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Creating Mistakes

by Ed Miller |  Published: May 30, 2012

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Ed MillerYou profit in poker from the mistakes your opponents make. Everyone makes mistakes. Some make more than others.

With some players, all you need to do to get them to make a big mistake is to wait them out. Sooner or later, they are going to make a ridiculous call or try to force the action with a silly bluff. You just sit tight, try not to do anything stupid yourself, and wait for the hand where someone tries to bluff you off quads.

With better players, waiting isn’t likely to produce many fruits. As long as no one in the game is applying any significant pressure, these players can go for hours and hours and make the right play nearly every time.

If you want better players to make mistakes, you have to push the game outside the ordinary situations these players have seen tens of thousands of times before. You have to start doing things that are unexpected. You can’t just sit and wait for mistakes. You have to create them.

A Recent Mistake I Made

I was playing $1-$2 in Las Vegas with $300 stacks. My opponent in this hand was a tourist and did not seem to be an experienced no-limit player. This sort of player, I assumed, would play erratically, and therefore there I would have more uncertainty than usual in my hand reading. But this player, I also assumed, would play too many weak hands and call too many bets with these hands.

I opened the pot with 10Diamond Suit 9Diamond Suit, and this player called on the button. The big blind also called.

The flop came JSpade Suit 9Spade Suit 7Club Suit. The blind checked, I bet about half-pot, the button called, and the blind folded.

The turn was the 3Heart Suit. I made a relatively small bet, and the button called.
The river was the 2Diamond Suit. I made a final small bet, and now the button made about a one-third pot raise.

Typically, I instantly fold when recreational players make raises in situations like these. Most players don’t bluff often enough for me to pay off river raises in the vast majority of situations. But this particular hand seemed to demand a call. The flop came about as drawish as possible. But while the flop was drawish, it was actually not too easy to have a strong made hand. With two gaps in the straight, only T-8 makes the hand, and I hold one of the tens. I also hold one of the nines, blocking hands like J-9, 9-7, and 9-9. There are many, many more combinations of drawing hands on this flop than of made hands.

Furthermore, my opponent’s body language on the flop and turn suggested to me that he was not confident about his hand. I thought he was likely drawing to something, or he perhaps held a weak pair that he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with.
Ultimately, I called, and he showed 9-9. Oops.

The hand went perfectly for him to win the maximum from me. If he raises earlier in the hand, I just fold. If a scare card comes on the turn or river, I slow down and likely check-fold. He got my money on this hand only because bricks came off on both the turn and river – and because, by waiting for the river to raise on a super-coordinated board, he played middle set in a very unconventional way.

In other words, by slowplaying his hand to the river, he created a mistake from me that I would not have made under any other circumstance.

I’m an aggressive player. If you don’t raise me, on many board textures I will often keep betting my hand even if it’s not so strong. On these textures, I would normally expect to get raised by a strong hand, so when you don’t raise, I assume you’re weak and I keep firing. If you want me to make mistakes against you, therefore, you do well to slowplay your strong hands to the river.

I’m not going to just hand you my money, but if you have some insight into how I approach the game, you can adjust your play to cause me to make a mistake.

Mistakes I Create

Regular $2-$5 and $5-$10 players in Las Vegas seem to play many situations by rote. Every regular in these games roughly understands what certain action means, and they play nearly perfectly against that action.

For instance, say I raise to $20 preflop and get four callers. The flop comes J-8-5 with two spades. If I bet $75 or more into this pot, it means (according to this Vegas regular code) that I have roughly A-J or better. Regulars will, therefore, fold hands like Q-J and J-T to this bet because the fact that I’m betting is supposed to mean that they’re beat.

If I can’t beat Q-J, I’m “supposed” to bet something smaller, maybe $40 or $50.
I don’t do it every time (they’d catch on if I did that), but I’ll regularly bet big on a flop like this one with my airball hands. My success rate betting into four and five opponents is way, way higher than I would expect it to be if people were calling with top pair, regular draws, and so forth. Instead, they’re giving me credit and folding.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to think of this play, but nevertheless, I’m making the opposite play of what’s expected of me, and I’m creating mistakes as a result.

Another play that creates mistakes, I value bet one pair much more thinly into scary boards than many players do. This creates mistakes in several different ways.

Sometimes players fold hands better than mine to the bet, assuming correctly that I’m value betting, but assuming incorrectly that I would only value bet a better hand. I’ve had people show me sets they are laying down because I tried to value bet a three-flush board with just one pair.

Sometimes players call me down with absolutely ridiculous hands (for example, unimproved pocket deuces on scary boards) because my constant aggression simply confuses them.
And sometimes my thin value bets induce bluff raises. I’ve gotten pretty good at value betting the river thinly against a player who is marked frequently with a busted draw, inducing a raise, and snapping it off. I think it was this experience that finally made me call in the first hand – so often I’ve called these weird river raises and been right. Now I didn’t expect this particular player to bluff-raise. But you never know. Sometimes people surprise you.

Final Thoughts

The regular players in your games are reading your hands and expecting you to play in certain ways with certain hands. Your job is to know what they expect and reverse it on them. If you do that, you will create mistakes, and that is what makes this game both profitable and fun.

Ed’s brand new book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, will be available for purchase starting May 22nd at notedpokerauthority.com. Find Ed on Facebook at facebook.com/edmillerauthor and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.