Even the best poker players make mistakes.
The difference between the best players, however, and merely average players, is why they make mistakes.
For average players, emotions often get in the way of good decision-making. It’s easy to be emotionally invested in a game for money, especially one with so much variance.
Variance also makes it easy to develop misconceptions about the game based on short-term results.
An average player may get all-in with Ace-king, run into Aces, and as a result play Ace-king more passively next time they get it. Misconceptions will eat away at your win-rate and skew your perception of winning poker.
In this article, we’ll discuss 5 common misconceptions about playing winning poker and why you should avoid them as you strive towards your goals.
Prefer watching to reading? Click here for Doug’s video version.
Poker Misconception 1. If You X, You Have to Y
Anyone who has spent time in live games or poker forums is probably familiar with formulaic phrasing like this:
“If you call pre-flop, you have to call on that flop!” or “If you called the flop, you have to call on a blank turn.”
Advice like this is thrown around somewhat frequently despite being completely untrue. You have to look at each street individually and play accordingly.
Let’s take a closer look at that “If you call pre-flop, you have to call on that flop!” example. Some players assume that if you choose to play a marginal hand and hit the flop relatively well, you have to see the turn and river. To be a bit more specific:
100NL Cash Game. $150 Effective Stacks
Hero is on the BTN with
UTG raises to $2.50. CO calls. Hero calls. BB calls.
Flop ($10) T♠ 8♠ 3♣
BB checks. UTG bets $7. CO calls. Hero calls. BB raises to $46. UTG calls. CO calls.
Pretty good flop for our hero, especially considering the very loose pre-flop call. Once UTG’s c-bet gets check/raised and called in two spots, however, hero can pretty easily let this hand hit the muck. It’s reasonably likely one of the other 3 players in the hand has a flush draw, and hero is in terrible shape in those cases.
This is a somewhat extreme example, but it illustrates the point that every decision in poker is independent.
(Note: Ready to take your No Limit Hold’em game to the next level? The Poker Lab is what we would teach our younger selves- if we could send the course back in time. Learn more by clicking here or below.)
2. Looking At Variance In Poker Irrationally
As emotional and subjective beings, we have a tendency to view variance in poker incorrectly.
Even winning players can lose in the relatively short term if they run badly enough, and it’s easy to be adversely impacted by such variance. Good players can feel hopeless and deterred from playing due to the severity of a downswing.
In reality, these past events have no influence on future ones, so winning players on a downswing simply need to put their head down and grind until variance turns around. (That’s easier said than done.)
Games that offer low hand volume, such as live cash, can cause players to make incorrect adjustments as a result of variance. If you have ever played live poker, this idea will resonate with you.
Imagine playing live cash as a new player sits down to your left. Within 10 hands, said player open-raises 5 times and 3-bets once. Most people would quickly assume this new guy is a loose and aggressive player(and they just might be).
Because of variance, however, it is very possible this player has simply been dealt a series of relatively strong hands in a row. Many players will over-adjust in these instances, and find themselves making incorrect plays based on shaky assumptions.
Making decisions based on shaky assumptions is a quick way to lose a ton of chips. Instead, keep in mind the information that you have gathered on your opponent and make gradual adjustments with appropriate hands.
3. Win-Rates Are Stable
Another common– and sometimes dangerous –misconception in poker is that win-rates are consistent.
This happens most often with cash players, where a player assumes that they will continue to win X amount of money over Y amount of hands. The dangerous part is when a player relies on this number as if it is a stable income.
In reality, prolonged downswings and upswings are common for professional poker players, and this makes predicting your exact monthly income basically impossible.
A practical problem arises for players with this “grind X money in Y times” mentality: it is not conducive to bettering yourself as a player. Instead of focusing on how to improve your win rate, you spend time grinding out your current one, ignoring your development in the process.
For tournament players, estimating earnings is even more difficult. Large field tournaments boast the highest variance of any common game, so tournament players can easily develop an inaccurate sense of their true ROI after a big score or two. Take a look at these variance simulations comparing the standard deviation of a 1000 player field with that of a 100 player field:
The top-heavy payout structure in most tournaments means that you can lose for months on end, even if you’re a proven winner. On the flip side, a weak player can run well in the short term, leading them to overestimate their ability.
It takes playing thousands of tournaments with similar fields before you can get a more accurate sense of what your ROI is like for them. For a more in-depth look at tournament ROIs and those variance simulations above, check out this awesome section from one of Miikka Anttonen’s articles.
4. Taking One-Time Shots at Higher Stakes
The notion of taking a one-time shot at a higher stakes game is not too problematic– if the “one-time” part is actually adhered to. Rarely is that the case, however, as most people who advocate this do not practice good bankroll management.
If you are serious about the longevity of your poker career, you should avoid playing games that your bankroll cannot sustain.
There are exceptions to this rule. If there is a particularly +EV tournament or juicy cash game, you can think about playing it if your edge is solid. The WSOP Main Event is probably the most common and justifiable situation for a bigger-than-usual shot.
5. GTO-Based Strategies Only Win a Little
There is a somewhat new misconception going around that playing a game theory optimal (GTO) style will only lead to small success, and playing an exploitative style– constantly adjusting and readjusting to your opponents –is superior. Let me poke a few holes in this idea:
- Ignoring GTO makes you less consistent and more exploitable
The main benefit of using a solid, theoretically-based strategy is that your decisions will be winning ones, regardless of your competition. If your range is thoroughly considered and well-balanced, there is nothing your opponents can do to counter your strategy.
By contrast, playing an exploitative style invites your opponents to exploit you back (sometimes by accident). Highly exploitative lines can be very profitable– if your reads are correct. If your reads are incorrect, however, you will make hugely -EV mistakes in preventable spots.
Exploitative plays have their place, but they shouldn’t be attempted without reliable evidence that the play will be effective.
- Perfect GTO isn’t even known yet
In reality, it is very difficult to work out just how profitable a GTO-based strategy is because No Limit Hold’em is not yet solved. We have some pretty solid ideas, but it is impossible to say for certain which winning strategies most closely resemble “perfect GTO”.
- The most successful players consider GTO
Players that take a GTO-based approach to poker have shown to be extremely successful in poker, whereas successful, high stakes exploitative-based players are few and far between.
I’m not saying you have to break out the solvers when you analyze your live $1/$2 hands, but you shouldn’t ignore theory either. Making good adjustments against your opponents’ tendencies is important, and a GTO-based strategy is the perfect baseline from which to make those adjustments.
- Some players use exploitative play as a crutch
Many players that advocate an exploitative strategy over a GTO one are using it as a crutch, consciously or not, to justify not studying.
Developing a sound theoretical strategy takes a lot of time “in the lab”, and such a commitment is often disregarded by players who would rather just hit the tables.
(Note: Want to learn the strategies behind world class poker players’ successes? Study with the step by step instructions and examples presented in each poker learning module. Click here or below to learn more.)
7 Common Misconceptions About Playing Winning Poker (Video)
I have over $5,000,000 in live tournament winnings. In 2014, I won my first World Series of Poker Bracelet, followed up with a 2nd bracelet in 2016.
My online winnings are over $2,000,000 on Full Tilt and PokerStars alone, mostly at Heads Up No Limit, and those graphs are publicly available on HighStakesDB.