This is the final article in my three-part series about the mistakes that live no-limit players make. This article covers the mistakes that $5-$10 players make. As with the other articles, I’m talking about how $5-$10 games play in Las Vegas. They may play differently where you live. But don’t take my stakes levels literally—the stages in no-limit player development are more universal, and you should be able to find players in your pool who fit the mold.
Even the weaker $5-$10 players tend to have some sophistication about them. Most commonly, $5-$10 regulars possess fairly decent hand-reading abilities, and many of the errors that separate the weaker players from the stronger ones in the pool depend on hand range construction. The weaker players tend to play a looser, more haphazard preflop game, which taints their play through the end of hands.
Players often try to make up the difference by forcing bluffs in inappropriate places. An example of this represents my first mistake.
Imbalanced Ranges On Certain Board Textures
One of the hallmark errors of $5-$10 players is that they build pots with unbalanced hand ranges on some board textures. I played two hands recently at the level that illustrate this error.
A loose, weak-for-the-level player limped in, and I made it $40 with 8h6h on the button. The big blind called, and the limper called.
The flop came . Everyone checked to me, and I bet $70 into the $125 pot. The blind folded, and the limper check-raised to $210. We were about $3,000 behind.
I have middle pair, a backdoor flush draw, and a blocker to the ten-to-six straight. More than that, there are relatively few hands that my opponent should want to check-raise on a board like this one. He could have a set or T-6, but my six blocks some of those hands. He’s unlikely to hold an overpair since he limp-called preflop.
He could have check-raised A-T, but in my experience he likely wouldn’t have check-raised weaker tens.
This is a situation where loose $5-$10 players like to make plays. I thought he could have any gutshot draw or also a number of overcards hands. Because there are so few good value hands on this board, I thought he was a fairly big favorite to be bluffing. My hand is the sort I’m happy to defend.
The turn was the . He bet $330. I called again. It’s a good card for me, and he bet well less than the pot size.
The river was the . He checked, and I checked. He showed 8-7 offsuit for a flopped gutshot, and my hand was good.
It’s not flat-out wrong to bluff boards like these. But because value hands are scarce, you must be measured also with your bluffs. I made an assumption that this player would bluff too many combinations on a board like this one. This time, at least, I turned out to be correct.
In this second hand, I’m the one who got caught with the imbalanced range.
I open-raised to $30 and got called in middle position and on the button. The button was likely my strongest opponent in the game. The big blind also called. He played more like a $1-$2 player than a level-appropriate one. There’s $125 in the pot, and we’re all at least $2,000 deep.
The flop came . The big blind bet out for $80. I made it $210, and the next player folded. The strong player on the button called. The original bettor folded.
I was in trouble. I had raised the big blind’s donk bet, since I felt it was very unlikely he was betting a hand that could handle any pressure. I would have raised a wide range of hands (here I raised two weak overcards with a backdoor flush draw), and I had very few legitimate value hands in my range. I likely would have just called with most overpairs or T-9 or 9-8 suited or 9-9. I would have raised 4-4 and A-9 suited, but that represents just five hand combinations.
So, realistically, I have a lot of bluffs and very few actual value hands. With a strong player on the button and lots of money behind, I’m toast. When the turn bricked, I checked and folded to $200 (a good bet size on his part that reflects his understanding of the situation).
I’m not sure what his range to call my flop raise was, but it could have been quite wide. There’s nothing I can do about it when he calls, and I get caught with such a poorly constructed range.
Value Betting Too Thinly
The pros that play $5-$10 are of varying quality. Many are just good enough to beat the weak players at the level. A few are much better than that.
One of the common plays that the weaker pros make is they value bet the river too optimistically. Standard no-limit hold’em advice is to value bet thinly to maximize your profit. If someone checks to you on the river, try to squeeze that value out of the weakest hand that you can.
When I play these pros, however, I find that they consistently value bet hands against me that are unprofitable. Sure, sometimes I’ll bluff-catch them with something weak, and they’ll win. But I have too many better hands in my check-calling range, such that they would have been better off just seeing a showdown.
For instance, I open-raised for $30 from two off the button. A pro called me on the button.
The flop came . I checked and called a $50 bet. There’s $175 in the pot, and we’re about $1,500 behind.
The turn was the . I checked, and he checked.
The river was the . I checked, and he bet $90. I called. He showed K-J offsuit, and I won.
After this action, I have an ace an awful lot. Ace-high overcards are smack in my flop checking and calling range. I can also have hands like A-4, A-5, and even A-9 suited.
Furthermore, what other hands do I play this way that possibly merit a river call? I likely bet the flop with most overpairs. I might play a hand like this way, but I’m not a lock to call the river, whereas I’m certainly calling with an ace.
I can even potentially have K-Q.
There’s no way my opponent wins with his hand more than half the time that I call. He should have just checked for a showdown.
When in doubt, I like to check-call the river against $5-$10 pros. They tend to bet the river too frequently—both as a bluff and for thin value. I find these players often make more errors when you show weakness than when you bet into them.
Everyone who plays small- and medium-stakes live games on a regular basis makes lots of mistakes. The nature of these errors changes as you move up the limits, but they’re always there. If you think logically and practice, practice, practice, any of these games is beatable.
[This article appeared originally in Card Player Vol. 27, No. 11.]