Learn The Dangerous Mistakes Beginners Make And How To Avoid Them
Lately, I’ve been taking on a lot of new students from every stake imaginable that want to learn PLO from the ground up.
After a few lessons with them, it’s now clear…they’re ALL making very similar mistakes preflop.
These are the same errors that almost every beginning player makes when they start to learn the four card game.
Beyond the errors made on the “virtual felt”, one critical factor that prevents many players from advancing is they make the game a lot more complicated than it really is.
For whatever reason, getting dealt four cards, instead of two, creates the illusion in many player’s minds that because there are twice as many cards, the game must double in level of difficulty.
This is simply not true. Now before we go deep into discussion on the most dangerous mistakes Beginners make…
…let’s first outline the basic strategy for playing profitably at the lower stakes and how the common mistakes beginners make literally make it impossible for them to take advantage of their opponents.
The first thing to understand about PLO is that it’s a predominantly postflop game.
You can’t win money without making preflop decisions with the goal of ultimately engineering profitable postflop situations for yourself.
…So if the goal is to create profitable situations, what indicators define a profitable situation?
Here’s where my general philosophy differs from some coaches.
…I make it a priority to get in the habit of always highlighting everything BESIDES my actual holdings when defining a poker situation.
That being said…let’s take a look at the important components of any poker hand before we talk about what hands to play. I define this by what I call The Big Three.
“The Big Three: Quantifiable Characteristics For Analyzing Any Situation In PLO”
1. Position: If you have any level of poker experience, you know the disadvantages of playing out of position. This is true in all poker variants, but the effects of playing OOP are exacerbated in PLO by your ability to represent a wide range of hands since you hold four cards. Something else you’ll quickly notice is how much more straightforwardly your opponents play as the number of opponents in the pot increases. As a result, being in position gives you an incredible edge against your opponents by supplying you with a larger and more accurate amount of information that allows you to value bet thinner, bluff thinner, and semi-bluff thinner than you could OOP. Position is crucial in heads-up and three-handed pots as well, but for the purpose of this discussion…the application of position will be used mostly for multi-way pots.
2. Number of opponents: This was alluded to in the above paragraph, but it’s important to reiterate the effect that a greater number of opponents in any given pot has on how the action proceeds. Taking an inventory of how many opponents there are in a hand not only affects your accuracy in assessing people’s ranges, but it also either increases or decreases the value of your hand depending on how nutty it is. Unsurprisingly, nutty hands that do one thing really well (think KK72r) increase in value as the number of opponents increases, while the inverse occurs when the number of opponents decreases. Smoother, less nutty hands (think QK97ds) go up in value as the number of opponents decreases because the likelihood of a queen or king high flush draw being the winner at showdown is much more likely than in a pot with several players.
3. SPR: Don’t get intimidated if you haven’t heard of SPR before. It simply means Stack to Pot Ratio, which is basically short for stack sizes. SPR is an extremely important factor to consider in your decision making process because it gives you an idea of what the action will be like postflop, especially in relation to what the stack off ranges will be like for your opponents. Simply put, if the SPR is high (less money in the pot, more in the stacks), then there will generally need to be two big hands matched up against one another to play a big pot. An example would be a strong made hand against a big draw, or a cooler situation like set over set. Contrastingly, a lower SPR (more money in the pot, less in the stacks) has the opposite effect. Since there’s so much dead money in the pot, players are getting a much better price to gamble more and stack off with lesser holdings. An example of this is in a three-bet pot when one player flops an overpair, and another player flops top pair with side cards. Both players are willing to get all of their money in on the flop, whereas if the stacks were deeper, the player with top pair and side cards may elect to slowdown and play some poker on later streets.
“How To Engineer Profitable Postflop Situations For Yourself”
The overarching theme here is that in a game like PLO where people are playing relatively fit or fold postflop, the smaller the pot is preflop, the more important it is that your hand draws to the nuts.
The same can be said for number of opponents.
If there are more players in the pot, then your hand needs to draw closer to the nuts. If there are only two players in the pot, then playing less nutty hands that flop a piece of equity more consistently are favorable to see a flop with.
…So how does all of this contribute to engineering profitable post flop situations for yourself?
When I first started playing PLO a few years ago, I suffered from the exact inverse of what most players biggest problem is; I played too nitty.
I never touched any of the PLO literature available, and the only poker training I had was from a training video that basically told me all hands that aren’t double suited big pairs or monster rundowns are trash,
…and as a result I played a laughably tight 10/8.
Now, after putting in some considerable volume and spending hundreds of hours sweating students at all levels, I think it’s safe to say that many players would benefit from implementing some of my retro-nittiness!
In all seriousness though, the biggest areas where I see people making mistakes are playing too many hands from early position (particularly UTG), and calling too liberally out of the blinds.
One of the most commonly asked questions I get from students involves what percentage of hands they should be playing in six-max.
Although I think the majority of beginning players would benefit from focusing on observing players tendencies that don’t involve HUD stats, I think discussing a specific percentage of hands is worthwhile.
