Poker is a complex game.
There’s more than one way to win, and the depth and variety of available strategies are what make the game so interesting. But with the variety comes the increased opportunity for potential mistakes.
Let’s take a look at 5 of the most common mistakes made by poker players. If you have one of these “leaks” in your game, it’s imperative you “plug it” as soon as possible. Your bankroll will thank you.
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Mistake #1: Playing Too Loose
The most common—and potentially bankroll draining—mistake that players make is playing too loose.
This style describes a player that is simply playing too many hands. It is a frequent trait of recreational players who are at the table to primarily enjoy their poker experience. As such players are there to ‘play’ poker, folding is regarded as boring and does not provide the entertainment that playing a wide range of hands does.
This mistake is also made by “more advanced” players who believe they can outplay their opponents post-flop despite having a weak range. The problem with playing this way is that you will often lose pots at showdown as a result of poor hand selection.
While folding may be regarded as ‘boring’, discipline is a skill that must be practiced to become a successful player. By being more selective with your hands, you will not only improve your win rate but also make your post-flop decisions easier.
Mistake #2: Playing Too Tight
Loose players looking to “tighten the screws” on their game often over-adjust and end up playing too tight.
While tightening up is a good way to play against loose players, it has its problems.
- Playing too tightly will make you very easy to play against.
I’m sure everybody has sat at the table with an exposed ‘nit’ that only 3-bets AA-QQ. Against a clearly tight player, an opponent can fold all but their strongest hands when facing aggression. No one likes giving a ‘nit’ action.
- Playing tight will cause you to miss out more marginal, but profitable spots.
Tight players often say they just want to avoid tough post-flop decisions, but really, they’re just avoiding money. For instance:
$2/$5 Live Poker, $500 Effective Stacks
Hero is dealt UTG+1
utg folds, Hero raises to $20, folds to btn, BTN calls $20, blinds fold
Flop (Pot: $45)
Hero c-bets $30, btn folds
Hero wins $45
Pre-flop, we got dealt a hand that was a profitable, albeit marginal raise. We flop an open-ender and a backdoor flush draw, a clear spot to fire a (profitable) c-bet. A tighter player would fold the 87s pre-flop, throwing away two money-making opportunities.
Spots like these might be tougher to navigate, but doing so is what separates a good poker player from a great one.
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Avoid making the mistake of playing too tight by widening your preflop ranges and balancing your value hands with bluffs. If you have a balanced range of value hands and bluffs, you will be a much tougher opponent to face.
Mistake #3: Being Too Fixed In Your Strategy
Another common mistake made my players is to define their style of play and execute it consistently and exclusively
For example, a player may describe their strategy as LAG (loose-aggressive) and consistently employ it at the tables. Poker is a dynamic game in which the most effective strategy changes based upon a number of variables. Because of this, you want to avoid fixating upon one single type of strategy.
Different strategies will be effective in different circumstances, and being fluid in your playing style is key to being successful.
For instance, playing a LAG style is a great idea against a tight, easy to run-over table. However, if your opponents make the correct adjustments to counter your strategy, you will need to make readjustments. These changes occur all the time at the table, and learning when to make these adjustments is a must for any aspiring poker player.
Mistake #4: Failing To Have A Plan Of Action
Too often, players will take actions in a hand without considering their plan for future streets and decisions.
This will lead to being faced with challenging spots all the time. By planning your line of action to be taken in any hand, you can avoid making incorrect decisions and make post-flop play simpler. For example:
Online $.50/$1.00, $100 Effective Stacks
Hero is dealt on the BTN
folds to co, CO raises to $2.50, Hero calls $2.50, blinds fold
(Pot: $6.25) Flop comes
We are happy to bet when checked to on this flop, as our ten-high has no showdown value. When deciding whether or not to bet this flop with any hand, it is very important to consider what actions you may be faced with and what may develop on future streets. Let’s start with going over our opponent’s possible responses to this bet:
- Our opponent could fold. Obviously this would be a great result for us as we have ten-high and no outs to a hand stronger than 2nd pair.
- We could face a check/raise from our opponent. While this may seem like a terrible result at first, it’s actually not that bad. Our opponent is going to check/raise here sometimes, there’s nothing we can do about that. What we can do is make sure we aren’t in a bad spot when they do it. It couldn’t get much clearer than ten-high, no draw facing a check/raise.
