We all have a basic understanding of Texas Hold ‘Em. We know the rules and how the game is played. What most of us don’t know is basic strategy and what it takes to win. Most people I play with like to think they have it all figured out and play their own style. Yet, they can’t seem to understand why they lose almost always. I see the same mistakes being made over and over. This is of course good for me and other winning players. If it wasn’t for poker players making these common bad plays, I would have to get a real job and most likely end up like that guy from “Office Space” saying, “Every day is the worst day of my life.” You’re now asking yourself, what are these mistakes and how do we fix them? Let’s start with what I feel is the most common of the poker mistakes.
Limping into pots
Most beginning players will look down and see some sort of hand they feel is playable. Regardless of where they sit at the table, they will decide to limp in and look to see a flop. Next thing you know someone raises the pot and we say to ourselves, “Well I already put in this much I may as well put in more to see what comes on the flop.”
The flop comes down and we completely miss every piece of it and are forced to fold our hand. The very next hand the same set of actions takes place and yet again we lose more money. Yes, sometimes we will hit our hand and win some chips, but that will happen far less often than the times we lose money.
Another outcome of this type of mistake is when a player holds a strong hand like or . They opt to limp in and this sets off a chain reaction of 4 more players limping in. Next thing you know we’re playing 5 handed in a pot, out of position with a hand that does not like to have many players against it. We make it to showdown and lose to someone with in the big blind who was lucky enough to flop three 7s. The worst part about this mistake is that most players will feel they were just unlucky and can’t believe they lost to a hand like when they had .
The reality is that you probably would have never lost to if you had raised pre-flop. The purpose of raising pre flop is to put more money in the pot when we have a strong hand. It also gets people out of the pot with weaker hands and gives us the greatest possibility of winning the hand.
Raising the pot pre flop allows us to win the pot by making people fold rather than just hoping to hit a piece and winning that way. When we raise we take the initiative and force our opponents into making decisions. This is a much better approach then hoping to make a pair or some other hand. If you’re giving yourself two ways to win rather than one, this is obviously a much better option.
I’m not saying you should be raising every hand, but when you do play a hand, you should be looking to raise instead of just limping in and hoping you win.
Playing any two suited cards
This next mistake is similar to the last. It’s more about the hand selection of when players limp into a pot. Poker players often think hands like or suited look so pretty and because they are suited decide to play them. They also compound this mistake by limping in instead of raising. If you’re going to play a hand like this, at least raise so we gain the advantages discussed in the previous mistake. There will be times to play hands like these but for the sake of this discussion we will not go into that.
The problem with playing these hands is they have little value and can cause you to lose more money than you should when we hit some piece of it. You’re mainly looking to make some sort of flush or flush draw with these hands. You will only flop a flush about 1% of the time and a flush draw roughly 10% of the time. The other times you’re left folding and losing the money you put in, or worse, making a pair and losing to a bigger pair.
You can see the problems that arise when playing this type of hand. We will rarely hit much on the flop and when we do, it will almost always end badly.
Calling with no odds
Poker is a game of math. We use pot odds to make decisions on whether calling a bet will be profitable in the long run. When you do flop some sort of draw, be it a straight or flush draw, you will need about 3 to 1 pot odds to make a call correct.
To make this easier to understand we can break it down like this.
You flop a flush draw and the pot has $2 in it. Your opponent bets $2 into you. The total pot is now $4. With the bet we need to call, we are only getting 2:1 odds. Since you need odds of 3 to 1 to call, making this call is not a good strategy in the long run.
Players fail to realize that they need certain odds to make certain decisions correct. This will make them losing players in the long run. The reason they keep doing this mistake is because they only remember the times they made their hand and won a nice pot. Not understanding that if they look at stats from all the times they had a draw, they actually lost more than they have won.
Getting attached to a hand
This mistake can be costly. Beginning players usually only look at the strength of their hand and make decisions based on this. If a player holds , they are unable to realize in certain situations there is no way that their hand is any good.
A good example of this would be when we have and there are four hearts on the board. A players bets into us pretty large and there are 2 more players behind us left to act. The odds that someone has the flush are fast approaching 100%. Yet we call because, hey we have aces, the best hand pre flop. I highlighted the word pre flop, because you need to understand that because a hand is the best before the flop, does not make it the best hand on the river.
What makes this mistake even worse is when we have a strong hand, more of your money probably went into the pot because we felt our hand was strong enough due to the fact that it was AA or KK etc. Further compounding this mistake by doing it again, failing to see the flaw.
Over time you will start to understand when your hand is no good and just get rid of it. Just because you have aces does not mean you are guaranteed to win. At some point you will realize that aces may as well be given the board texture and just muck your hand.
Slow playing strong hands
In poker it’s so hard to make a really strong hand such as a full house or even a flush. When we do make these strong hands it’s very important to get as much money in the pot as we can. There are times to slow play a hand, but for the most part, especially at lower limits where most of your opponents are bad and call regardless. It’s much better to bet and try to win as much as possible.
The main problem with slow playing a real money poker hand is letting someone outdraw you. Let’s say we have and we flop a flush. We decide to slow play. The turn and river both bring blanks and we show down our flush and take a small pot. Our opponent shows us . We let him see two free cards, which is a huge mistake. He is almost guaranteed to call any bet we make on the flop and turn. We are also making him pay for his draw and giving us the best possible chance to win as much money as possible. If a fourth heart comes on the turn or river, we can consider folding our hand since its possible they have us beat since we only have a ten high flush.
Using this same example above, only, this time our opponents has a set. They are again almost guaranteed to call a bet on the flop and turn as long as no hearts come. When the fourth heart does fall, it kills the action and we win no more money most of the time. The important concept here is to understand that we need to get as much money in the pot when our hand is likely the best. You also need to realize that a lot of cards on the turn or river can stop us from winning any more; therefore we need to maximize our winnings now.
This mistake is by far my favorite, as it usually ends with some poor guy whining in the chat because he lost to someone who had a set and made a full house on the river. It also allows players like myself to see free cards and spike that 2 outer on the river to win the pot. Now that you know what these poker mistakes are, you now have the knowledge to find and fix them. As an old commercial I used to see all the time would say, “Knowing is half the battle.”
If you’ve come across this article and have no idea how to play poker, why not check out our beginner’s guide on how to play texas hold ‘em? If you’re a tournament player, it’s also well worth checking out our introductory article on texas hold ‘em tournament strategy.