Poker is an incredibly tough game and with all the different variables that exist, it's easy to make a lot of mistakes when you play. Part of becoming a successful pro poker player is limiting the number of mistakes you make compared to your opponents. We're going to cover the most common poker mistakes to help you avoid these when you play.
1. Checking/Calling Without Planning
When you're playing poker, you should have a set strategy coming in which you can then adjust depending on the information you get and each hand is an example of this. For each hand you play, you should have a plan based on what cards come and how your opponents will react.
A lot of players will take the check/call line without any real plan for what they're going to do on the turn or river. Being forced to come up with a strategy on the fly puts you at a disadvantage as this game is too complicated to create fully thought-out strategies within 20-30 seconds.
Before you make any action think about what you're going to do next, it will make you play a lot better.
2. Overvaluing a Medium-Range Hand
Knowing where your hand lies within your range is a very tough skill to learn and a mistake that a lot of players make is misvaluing their hand. When you start to over-value (and overbet) your medium-strength hands you'll find that your value bets are too often called by better hands and that you can't find enough bluffs to balance your range.
For example, betting the fourth pair and below for value is often too thin of a value bet depending on how the action has gone on previous streets and will often only get called by better hands. In these situations, it's better to take your showdown value or check to your opponent and maybe bluff-catch if we think they're bluffing enough.
3. Failure to Practice
If you're standing still in this game you're falling behind. Some players are out there constantly putting in work and creating new strategies, and more and more software is being released to help you understand optimal strategies and how to implement them into your game.
A common leak of winning players is that they think they've got the game 'figured out' or at least figured out enough to be able to beat the games that they're playing. What they don't take into consideration is the fact that the other players in that game may be working harder than they are and that their laziness could cost them their edge.
4. Losing Control of Your Emotions
Being able to stay emotionally stable is a very important skill in poker as it's such a mental game. There's no point putting in hours of work off the table if you aren't able to implement it while you're on the table. The most common issue people face is tilt. Essentially, losing one or two big hands will send some people over the edge and they let their emotions rule their decisions. Additionally, going on tilt is a very obvious tell at a poker table, even online.
This will cost you so much money in the long run as when you tilt you're going to bring in new leaks to your game in an attempt to "win it back right away" on top of any leaks you may already have.
5. Consistently Defending Blinds
Even though you are getting a good price to defend hands in the blinds compared to other positions, this doesn't mean you should go mad and start defending everything. A lot of players will talk themselves into calling a lot of trashy hands when in the blinds as they think that the discount is worth it.
However, as you're out of position it's very difficult to win the pot without the betting lead and if you're calling a very wide range of hands you're going to be forced to check/fold a lot. Instead of calling a lot of bad hands, try just folding these or increasing your 3betting range to give yourself a chance to win the pot preflop.
6. Using the Same Strategy for the Same Hands
If you look at optimal ways to play poker, a lot of hands are 'mixed strategies'. What this means is that in order to get the highest EV from a hand, you can't always play it the same way. For example, a lot of top pair hands are sometimes checked, sometimes bet small, and sometimes bet large if you were to look at a solver.
If you always play the same way with certain hands you not only aren't getting the highest EV from your hand, you become a lot easier to read. Observant players will notice that you always bet with your top pair and always check with your second pairs and will react accordingly.
7. Ignoring Your Opponents
When you play live poker one of the biggest sources of information is sitting right opposite you. A lot of players aren't experienced in hiding tells and can be easily picked up by an observant player. Being able to pick up on these tells can earn you a lot of money in the long run as you can pick off bluffs you may not have called based on your hand or make hero folds if your opponent shows they are strong.
It's important that you have a solid read on your tells before you act on them as tells are not universal and can mean different things depending on the player. If you're just guessing at what their tells mean you may as well flip a coin!
8. Betting Out of Position Without a Plan
Playing out of position is incredibly hard in poker and is where a lot of people lose most of their money. Not being able to see what your opponent does before you make your decision is a severe disadvantage so playing out of position shouldn't be taken lightly.
This means that you should have a plan for when you're playing out of position, whether you're checking or betting as the turn and river cards can drastically alter how you should play the hand. Knowing what you're likely to do in advance will make things easier on later streets as you won't have to come up with strategies on the fly.
9. Not Calculating the Outs
Not knowing how many outs you need to make your hand and therefore how much equity your hand has is a big mistake and will cost you a lot of money chasing draws at incorrect prices. The rule of thumb for Texas Hold'em is that each card that improves your hand gives you 2% equity.
Knowing how much equity you have, you can then look at the price you're being laid to call and see if the call would be +EV. If it isn't you can fold knowing that you've made the right decision and if it is then you can call to try and improve your hand. Calling too often when you don't have the right price will cost you money in the long run.
10. Betting More Than You Can Afford
When gambling you should never play with more money than you can afford to lose. Not only is this personally irresponsible, but it will also really impact how you play your game. If you sit at a table knowing that you can't afford to lose the money in front of you - you're more likely to end up losing.
This is because you will be too scared to make the aggressive actions necessary to win at poker and will lead you to play more passively, waiting for the nuts before getting any money in. However, the nuts don't come along often enough to make this a viable strategy and passive poker is often losing poker so the more passive you'll play in an attempt to save your money, the more likely you'll lose it.
