Mistakes $1-$2 Players Make

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This article is the first in a three part series about typical mistakes that live regular players make. I have the articles separated by stakes. This article is about the mistakes that $1-$2 players make.

Of course not every $1-$2 player is the same. Everyone comes at the game with a different perspective. And someone who typically plays $10-$20 could sit in your $1-$2 game tomorrow. But I’ve had a lot of success over the years by assuming that an unknown player at a certain stakes level will tend to play much like the other players at that level.

I believe that there are many traits that $1-$2 players tend to share, and I feel comfortable extending assumptions about these traits to a player who is completely unknown to me. Every once in a while I get proven wrong, but it works out well by far the majority of the time.
In this article (and the ones to follow) I’m talking about Las Vegas games, because Las Vegas is where I play. I believe the ideas are useful even if games play differently where you live.

So let’s get to it. This group, the $1-$2 players, actually varies a lot. Some $1-$2 players are first-timers, brand new to casino poker. Others have played regularly for over 30 years. But I still believe they share some common traits.

Bad Reactions To All-In Bets

The biggest flaw with $1-$2 players is they tend to need work on their hand reading. This bites them the worst when they are facing an all-in bet. I’ve seen $1-$2 players make ridiculous folds against all-in bets. For instance, I remember a hand a long time ago where I raised preflop and got called by the big blind and a couple others. The big blind bet out a Kc Td 4c flop, and I raised. He started shaking and called. It was a clear tell to me that he was uncomfortable putting money in with his hand. So when a 6s hit the turn, he checked, and I shoved.

He tanked for about two minutes and folded T-T face-up! “I know you have to have three kings,” he said.

I didn’t.

That kind of error is the exception, though I’ve definitely seen a number of bad folds at the level. More common is that $1-$2 players will make bad all-in calls.

Here’s a hand I played recently. Two players limped, and I raised to $12. The big blind called, as did the limpers. The flop came Ad 9s 7d. The big blind bet out for $20. The two limpers folded, and I raised to $60. He called.

The turn was the 4d. He bet out $50. I shoved for $220. He called with Ah Th.

It’s really a poor way to play A-T on this board. I would have checked the hand both times he chose to bet, but the worst play he made was to call the all-in. It’s a very optimistic call. There’s no way I’m shoving a weaker ace, so I have to be bluffing, and apart from T-8 suited or 8-6 suited or maybe a random 7, I can’t have many bluffing hands here—certainly not many compared to the value hands I can have.

As it turned out, I just had A-K with no flush draw. My opponent’s action (with the flop donk bet and the small turn donk bet) strongly indicated to me that he held an ace with a suspect kicker.

My opponent had no business going broke on the hand, and yet he all but shoveled his money into the middle.

The way to take advantage of this is to shove good one pair hands for value. I would not have been nearly so quick to shove A-K against a strong player in a hand like this one. But when you can count on players to make poor decisions against all-in bets, it makes sense to shove with more hands.

Strong top pair hands are the most common hands that I will shove against these $1-$2 players. Sure, sometimes I run into two pair or trips or a flush. But I also get weak top pairs to call, bad draws to call, and even sometimes weak pairs to call. Every once in a while someone makes a real head-scratcher fold.

Bad Donk-Betting

The A-K versus A-T hand above illustrates another extremely common mistake among $1-$2 players. They donk bet too much, and they do it with a very predictable set of hands.

Donk betting (betting into the previous street’s aggressor) got its name many years ago as it was perceived to be a “donkey” move. Theoretically, donk betting has its place in a sound strategy. But the way most $1-$2 players use it, it’s still a donkey move.

That’s because they try the play with only a specific set of hands. For instance, in this hand the flop was A-9-7 with a flush draw. Say my opponent held 9-9 or 7-7. A donk bet might be a strong move with these hands—but the typical $1-$2 player will check these sets. At this level, players typically donk bet for one of three reasons:

  1. To attempt to protect against giving a free card.
  2. To probe for information.
  3. To try to win the pot with a cheap bluff.

In the above hand, I believe he was primarily trying to protect against giving free cards, with perhaps a little probing for information mixed in.

The problem with these reasons is that “getting the most money in with a great hand,” is not among them. This makes donk-betting ranges unbalanced and weak. I felt like I could value-shove my A-K with relative impunity, because the typical $1-$2 player simply doesn’t play stronger hands this way. Sure, I knew it was possible I’d run into a flush. But I was fairly sure that my opponent had just the sort of hand he did—far surer than I had any right to be. A better player would not be nearly so predictable.

On certain board types, particularly static ones where you wouldn’t be so concerned about being drawn out on, a donk bet at $1-$2 is nearly always weak. For instance, say I raised preflop and got called by a few players including the big blind. The blind bets out small on a J-7-4 rainbow flop. Assuming everyone folded between me and the blind, I would tend to raise the flop small and bet big on the turn with most of my hands.

Because there’s not much out there to protect against, I’d assume that my opponent was either trying to bluff or probing for information. In either case, I am likely to win with a small flop raise and, failing that, a big turn bet.

Final Thoughts

$1-$2 players make tons of mistakes. If you are struggling with the level, focus first on the all-in action. Make sure you stop making poor all-in calls. Then look for spots where your opponents will likely make a mistake against a shove and stick the money in.

[This article appeared originally in Card Player Vol. 27, No. 9.]