Commonly Made Mistakes in Poker
When you first start playing poker, you ideally want to focus on enjoying yourself and getting familiar with how to play. If your long term goal is to regularly win money from playing, then you'll need to spend plenty of time learning about strategy and other aspects of the game. As a beginner, though, that's not something you need to focus on right now.
However, you still want to improve your chances of winning money where you can or at least make sure that you keep the amount you lose to a minimum. This is something you should strive to do from the moment you start playing, even if you're only really interested in having some fun and not too bothered if you lose some money in the process.
As a novice poker player, there are a number of things you can do to make sure you're on the right track, many of which we cover in detail in our simple tips for poker beginners. There are also a number of things that you really shouldn't do. We are going to look at these in this article.
Below we explain ten of the biggest mistakes that poker beginners make. These are all very common, but they are relatively easy to avoid for the most part. If you can avoid all, or at least most, of these when playing your game, then you'll be on the right path to becoming a competent player. You won't start winning a fortune right away, but you'll have some solid foundations in place for improving your game as you continue to play. You'll also be ahead of many of the other beginners and even the recreational players you'll come across at the tables.
Playing Too Many Hands
Playing too many hands isn't only one of the most common mistakes made by beginners, but it's also one of the easiest to make. Poker can seem a little boring if you feel like you're folding all the time and it can be very tempting to make a lot of pre-flop calls just so you're getting involved in the game. The problem with this approach is that you'll waste a lot of chips when you make those calls and then have to fold anyway when you don't hit the flop.
We're not saying that you should only ever get involved in a pot when you have a very strong starting hand, but you do need to be selective about which hands to play. Patience is a very important skill to have in poker and you'll do much better in the long run if you're prepared to wait for the right opportunities that are worth betting chips on.
This is closely linked to the above point, as one of the reasons that players tend to play too many hands is due to the fact that they think too highly of hands that aren't actually that great. It's particularly common to overvalue a hand simply because it has an ace in it or any pair at all.
Obviously an ace is a good card, but starting hands such as an ace and a five or an ace and a six are not particularly strong. The same is true for low pairs. This isn't to say that you should never play such hands, but it's important to recognize that they aren't necessarily as strong as you might think.
Overvaluing your hands isn't just limited to before the flop either. You shouldn't assume that you're in good shape just because you've made a pair on the flop for example, or that you have two pairs after the river. You may be ahead but you could just as easily be behind too.
You probably won't find it very easy to make informed judgments about what your opponents might have when you first start playing, but even as a beginner this is something you should ideally be thinking about. Before making a raise or calling a bet, just try to think of what cards your opponents might possibly have that could beat you.
Defending Blinds Too Often
It's very common for new poker players to feel almost obliged to get involved with pots when it's their turn to pay the big blind or the small blind. This is for a couple of reasons. Often it's because they feel like they have to call a raise (or possibly just a bet if they're the small blind) simply because they have already put chips into the pot, regardless of how strong their hand is. Other times it's their ego at play; they won't regularly fold their blinds in order to avoid looking weak to the other players.
Either way, getting involved in a pot simply because you don't want to fold your blind is a mistake. There are sometimes strategic reasons to play weaker hands than you normally would from the blinds but for the most part you are better off folding if you don't have the necessary cards to justify getting involved.
Getting Committed to Pots
A lot of new players make this mistake very regularly. They find it difficult to fold once they've put some chips into the pot, even if they believe they are probably beaten. It can be hard to let go of a hand once you've invested in it, particularly if it's a good one, but sometimes you just have to. If you don't, all you're doing is wasting your good chips on a bad opportunity.
The best way to prevent this mistake is to accept that once you have put your chips into the pot they are no longer yours. You also need to realize that you aren't going to win every single pot that you get involved with. If you've committed some chips and subsequently feel that you're facing a stronger hand, then folding and waiting for another opportunity is absolutely the right thing to do.
Bluffing Too Much
Making a successful bluff is one of the best feelings in poker. It's vastly more rewarding to think that you have beaten someone by outplaying them rather than by simply having the best cards. However, many beginners get carried away at the thought of this happening and end up bluffing too often.
