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Home / Strategy / Common poker mistakes and how to fix them

Whether you’re brand new to poker or set a new year’s resolution to get better at the game, the best way to start improving is by looking at common poker mistakes, and then ensuring you’re not making any of them.

Of course, nothing worth doing is ever easy. 

Because most of us play poker as a solo pursuit without coaches or a team of other players around us, it can be difficult to spot our own weaknesses. You can convince yourself you’re playing well, but mistakes creep up on us and compound over time. 

How can you avoid common poker mistakes?

If you’re serious about getting better at poker in 2023, there are free tools and communities available to you, like PokerStars Learn, which can help you master the fundamentals and engage with like-minded players with similar goals.

And the first step to improvement is to plug your leaks.

Let’s go through some common poker mistakes, and how you can fix them.

Making bad hand choices

Every game of no limit hold’em begins the same way: all players at the table are dealt two cards, and this happens every single hand until you’ve lost all of your chips.

Therefore, the hands you choose to play and the hands you opt to fold are absolutely pivotal, and a seemingly harmless call pre-flop can have disastrous results on later streets (the flop, turn and river).

Let’s say you decide to call a pre-flop raise with a hand like seven-five offsuit (perhaps several people have called before you and you think you’re getting good odds). What happens when the flop comes seven high and there’s a bet and a call before it’s your turn to act? How confident can you be that your top pair, weak kicker is best?

Or how about you call a three-bet with king-nine offsuit and flop a gutshot straight draw (e.g. the flop is jack-ten-four and a queen would give you a straight). Are you compelled to chase the draw having committed a chunk of your chips?

Folding’s no fun, we all know that. But making smart decisions with the hands you’re dealt is the key to good poker.

Missing value and sizing badly

One of the most common poker mistakes inexperienced players make is using bet sizes that don’t accomplish what they should.

Making a poker bet

Always consider if your best size accomplishes what you want it to

Getting paid off when you have the best hand is the bread and butter of poker. It’s literally where you make your money in the game.

But holding a strong hand can get your pulse racing, so much so that you might not stop to think whether your bet is small enough to get your opponent to make a hero call  (i.e. when your opponent attempts to catch you bluffing by calling with a weak hand), or large enough to get the maximum value from a strong-but-lesser hand.

Remember to consider what you’re trying to achieve with your bet before putting it out. Are you hoping to get called? Get a fold? Induce a raise when you have the nuts? Then size your bet accordingly.

Not understanding your position

If you’re new to poker, you might not realise just how important your position at the table is in every single hand.

At a nine-handed poker table, there are nine different positions. These are:

You’ll notice that some positions on the image above are labelled early positions, while others are labelled late positions. The players in early positions will often be “out of position” after the flop comes, meaning they have to act first. Being able to see what you do gives those “in position” an advantage as they now have more information.

Building a strategy for each position is crucial as it impacts not only the hand ranges you decide to play, but what actions you choose to take with them. 

For instance, if the under-the-gun player opens and you look down at pocket nines in the UTG+1 seat, you should probably just call as an under-the-gun raise is generally stronger than a raise from late position, as it has to get through more players. By just calling, you’ll be in position post-flop, a good place to be.

But let’s say you have pocket nines in the small blind and you’re facing an open from the cutoff, a late position. Now you should probably always raise as the cutoff player it’s likely the cutoff will be playing a wider range of hands, and your nines are a lot stronger, despite the fact you’ll be out of position on the flop.

Here are some strategy articles to help you understand positions at the poker table better:

3 TIPS FOR PLAYING LATE POSITION IN POKER TOURNAMENTS
AGGRESSION AND POSITIONS
PLAYING AGAINST AN IN-POSITION COLD CALL
FLOATING FLOP C-BETS OUT OF POSITION

UNDERSTANDING THE HIJACK IN POKER

Not paying attention

We mentioned earlier how folding is no fun. But just because you’re not playing the hand that’s currently taking place doesn’t mean you’re not still playing the game.

Paying attention to the actions of your opponents (their behaviour, bet sizes, hands they showdown etc) when you’re not in a pot is very beneficial and can equip you for future hands against them.

It’s tempting to look at your phone in between tournament hands, particularly when you’re card dead (i.e. you haven’t been dealt any playable hands for a while), but this is a common poker mistake. Ask any pro ‘what should you not do in poker?’ and chances are they’ll tell you not to get distracted.

Alejandro "Papo MC" Lococo watches Argentina play in the World Cup

We’ll let Alejandro “Papo MC” Lococo off, as he was watching Argentina play in the World Cup

Pay attention and you’ll be in good stead when the good cards come your way.

Going on tilt

Tilt is defined on Wikipedia as: 

“A state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a suboptimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming overly aggressive. Tilting is closely associated with another poker term, “steam”.”

Getting unlucky is by far the most common reason that players go on tilt, but it can also happen out of the frustration of not being dealt good cards, animosity towards another player (perhaps someone who just beat you in a big pot), getting outplayed by an opponent, or when you make a big mistake.

It’s hard to do, but you shouldn’t let your emotions take over at the poker table. When they do, you’ll no longer be able to play logically and you’ll ultimately make bad decisions.

Just because you get dealt good cards and get all in with the best hand doesn’t mean you’re entitled to win. That’s not how poker works and unfortunately, it can take a few laps around the track before that really sinks in.

Bankroll management

This is one of the biggest poker mistakes of them all as unless you only plan to play for Play Money (which you can do on PokerStars), you’ll need funds in order to play.

“One of the most important things to remember at any level of poker is that you should never put too much of your bankroll at risk,” says high stakes boss and PokerStars Team Pro Sam Grafton.

“For most pros, it’s usually no more than 1% or 0.5% of their net worth, but this is also true for players starting low and trying to move up. You should think about having 100 buy-ins in whatever tournament you’re playing. So if you’re playing $22 tournaments, have $2,200. I think that’s reasonable.

“Even now, if you started me off with $2,200, I wouldn’t go off and play $100 buy-in tournaments. I would allow myself a lot of shots at $22 tournaments.”

Listen to Grafton’s advice, and get a whole lot more of it here.

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