Beating Bad Players
Oct 23, 2005  
by Jason Kirk  

When most players begin playing poker they aren't out to make a lot of money, though they certainly don't mind when lots of chips come their way. Having fun is the main concern in the early going and simply being at the table is enough to satisfy that desire. There's absolutely nothing wrong with playing just to have fun, but more often than not this outlook leads to long-term losing. These sorts of losses affect different people in different ways. Some players don't mind reloading their bankroll from their day jobs; as long as these players play at limits they can afford they'll never run into any real problems with poker. Others will eventually tire of losing and simply give up; like the players who don't mind reloading, these players will never run into any problems because they will find other hobbies to take up there time. Then there are the players who tire of losing but don't want to continually reload. The only real solution for these players is to improve their game enough to stop the losses. There is good news for these players: improving enough to stop losing is fairly simple. Simply put, you have to learn to beat bad players.

No matter what level you play, and no matter what your favorite game might be, there are bad players out there in a game you can afford throwing their money into the pot. At some smaller online card rooms these players even constitute the bulk of the player base. Tracking these players with a program like PokerTracker can boost your bankroll over the long term. Making sure to play when and where they play can be the key to turning around a fledgling poker career. That's often very easy thanks to the advent of online poker and the "buddy list" available in many online rooms. Not only can you keep track of your friends with a buddy list, but you can track all your favorite fishy players as well.

In limit hold'em, one of the easiest games to beat at low limits, there are a handful of skills that come in handy when you're trying to beat these bad players. The most important of these is to play tightly. If you're seeing more than 25% of the flops in your game you're playing too loose, unless you're getting absolutely smashed in the head with the deck. Over time, even playing 25% of our hands will generally mean you're leaving money on the table - you'll want to aim for a percentage that's more in the range of 18%-22%. A player who plays this tightly will generally only play premium hands and solid drawing hands with good position, and he won't be afraid to be the aggressor in a hand.

Another useful skill in limit hold'em is picking up free cards. When you're playing in a passive game and you have position with a solid drawing hand, you can take advantage of your opponents' tendency to check to anyone who shows strength. For instance, imagine you're call with Q-J on the button in an un-raised preflop pot. The flop comes K-T-4 of three different suits, and a player in early position bets and two more players call. Instead of calling here, you should raise. Your passive opponents are likely to call and check to you on the turn no matter what card hits. If you miss on the turn you can simply check behind them, seeing the river for free. If you miss again on the river you can fold and lose only 1.5 big bets total to chase your draw. That's half a big bet less than calling a flop bet and a turn bet would cost you because you got your turn card for free. If you can save half a bet on every draw you hold in position, you'll find yourself coming out ahead in the long run.

Finally, if you want to build your bankroll but don't enjoy limit hold'em, learn to play tight limit Omaha hi-lo. Limit hold'em is full of loose players, but low-limit Omaha hi-lo is composed almost entirely of players who play far too loose. One online poker player I know likes to say that if you can breathe, you can beat low-limit Omaha hi-lo - and I won't argue that point with him. The key to winning in Omaha hi-lo is to only play hands that can scoop the pot - that is to say, hands with high-card strength that can also make a winning low hand. As long as all your cards are working for you to win the entire pot, you're playing a good hand. There are a lot of good resources for Omaha players online - one of the best is the website maintained by professional player Steve Badger.

If you tire of losing but don't want to quit playing poker, don't aim for the stars immediately. Keep playing the low-limit games and learn a few simple winning strategies that are easy to employ against the worst players around. Then make sure that every table you sit at has plenty of these players. If you stick to your guns you'll find yourself profitable in no time.

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