When it comes to winning at the poker table, many players have a kind of "tunnel vision" toward winning. They focus only on how to win more and larger pots, whether it's through bluffing, calculating odds, or reading poker tells.
However, probably one of the most profitable skills you can develop is to stop losing big pots. There are a lot of strategies out there for how to win hands, but very rarely does a player focus on strategies on how to not lose big hands. Many players blame that part of the game on luck and other forces "out of their control."
The reality is, you can win tons of great hands and gain a chip lead, but it doesn't mean much if you don't know how to keep it.
If you look at the World Series of Poker final tables history, the story more often than not is the same – a player builds a huge chip lead and he knows how to keep it. He doesn’t lose big hands, which is what allows him to keep his gigantic stack of chips and bully the other guys around.
The concept is equally important for players who aren’t in the chip lead, because no matter how many pots you win, you won't win a game or tournament if you lose a lot of big hands.
The most important thing in avoiding big losses is anticipation. You can cut down the number of big hands you lose by simply anticipating better. You can’t anticipate the cards that are going to come, but you can anticipate the bets that will come.
Let's say you're on the button and dealt AJ off-suit. The blinds are $1-2 and Aaron (a very tight player) makes it $15 to play. Everyone at the table folds and the action is to you. This is the best hand you've seen in awhile, so you call the bet without much hesitation.
That is where you made your first mistake. You know that Aaron is a very tight player that only makes pre-flop raises with monster hands.
But you called the bet anyway, because you didn't anticipate what you would do, even if you hit your ace on the flop.
So the flop hits, and the cards are: A,9,2.
Aaron comes out firing with a $30 bet right away. Now what do you do?
You have to put him on AK, AQ, AA, KK, or QQ. These are pretty much the only hands that Aaron will make a pre-flop raise with.
He didn't check to you, so he probably doesn't have the cowboys or queens. So now you think about what Aaron is holding. In this situation a lot of people would put Aaron on a hand that beat theirs, but instead of folding they decide to see another card for $30 because they feel pot committed. The first mistake leads to a second.
You have to figure he's going to fire again. Are you prepared to call another large bet after the turn with your AJ? You shouldn’t be, and what you've done here is simply dug yourself into a big hole because you played only to win.
You got dealt a good hand and flopped the top pair and then stuck it out in hopes of a better card, when what you should have done was anticipate Aaron's behavior and folded your cards before the flop.
This idea also applies often to chasing straight and flush draws: players often do so without consideration of the future bets they’ll need to call, because they focus on the big potential win.
You have a lot of things to consider in avoiding losses. Start with pondering what your opponent is willing to bet and what you’ll be willing to bet. Then think about what will happen after the next cards, and then the ones after that, and then the ones after that. It's all about anticipation. If you anticipate the different scenarios before they happen, you will prevent big losses. When you stop losing big hands, you'll get to keep the chips you win.