- Our opponent could call. Well, our flop bluff didn’t work. At least now we get to see a turn card, and there are a lot of good ones for our hand here. Any club gives us a flush draw, and a 7, 8, Q or K all give us straight draws. We can happily continue our bluff on any of these turn cards. Not to mention we can turn a T or 9 for 2nd pair, which will more-than-occasionally be the best hand.
Let’s go back to that same spot, but this time we have AQo. Some of you would choose to 3-bet this hand preflop, but for the sake of the example let’s say you decided to mix it up and flat this time. If we decided to bet the flop when checked to, what are the possible outcomes?
- Our opponent could fold. This is a decent result for us as we’ve won the pot with a hand that was likely good, but somewhat vulnerable. It’s very unlikely our opponent will fold a better hand than AQ against a single bet, so it’s hard to call this a successful bluff. More like a successful protection bet.
- We could face a check/raise from our opponent. This is a relatively disastrous result. Our opponent’s value range [JJ, 33, 22, AA, KK] has us drawing pretty dead, but we have solid equity against hands they’d bluff with. We have two overcards, but those outs are anything but clean. We’re choosing between folding out potentially solid equity and putting in money against a value range that has us dead. Tough spot, part of why I’d prefer to bet a hand that has an easier decision against check/raise.
- Our opponent could call. This is a pretty average-at-best result. By calling, our opponent has signaled that he likely has a stronger hand than us. That said, we have solid equity with two overcards against most of those hands [44-TT, J9s], and we even beat a few of them [A4s, A5s, KQs]. Take a look at the equity breakdown in Poker Equilab vs call:
Seems like we’d be better served to check the AQ back.
When making a decision at the table, always think about why you are making it and consider your plan for the rest of the hand before taking action.
Mistake #5: Misusing HUDs
A HUD (heads-up display) is an essential for anybody serious about online poker.
The vast amount of statistics they collect is useful information that, when correctly harnessed, can help you make the most optimal decision possible. However, an alarming amount of players misuse such software in a way that can actually damage their poker game.
- The most common mistake made by HUD users is making decisions based upon insufficient sample sizes.
Small sample sizes do not accurately portray the profile of a player. Because of the natural variance in poker, it takes thousands of hands before you can accurately construct a statistical profile of your opponents.
Imagine you are playing a tournament and notice that an opponent at your table has a PFR (pre-flop raise percentage) of 50% over 10 hands. This is an extremely high PFR, but the small sample size means that your opponent is likely just experiencing positive variance and getting dealt a number of big hands. Therefore, altering your own strategy in light of this statistic would be a mistake as you cannot confidently verify it with reliable evidence.
In this way, avoid lending too much weight to the statistics offered by your HUD if you have only a small sample of hands on a player. Misusing this information can lead you to make awful decisions at the table.
- A less, but still common HUD-related mistake is making decisions that are too heavily influenced by it.
While a HUD will offer useful information that should be factored in when making exploitative decisions, it should rarely dictate them. Doing so can encourage you to take some extremely bad and highly exploitable lines.
For example, imagine you are sat at a table where the two players to your right both have a fold to 3-bet percentage of over 90%. While the information gained from your HUD may suggest that 3-betting any two cards would be a viable strategy, doing so in practice would be erroneous.
Firstly, you would be extremely vulnerable to exploitation should you implement such a strategy. This idea is a fundamental concept in poker: when taking an exploitative line, you are employing an unbalanced strategy that itself can be exploited. While aggressively 3-betting the opponents to your right may be successful initially, any good player should soon adjust to you and counter your strategy.
Secondly, players who take these exploitable lines often ignore the many other variables that influence the action in any spot. Things like the board texture, bet sizes and the players to act behind should have a major impact on the way a hand is played. Don’t prioritize the information offered by your HUD over these factors.
If you want to make immediate changes to your poker game that will improve you as a player, avoid these five common mistakes:
- Playing too loose
- Playing too tight
- Sticking to a fixed strategy
- Playing a hand without a plan
- Misusing your HUD
Plugging a single one of these “leaks” would be big step in your poker development. One or more of these mistakes has plagued every great player’s game. It’s really just a matter of when, and if, you can rid them from your own.
(Note: There are A LOT more than 5 possible mistakes at the poker table. Luckily, Doug Polk & Ryan Fee developed a poker training course that will “plug your leaks” and build your game from the ground-up! Check out the Upswing Lab by clicking HERE or on the image below!)