alone he cashed for over $100,000 nine times.
He's currently in Florida trying to add a few bucks to that bankroll at the World Poker Tour (WPT) Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open.
He's not doing badly. A few days ago he won the $2,200 No-Limit Hold'em Eight Max event for $93,208.
So what is his secret to success? What advice would he give to others? What would he do if he had 10,000 hours to spend working on anything?
Let’s find out, shall we?
Lee Davy: Who is Nick Petrangelo and how did he get into poker?
Nick Petrangelo: I'm from a small town in Western Massachusetts. I grew up as a very serious hockey player and golfer and those were my major passions for most of my life.
When I was 14 I left home to attend a boarding school in Connecticut called Loomis Chaffee to pursue college sports. I eventually ended up at Skidmore College in upstate New York where I graduated with a double major in Economics and Business and a minor in English.
While in boarding school I became very interested in the competition and psychology of poker and my roommate introduced me to his childhood friend Jonathan Jaffe (Ed. note: Current member of the San Francisco Rush of the Global Poker League).
At the time Jonathan was making his way through the ranks of the heads-up sit & go world on PokerStars. I was amazed at the success he was having and bothered him incessantly to let me watch him play.
Eventually he agreed to let me watch him play, and that led to him coaching me and finally offering me a backing deal for low-stakes online tournaments.
He continued to coach and back me for several years until he was backing me for the highest-stakes live and online tournaments.
Though he is no longer backing me he is still one of my best friends in the world and the number one person I go to to talk poker. Without Jon, I definitely wouldn't be in professional poker.
LD: Describe your game five years ago.
NP: Five years ago I was a lot less fundamentally sound than I am now. I played much more exploitatively and made some really big fundamental mistakes and ICM errors deep in tournaments.
Due to the evolution of high-stakes tournaments I was forced to shore up those leaks and establish a better mathematical foundation.
LD: Describe your game two years ago.
NP: For the past two years I've played a lot more fundamentally sound game than I did in the past.
I have a better understanding of when it is OK to deviate from sound mathematical play, and I do a better job of taking decisions as they come to me and not forcing things or getting ahead of myself.
LD: What is the biggest mistake you see beginners making pre-flop?
NP: I think, in general, beginners and recreational players are often too passive pre-flop, call too wide trying to see flops, call or defend when they should be shoving, and don't 3-bet and 4-bet enough.
LD: On the flop?
NP: On the flop, many beginners often fold too early in the hand to flop and turn aggression when they have the proper equity to call or semi-bluff.
Some do the opposite, continuing with very weak holdings with no real plan for the rest of the hand. Although, it's very player dependent.
LD: On the turn?
NP: I think it's pretty common that beginners choose to bet the flop and river for value when they have a two-street value hand because they want to make sure the board runs out safely before they value bet the river when often the flop and turn are the optimal two streets for value.
I see this very often in lower-stakes tournaments from beginners, and it is difficult for them to represent bluffs with these lines so they often cost themselves an opportunity to get paid for more than one street.
LD: On the river?
NP: I think when facing a river bet too many beginners instantly go into the mode where they are either calling or folding, and they usually give this information up with very obvious physical behaviour.
They don't afford themselves the chance to turn their hand into a bluff, which is sometimes a better option than calling or folding in these spots, but they never really consider it.
LD: Have you read any non-poker books that have helped your poker career? If so, what?
NP: When I was playing college hockey my coach recommended I read a sports psychology book called Mind Gym.
I re-read it a few years ago because I was getting far too ahead of myself in the decision-making process; now I do a better job of taking things one hand or decision at a time.
LD: What do you see when you look at the poker world?
NP: These days, I think the climate is shifting a lot more towards live poker, live tournaments, and live cash games. Online is becoming less and less a part of most professionals' long-term plans.
As a result, I think in general the online generation is becoming a lot more friendly and personable at the table. For the most part, most people are laughing, joking, talking a lot and having fun at the tables.
LD: Give an amateur poker player some advice.
NP: Don't over-complicate poker or overthink decisions vs. "pros." Many of the amateur players I encounter are super smart and have the opportunity to play poker recreationally because they've been ultra successful in other areas of life.
Most people have the mental capacity to play poker at a very high level; I think sometimes they just get in their own way making it more complicated than it has to be.
LD: If I gave you 10,000 hours to do anything, what would you do and why?
NP: I would go back to school and get my Masters degree in English. English was my first and only academic passion, but I abandoned it to study Economics because I was convinced that's what I needed to do to get a job.
I would love to go back to the type of prep school I went to and teach English and coach hockey and golf at some point in the future.