There's nothing wrong with trying to bluff your opponents every now and then. Indeed, it should definitely be part of your game strategy. However, you need to be careful about how often you do it. There's always the possibility that you'll be up against someone who actually has a hand they can call you with, and if your opponents suspect that you're bluffing a lot they'll be far more inclined to go up against you.
Many beginners fall into the trap of thinking that they have to constantly make advanced moves if they're going to stand any chance of winning. This is simply not true. You don't want to play in a way that your opponents will know exactly what you're doing and why, but you don't have to try to play like an expert who is thinking on an entirely different level than your opponents either. There's just no point in trying to be clever for the sake of it.
As you gain more experience and learn more about the strategy involved in poker, you might find situations where you need to make some complicated moves. When you first start playing, though, you really should just concentrate on keeping things simple. You can still beat your opponents with straightforward plays, especially if playing at the lower stakes.
At the other end of the scale from overplaying is being predictable and this is something you will want to avoid too. We've just stated that it's fine to play in a fairly straightforward manner, but you do need to avoid making your play so predictable that your opponents will be able to take advantage. Even at the low stakes there are players who are good at observing and analyzing their opponents' actions, so you need to make it difficult for them to decipher how you play and why you're making certain moves.
You can disguise your play relatively simply. For example, by making sure you don't bet exactly the same amount when you raise pre-flop, you'll make it harder for your opponents to determine the range of hands you may have. The same thing can be achieved by occasionally getting involved in pots with hands that are outside your normal starting selection. Basically, you just need to make sure that you don't do the exact same things in the exact same way all the time.
Playing poker can bring forth a range of different emotions and some of these emotions can have a negative impact on the way you play. Anger and frustration, in particular, are dangerous feelings that you need to avoid as best you can.
Even when you're just playing for fun and not overly concerned about whether you win or lose, there'll be times when you get frustrated and upset if things just aren't going your way. It's easier said than done, but if you find yourself having those feelings, then you really need to get your emotions under control. If you don't, you're likely to start making all sorts of irrational decisions. Once this happens, you'll be much more likely to end up losing more money than you otherwise would have.
Not Watching Opponents
The key to playing good poker is ultimately to make good decisions. This is obviously not particularly easy to do consistently as a beginner, as you simply don't know enough about all the strategy involved, but you still want to do the best you can. It's important to know that a big part of making good decisions is taking into account how your opponents have acted and how they are likely to act.
In order to do this you'll need to have some information about the way in which your opponents play, which means you need to avoid the classic beginners mistake of not paying enough attention to the table. Many beginner players, probably even most of them, concentrate almost entirely on their own cards and actions, without watching what their opponents are doing. This means they are simply guessing when they try to determine why an opponent has just made a particular move or when they are trying to predict what an opponent will do next.
You're unlikely to be able to make extremely accurate reads on your opponents as a beginner, but you at least want to make sure you have some information to work with. Watching your opponents isn't difficult to do and it'll help improve your game overall. You should keep as close an eye as you can on what they are doing and make mental notes about their respective playing styles.
Blaming Bad Luck for Losses
It's very easy to assume that you've simply been unlucky every time you lose at poker. This is probably not the reality though. There'll almost certainly be times when bad luck does cross your path, but there will also be times when you lose because of a mistake you've made or simply because you are playing poorly. If you don't recognize this fact, then you'll probably just end up making the same mistakes over and over again and you'll never be able to take your game to the next level.
As a beginner, it's important to not worry about making mistakes too much. It's completely natural to get things wrong when you first start playing and even very experienced players make mistakes every now and then. What you should try to do, though, is learn from those mistakes. Even if you're just playing for fun you should make it a priority to improve your game in any way that you can. If you are even vaguely serious about trying to make money, then you'll absolutely have to apply this approach.
Analyzing where you have gone wrong and what mistakes you have made is one of the very best ways to start working on your playing skills, so it's a habit you should really try to develop from the moment you start playing.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: August 2015
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