9 Critical Preflop Mistakes That Are Costing You Money at the Poker Tables

9 Critical Preflop Mistakes That Are Costing You Money at the Poker Tables
Everything in poker begins before the flop so if you make mistakes on this street it can snowball into even bigger problems for you later on in the hand.

One of the biggest reasons why some people fail to achieve the success that they want at the lower stakes is because they make crippling preflop mistakes that end up costing them big time on the flop, turn and river.

In this article you are going to learn the top 9 preflop mistakes that might be costing you money at the micros. Let’s go!

1. Limping

Look guys it isn’t 2005 anymore, nobody limps. And for good reason too. It is simply a proven fact at this point that it is more profitable to raise first in than to limp.

In fact, in today’s games one of the easiest ways to spot the weaker players is by looking for people who limp into the pot. If this is still an issue for you, I would suggest cutting it out of your game asap.

Be aggressive, take control of the pot from the start, and give yourself more ways to win the hand!

2. Playing Weak Hands in Early Position

Position is absolutely key in poker. It is also a proven fact that you are going to win way more money in seats around the button than you will from any other seats.

And this definitely includes early position. These are the seats (also called “under the gun”) where you have to act first preflop. Most people breakeven in these seats and that is why it is important to play relatively tight from these positions.

You should really only be playing pairs, good aces, strong kings and a few other broadways from these seats for the most part. Cut out all the fancy stuff like suited connectors and baby aces for now.

It is very difficult to turn these hands into winners from these seats. It is much better to play them in late position (with a raise or re-raise) as I discuss in my latest video.

But overall, if you are new to the game and playing at the micros, just keep it tight for now in early position and you will profit more.

3. Playing Weak Hands From the Blinds

The exact same rules apply from the blinds as well. You will actually lose money from these seats in the long run. Yes, even if your name is Daniel Negreanu.

Nobody wins from the blinds.

And the reason why is that you are forced to put money in the pot with a random hand and then act first on every postflop street. Most hands suck in poker. And it is even worse when you are sitting at the most unprofitable seats at the poker table!

It just doesn’t matter how “good” you are at poker. You can’t overcome these fundamental and crippling disadvantages. This is why the only logical adjustment is simply to play less hands from these positions.

Now of course you can’t just fold everything but the nuts from the blinds or you will find yourself getting heavily exploited by any thinking player. However, all the fancy hands need to go.

Keep it relatively tight from the blinds, especially if you are just starting out at the micros.

4. Not Playing Enough Hands From Late Position

So remember how I just said that you are going to win the most from the seats around the button in poker? Right, so this means that you can get away with playing plenty of fancy hands and even a little bit of pure trash from these seats as well.

When you are on the button or the cutoff in particular, this is the time to start playing all of those baby aces, crappy suited kings, suited connectors, suited one-gappers and so on.

Most people don’t play enough hands from these highly profitable positions. Don’t be afraid to go a little bit nuts in late position especially if the players in the blinds are tight and passive.

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5. Not 3-betting Enough

Something else that you should be doing before the flop in poker is 3-betting. A 3-bet is re-raising somebody preflop. This is especially effective around the button due to the power of position in poker.

Not only should you be frequently 3-betting with all of your big premium hands like AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK and AQ but you should also be “light 3-betting” from time to time with some speculative hands like small pairs, small suited aces and the like.

This will give you a better chance of taking down the pot uncontested a little bit more often. Or at the very least it will give you the betting lead going to the flop, which is always a good thing.

You also need to make sure that your preflop 3-bet sizing is correct especially with big premium hands like pocket AA, KK or QQ.

Check out this video for what preflop mistakes to AVOID with these hands:

6. 3-betting Early Position Raisers Too Much

Now while it is definitely a good thing to be 3-betting pretty frequently like we just mentioned, a huge mistake that many people make is re-raising too much versus an early position raiser.

Most people play tight from these positions. This means that when they raise first into the pot, they aren’t messing around. Therefore, it would be a big mistake to 3-bet them most of the time even with a really strong hand.

Always pay attention to where somebody opens from before 3-betting them. You want to do most of your light re-raising when all of the action takes place around the button.

7. Calling 3-bets Out of Position Too Much

Another big preflop mistake that could be costing you dearly is calling 3-bets out of position too much. Sometimes you are going to raise it up and somebody else 3-bets you. Many people at the lower limits in particular make the mistake of calling too much in this situations.

When you are in position (for instance, you raise from the button and the big blind 3-bets you), then it is ok to call with a fairly wide range. But if you are out of position (i.e. you raise from middle position and the button 3-bets you), then it is a huge mistake to call with a lot of weak speculative hands.

The reason why is that having to act first after the flop automatically makes you an underdog to win the hand. It is much harder to move somebody off the pot with a bluff and it is also much harder to get value if you actually hit the board.

8. Not 4-bet Bluffing Enough

As you move up the stakes more and more people are going to start re-raising preflop with a wider range like I suggested above. So one of the best ways to adjust your 3Bet defending range is to start widening your 4-betting range a little bit.

You can get away with more bluffs, especially against an aggressive player with a wide 3-betting range, because they simply won’t have a strong enough hand to call you very often.

