A common misconception among recreational poker players is that you should always try to protect your hand. Many players seem to believe that being outdrawn by an inferior hand is the worst thing that could possibly happen at the poker table.
Yes, it's good to win pots and to not be outdrawn. But it's important that you do not play gigantic pots when your opponent has you crushed, which is exactly what can happen when you shovel money into the pot with strong but non-nut hands.
Let's say you have a stack of $200 in a $1-$2 cash game. Two players call the big blind, and you pick up A-J, A-Q or even Q-Q.
In a spot like this, many players think they are supposed to raise to an amount that will force the opponents to fold. So, they raise to about $25 and hope everyone lays down their hands, and that is often what happens.
However, from time to time, one of the initial callers or someone yet to act will reraise to $75 or so. Once this happens, it should be clear that A-J, A-Q and perhaps even Q-Q are in bad shape and should be folded. But many players are simply incapable of making what should be an easy fold. They do not properly understand their opponent's range. Instead, they call to see the flop (or, even worse, they go all in).
With hands such as A-Q, you will usually be dominated by a player who reraises to $75. This usually leads to you either folding to a flop bet when you miss, winning a small pot when you hit, or losing your entire stack when you happen to be especially unfortunate.
Suppose the flop comes Qh 7s 2c. A-Q is essentially an unfoldable hand on this board, which means you're probably destined to lose your entire stack when you are up against pocket aces, kings or queens. You're likely to win a small pot against A-K.
On a flop of, say, As 8d 7c, you'll lose your stack to A-A and A-K, and you'll probably win a small pot from K-K and Q-Q. On a flop of 8d 5h 2s, you can easily lose by folding to a continuation bet. That is a lot of losing.
Instead of making a gigantic preflop raise and then calling the reraise, you should make a smaller preflop raise, resulting in your opponents sticking around with much wider ranges. While you will be outdrawn from time to time, you will also keep your opponents in the pot with many inferior hands that normally strong hands such as A-J crush.
This strategy requires you to play well after the flop, but with experience and study, you will find that this approach will work out much better for you over the long run.
(Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and coach with more than $6 million in live tournament earnings. He is also the author of numerous best-selling poker books, including his recent ebook, "The Main Event With Jonathan Little." For more information on Jonathan, check out JonathanLittlePoker.com, and follow him on Twitter: @JonathanLittle.)
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