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Poker Strategy With Andrew Brokos: Room For Error

Forming A Gameplan To Take Advantage Of Mistakes


Andrew BrokosPoker is about mistakes. In the long run, you don’t make money from good cards – everyone gets good cards eventually – you make money from your opponent’s mistakes. This is good news, because you can’t control the cards that you get, but you can control your opponent’s mistakes. To do so, you have to know what they’re prone to do wrong. Then you have to maneuver them into situations where they are likely to make their favorite mistakes. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, but it does require you to pay attention and think critically about your game plan.

Spotting Mistakes

One of the first questions that I ask new coaching students is, “What mistakes do you see your opponents make, that you do not make, that enable you to win money from them?”

If you aren’t sure how to answer that question, it’s not a good sign, but it doesn’t mean you’re a losing player. It’s possible that you’re already taking advantage of your opponent’s mistakes and you just don’t realize it. Pretty much everyone does this to some extent, so what you really need to do is figure out what you’re already doing that works and then figure out how to do more of it.

Broadly speaking, there are a couple of mistakes that I see most often see: putting too much money into the pot (excessive looseness and/or aggression), giving up on hands too easily (excessive tightness/passivity), and playing in an unbalanced way that more or less turns players’ hands face up.

Taking advantage of these mistakes isn’t as simple as saying “Tuan is a passive player,” or “Julie is an aggressive player.” Most players are more complicated than that and may be overly loose in some situations but overly tight in others.

Start by writing down, in as much detail as you can, the mistakes that you believe your regular opponents make. Use a pencil or a word processor so that you can refine your reads over time. Paying attention to pots in which you are not involved is a great way to pick up on these things.

Exploiting Mistakes

In another column, brainstorm as many ways as you can think of to exploit those specific mistakes. Perhaps Tuan sees monsters under the bed and won’t bet or call a big bet without either a huge hand or a draw to a huge hand. How should you change your play against him?

The most obvious answer is to bluff him whenever you can credibly represent a scare card, but you have a lot more options. You can also make some big folds when he bets big.

You might not be able to count on implied odds with your draws, but you can count bluff outs. In other words, even if you aren’t getting the immediate odds to call with an open-ended straight draw, you might do so anyway if there is also a flush draw on board for you to represent. Knowing that he will make the mistake of folding too often on those cards enables you to call a little wider. In essence, you are setting up a situation where he will make one of his favorite mistakes.

With all of these tools available to you, playing pots with Tuan should be pretty profitable. That means you can be liberal about calling his raises or raising when he is the big blind. Again, you are setting up the situations where you know you can outplay him.

What about Julie? Let’s say that she’s a tight player who hates getting drawn out upon, and, as a result, she bets too much with medium-strength hands. On multiple occasions, you’ve seen her make a big raise preflop, overbet the pot on the flop, and then show an overpair when everyone folds. Although it might actually be successful against players without the discipline to fold weak draws or pairs, her strategy is a recipe for winning small pots and losing big ones. How will you help her to do that?

This one is a little trickier. Her overbetting will make it difficult to play draws against her. That means you should shy away from calling her preflop raises with suited connectors and similar hands that will often flop draws or weak pairs. With those hands, you’ll end up folding to her big flop bets too often, or worse, calling without the odds to justify it.

You need hands that will already be strong on the flop. Outflopping a big pair isn’t easy, so one of your biggest sources of profit will actually come from your folds. It may not feel like it, but you’re essentially making money – the money you would have lost to a looser player – by folding when a tight player has a big hand.

Pocket pairs, however, will be extremely profitable against Julie. Rather than reraising her preflop with your biggest pairs, which might cause her to get cautious (if it won’t, then go ahead and reraise her), just call. You want to set her up to make her favorite mistake, which is putting too much money into the pot postflop when she thinks she has the best hand.

Smaller pairs are useful as well, because flopping sets against Julie will be very profitable. When she raises, you know she has a big hand, and you know she’ll play a big pot with it, so for a relatively small preflop investment you can try to get into one of those situations. When you do flop a set, don’t take the lead away from her. Let her keep “protecting” her hand.


Your opponents’ mistakes won’t always be this easy to spot or exploit. Practicing with the simplest cases, however, will give you the experience necessary to take advantage of less obvious mistakes in more subtle ways.

Step one is to recognize and articulate mistakes with as much specificity as you can. Step two is to strategize ways to get into the situations where your opponents are likely to make their favorite mistakes.

Step three? Profit. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He blogs about poker strategy on and is co-host of the Thinking Poker Podcast. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.