AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 04.02.2021 · last updated 04.02.2021

Getting the better of new and inexperienced players might seem to be the easiest task we face in online poker, but to make such an assumption would be a mistake. Apart from the fact that luck is a factor in poker – which itself is a reason why so many people are attracted to the game, which doesn’t require years of hard work and experience to enjoy a level of immediate success – nothing is anyway that easy.

In order to put ourselves in the best position to handle less experienced opponents, we must first – before we sit down to play with them – get acquainted with how they think in this or that situation. Or, perhaps more accurately, we should consider the scenarios and elements of the game about which new players tend not to think! Everyone goes through the various stages of development which see numerous aspects of the game neglected or not sufficiently appreciated, and it’s these chinks in the armour of inexperienced players that we should be looking to exploit while we still can.

One very common mistake that new players make is playing too many hands. We’ve all been guilty of this tendency. In the long-run, playing too many hands is inevitably going to lead to losing money, so once we identify which players at our table are committing this online poker sin, we should be looking to punish them accordingly. However, we should target them with a degree of patience – after all, this area of the game is their playing too many hands, which means we’re going to have plenty of opportunities to strike.

New players – especially those who might not be natural poker players and who might well always have bad habits – typically play lots of hands because their logic is that poker is fun, and therefore it’s more fun playing many hands. While this is a perfectly understandable outlook, it’s certainly not conducive with profitable poker. Yet a beginner will typically get involved with A6, K7, Q4, any random multi-gap suited holding and so on. Not only that, but they’ll happily take such hands all the way to the River if they connect! They begin first by limping in with such hands, calling a raise (or even a reraise!) just to see what the Flop brings.

Of course, the concept of Position is at this early stage of the online poker quest an alien one, so the above mistake will be compounded when poor hands are taken to the Flop out of position. Ideally, we want to catch our targeted opponents in situations where they can be best exploited, so while it’s not absolutely necessary to have position on them, it’s nevertheless wise to give ourselves the best foundations on which to build the hand as it progresses through the betting streets.

The more we observe our opponents, the easier it should be not only to exploit them but also to avoid making life difficult for ourselves in our efforts to beat them. For example, if we have noticed that Player A just has to call everything pre-flop regardless, we should avoid getting carried away and bullying them pre-flop because we also need to maintain a level of pot control. We know that their starting hand range could include just about any combination of cards, so unless we have a monster, we should avoid raising big for the sake of it just because we think we can outplay them.

While some players simply can’t let go of a hand, others are capable of folding. What often happens is that our friend, Player A, will almost automatically pay to see the Flop but then, unless they hit a big piece of it, simply surrender when facing a bet. This sudden shutdown is a common theme among new players. With this in mind, when we’re in position and, with a suitably widened range, raise – and thus isolate – Player A pre-flop, when they duly check to us we should always bet (whether we hit or not) as there’s a good chance they’ll hand over the booty without a second’s thought. If we meet with resistance it’s usually an indication that they have either hit or have a draw, in which case how we continue varies depending on our own hand. That isn’t to say we have to take our foot off the gas, of course, but each scenario must be judged on relevant factors. Sometimes we just have to face facts and accept that we are both beaten, and there’s no way we can bluff, as new players tend to be immune to such tactics if they believe they have a hand worth sticking with.

hould we have a big hand from the off or hit big on the Flop, and we’ve noticed that our victim is one of those players who plays lots of hands and also seems happy to take them all the way to the death, then it’s a matter of finding the right sized bet at each juncture that will keep them hanging on. Usually, if they have a monster they will telegraph this in the form of big bets or shoving, while calling station behaviour tends to be just that. This might seem like a simplistic interpretation and subsequent strategy, but this is the whole point when dealing with new players – what you see does indeed tend to be a pretty transparent set of indicators of what you ultimately get!

Note that the point here is to exploit weaknesses in a selective, deliberate way, rather than arrogantly assuming that we can take new players’ chips at will just by getting involved in a hand with them. While it helps to be flexible in order to engineer profitable situations, we still need to adhere to the usual strategies that we know are effective, maintaining a pragmatic approach rather than making the mistake of thinking anything will work, however illogical or reckless (you’ve been warned…).

Have fun!

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