Most successful players I know generally agree that opening somewhere near 10% of all hands from UTG is a safe way to avoid putting yourself in marginal situations postflop while dominating the made hands and draws of your opponents.
…so what does the top 10% of hands look like?
Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine came up with an interesting nick name to describe some of the girls we had in our classes. He called the girls with great bodies and below average faces, “but-a-faces”. These ladies had everything “but-a-face”, get it?
While using this terminology isn’t very effective for impressing women, it’s pretty useful for describing what types of hands to open UTG with.
The top 10% of hands in PLO are comprised mainly of big pairs, and the most premium single and double suited rundowns.
…if your hand has everything but-a-facecard, you want to give it a second thought before opening with it UTG in most six-max games.
The exceptions to the rule are hands with supreme connectedness and suitedness, such as T987ds, or double paired hands like TT99.
Hands like these play well in almost any scenario regardless of number of opponents and position.
Raising with premium hands UTG coincides with our overall plan to create profitable postflop situations for a number of reasons.
…one thing you’re probably aware of is that people don’t like folding preflop very much, which means that when you open from early position,the vast majority of the time we’re creating a single raised multi-way pot out of position. Recall for a moment what we discussed earlier about the need for strong and nutty hands as the number of opponents increases.
Now, being out of position exaggerates this necessity, because not only do we need hands that flop strong on a broad range of boards, we’re often going to be continuation betting into several opponents without any information about their ranges.
…THIS is why, you want hands that are strong enough to bet-get it in with, or flop nothing and check fold.
“Your Preflop Hand Determines Your Postflop Equity”
Remember this phrase to GET clear on the relationship between preflop hand strength and postflop playability,
***”Your preflop hand determines your post-flop equity.” (Tweet This)
More simply, if you open weak or medium strength hands, you’re more often than not going to flop medium strength draws or hands.
The situation we want to avoid the most is opening from early position with hands that flop marginal draws or made hands with several opponents left to act.
For example, say we open Th8s5h3s from UTG and get two callers. What kind of flops are ideal for us?
Well, flopping a flush seems great on the surface, oh but remember…you’re NOT playing NLHE anymore.
Flopping a flush with three players left to act leaves you in an awkward spot because if you continuation bet…you’re only likely to get action when you’re beat, not to mention it makes it easy for your opponents to bluff you with the naked ace.
Now…even if you get called, it’ll be difficult to decipher whether you’re bluffing or value betting on later streets.
Additionally, on other flops that you don’t flop a flush, your combo draws will often be dominated, and your made hands (2 pair, straights) will often be dominated as well.
The type of range needed to call a raise out of the blinds is similar to your opening range from UTG.
Similar to opening UTG, when you call a raise out of the blinds, you’re generally going to be playing a single raised multi-way pot out of position.
Calling too liberally out of the blinds is an easy habit for beginners to fall into because many times the odds they’re getting seem irresistible.
Players who want to make the transition to PLO from limit games…struggle with the concept of folding when they’re getting unbelievable odds to complete out of the blinds or call an early position raise with several callers.
The truth of the matter is that if you’re calling raises with marginal hands, your’e more often than not just paying for the right to lose money.
…not only do medium/weak hands have reverse implied odds, but when you actually do make your hand, you don’t get to take a line that’s conducive to making money.
Like I said earlier…players tend to play much more straightforwardly when it’s a multi-way pot.
So if you flop something strong, it’s generally going to be hard for you to pretend like you’re bluffing, or even semi-bluffing.
Generally the only times you’ll get action in situations like that is by hands that beat you (set over set etc.).
For example, let’s say someone from early position opens for pot and gets two callers, you call with AsKs6d6h out of the SB and so does the BB.
…what flops are you going to get value on?
Think about the flops you hit strong for a moment.
If you flop the nut flush, nobody else can have the second nut flush, and everyone will be on alert because it’s a multi-way pot on a monotone board, basically shutting down the action completely.
Even if someone takes a stab at it, it will be difficult for you to take a line that doesn’t give away the strength of your hand.
…what about when you flop a set?
On any reasonably wet board, you’re not going to be particularly happy if you get too much action from other players.
654, 876, 986, and T96 boards all contain straights and big wraps with cards that people generally enjoy calling with pre-flop. Additionally on drier boards, you have to be concerned with being over-setted. On a board like KQ6, if you bet and get raised, you definitely need to be concerned about someone having a better set than you.
…and possibly even worse, on very dry boards like K62, it’s very hard for you to gain more than one street of value from a worse hand because there’s no draws.
Overall, playing too many hands UTG and calling raises too liberally out of the blinds are two of the more common leaks seen from beginning players, but they’re also among the easiest to fix.
For UTG play, just remember the “but-a-face” principle before you make a decision for whether to open the action. For the latter mistake, an easy rule of thumb is not to call a raise out of the blinds with a hand you wouldn’t open UTG with; they’re basically the same postflop scenario in most cases.