11. Not Using the Poker HUD
HUDs are a very valuable tool when playing online poker as they track your opponents' stats and give you an insight into how they play. Some sites do not allow HUDs but on the ones that do you'll be at a big disadvantage if you don't use one.
When playing online poker compared to live poker it's a lot harder to keep track of how people are playing. This is because hands are coming at you faster, you may be playing multiple tables so are unable to focus on how specific players are playing or you could be playing zoom where you don't get to see the conclusions of hands when you fold. Using a HUD takes care of these problems.
12. Playing with a Tight Range
The main reason playing an overly tight strategy doesn't work is the existence of blinds and antes. These mandatory bets force you to put in money without looking at your cards and if you don't win enough pots will eventually bleed you dry. Top-tier hands just don't come around often enough for you to be able to exclusively play them and you will be severely impacted by the blinds/antes.
It's reasonable to play tight ranges from earlier positions as there are a lot of players left to act behind you but the closer you get the button, the looser you should be playing. By raising a wider range with fewer people left to act it gives you a greater chance of winning the blinds and antes preflop.
13. Playing with a Wide Range
On the other end of the spectrum, playing too wide of a range will get you into trouble but this time from other players rather than the blinds and antes. If your ranges are too wide you'll become susceptible to 3bets from your opponent where you either have to overfold or defend a wide range that's going to have to fold a lot of the flop.
Even if you don't get 3bet by your opponents, having to play a wide range postflop is very tough to do as it's easy to start over-bluffing if you don't know how your total range interacts with a board. This will allow your opponents to adjust by calling you down more often and winning with the best hand.
14. Consistently Bluffing
While bluffing is an important part of poker, going crazy and bluffing every hand is not a good strategy. The reason we bluff in poker is to make our opponents call us down for the times when we're value betting as if we never bluffed our opponents would have no incentive to call.
However, if we're bluffing all the time, then our bluffs will far outweigh our value hands in terms of combos and our opponents will make a lot of money calling us down - money that comes out of our pockets! Using concepts such as blockers to temper your bluffing frequencies will stop you from over-bluffing and saving you money in the long run.
15. Making Predictable Bet Sizes
If you are always betting certain hand values for the same sizings, an observant opponent will be able to heavily exploit you. For example, if you're always betting your draws for a small sizing to limit the amount you lose when you miss, and your top pair for a big sizing to maximize value, then once an opponent figures this out they will only put in money when they have you beat.
It's important to have both strong and weak hands for each sizing you use in every situation. If you split your sizings based on your hand strength then you'll be taken apart by any observant regular.
16. Playing a Draw on the Worst Board
While drawing to hands like straights and flushes can win you a lot of money if they hit, there are certain scenarios where drawing to and making those hands can cost you a lot of money. For example, drawing very weak flushes when the hand is multiway can be dangerous as some of the possible hands your opponents can have are better flush draws which will end up costing you if you both hit.
Another example is drawing to the low end of a straight draw. Straight over straight isn't as uncommon as you may think and there's a reason they call the low ends of straight draws the 'dummy end' - especially on four straight boards.
17. Making Up for Losses
Chasing your losses when you gamble is never a good thing to do. If you ever feel like you're 'chasing' this means that you're in a heightened emotional state and won't be making optimal decisions. This is bad in any form of gambling but even more so on poker where your edge relies on you being able to make rational decisions.
Whenever you feel too emotionally invested in the money you've lost it's a good sign that you need to take a break. You should wait until you're completely calm and then make the decision as to whether or not you'd like to continue playing. If you're contemplating quitting it's often a good idea to do so and wait for another day.
18. Slowplaying Strong Hands
This is something a lot of new players are prone to do. They realize how strong their hands are and they're scared to bet in case their opponents fold. By doing this they fail to build a pot against the range of hands that would call a bet and ensuring that they win the minimum from their opponents.
Now, this isn't to say that you should never slow play your hands, but being afraid to bet them for value in case your opponent folds will end up costing you a lot of money. There are a lot of hands your opponent will have that will call a bet but won't bet themselves and when you have a strong hand you want to be getting value from those hands.
19. Playing Into an Opponent's Bluff
When playing poker and live poker especially it's easy to get dragged into an ego battle with another player if you find you're consistently losing hands against them. Sometimes in poker, you're dealt the losing hand against another player for several hands in a row. When this happens it's important not to make it about your ego and start deliberately playing back at them in an attempt to turn the tide.
If you play a good, solid strategy then eventually you will start to win against whichever opponent is currently giving you a hard time. Changing your strategy to play against them more often in an attempt to beat them is just playing into their hands and will cost you money in the long run.
20. Not Learning From Past Poker Mistakes
Poker is a strange game as you can make the correct decision over and over again and still not win, and you can make the wrong decision over and over again and come out a winner. This is due to the variance in poker and if you're on the negative end of it it can affect your confidence.
However, a lot of players will put down every single loss to variance and never admit when they've made a mistake. This is dangerous as if you don't analyze your play to see if you're making mistakes then there is no way to correct them and improve - and if you don't improve you'll eventually become a losing player.
You should always be looking at your play for mistakes and correcting them where you find them.
As poker is such a complicated game you should expect to make mistakes - and that's ok! Nobody's perfect! The important thing is to recognize when you've made a mistake and try your best to correct it. Hopefully, this list has given you some things to work on.
This article was published on August 28, 2021, and last updated on August 27, 2021.