So along with all of the usual 4-betting hands like AA, KK, QQ and AK you should also add in some 4-bet bluff hands versus highly aggressive 3-bettors.

Some great hands to choose are small suited aces because they can make top pair, the nut flush and the wheel straight. This means that you typically have about 30% equity even if they happen to have a strong pair like QQ, JJ or TT.

9. Not Checking Who is in the Blinds

The last mistake that I see countless people making especially at the lower stakes is not checking who is in the blinds before they make their preflop decisions.

If you play online there are tons of really tight multi-tabling players these days. They fold their blinds way too often in many cases.

And they also don’t fight back with a 3-bet unless they have a very strong hand. So when you see a couple players like this in the blinds, you should be raising it up with a very wide range.

The other situation is when a recreational player is in the blinds. These are the players who play way too many of their hands, often 40% or more. And they also make all kinds of huge fundamental errors after the flop such as calling with any pair and chasing every draw.

You also want to be raising it up with a wider range of hands when one of these players is in the blinds. Not only do you get to play the entire hand in position after the flop but you are up against one of the most profitable types of players to play against.

You can therefore turn a wide variety of speculative hands into winners. If you want to know my exact custom opening ranges versus the various player types I actually list them with charts in my brand new book, The Micro Stakes Playbook.

Bottom line, always make sure to check who is in the blinds before you make any preflop decisions. You should be adjusting which hands you play based on which players are left to act behind you.

Final Thoughts

Making the right decisions before the flop in poker is a big key to your success at the tables. And the reason why is that everything starts in poker on this street.

That's why this is the bread and butter of any good advanced poker strategy.  

Make good decisions Preflop and good results will follow. Make poor decisions though and you just set yourself up for more problems later on in the hand.

It is very important that you are playing the right hands from the right positions. What this really means is more from the cutoff and button and less from under the gun and the blinds.

You should also be 3-betting more often in order to take control of the pot when it is likely that they are weak. Furthermore, you should 4-bet bluff them light from time to time when they are trying to do the same thing to you.

Lastly, you want to make sure that you always have a look at who is in the blinds before you make any preflop decisions.

If there are only tight or recreational players left to act, then you want to raise it up with a wider range than normal. 

If there are good aggressive regulars left to act though, then it is a good idea to tighten up a bit.

Anyways, hope this one helps. All the best at the poker tables!

poker preflop mistakes


  1. How about limping small pocket pairs UTG in order to set mine ?
    I don't know if you have ever heard of the book "crushing the microstakes" but the guy makes a pretty good point about it :D

    1. That's the thinking that gets you into trouble. Master the basics: play in position, don't limp. Put another way don't limp, play in position. Let's say you limp UTG and the cut-off 3-bets you. Now what? Do you call just because you have a pair, or do you say "!$#!@#" and fold? If the former, you are bleeding chips. If the latter, you are leaking chips. Either way, not profitable.

    2. Haha Thomas I heard it was a good book :p I edited that part out many years ago. There is a legit argument for limping in that situation though if the stacks are deep and the table is crazy. Stacks were deep on Pokerstars (250bb) when I wrote that book.

    3. so play small PP same as other mid PP?

    4. Honestly I stopped limping small PP after a database analysis that showed that I was indeed bleeding chips doing that, buuuuut when for example there are two huge fish with deep pockets in the blinds and I have 55 UTG I can't help limping, it's just too tempting. Thank you for your answers

    5. Also I play mostly 6max nowadays so UTG isn't as bad as full ring, if I may even still call it UTG since it'd be MP2 with 9 people.

    6. limp more pairs if there are aggro players on your left, fold more small SC in EP

  2. Ever thought about writing an article about how to adapt to HU when starting a table ? Pretty sure I don't get to make requests but I'd be interested in your thoughts on the subject.

    1. It’s a good idea. Noted. Maybe write that article one day :)

    2. Cool, thanks for the good content as always.

  3. I have a great passion for Cash games, and I want to thank You so much Nathan. But honestly i think Cash games in 2017 is not profitable for the rec's.

    1. The games Are so tough now a days. Dont You think mtts Are more profitable now a days?

    2. Hey unknown,

      Speaking as someone who's implemented Nathan's poker advice and seen success at the micro's, I'd encourage you to hang tough and keep reading Nathan's books and articles. Nathan's been my poker "mentor" for only 2 months now and I went from being a break even player at best to winning ~20bb/100 playing 5NL. This is from a roughly 15k hand sample size. I'll admit I may be running fairly good but there's no doubt I am playing good thanks to Nathan. I also have no doubt you can do the same!

    3. Wow Thats very great results. Good job man!

    4. Nice work Jason! Glad I could help :)

      Cash games aren't always easy these days but there are still plenty of people beating these games. It might be a bit harder learning curve than MTTs for instance, but I think learning cash games will make you a better poker player in the long run. There is also a lot more action and potential money to be made in cash games vs MTTs.

  4. Great post. I used to do #6 too much, 3-bet EP raisers. Learning how to flat more against them has definitely improved my preflop game a lot.

  5. So your advise is NOT to slow play even with AA or KK preflop?

    1. It depends on the player and the situation but usually I am not slowplaying with these hands.