12 Poker Beginner Mistakes That Will Kill Your Winnings

Poker Beginner Mistake
Everybody was a poker beginner at one time or another. And it is easy to make a lot of mistakes when you are first starting out.

I know that for me, before I ever turned pro and ended up writing books about this game, I went through many, many years of making a lot of the same mistakes at the poker tables.

In most cases, I had to learn through trial and error what works and what doesn't. But I don't want you to have to spend years going through all this as well!

So in this article you will learn the top 12 poker beginner mistakes that will kill your poker winnings so that you can hopefully avoid them yourself.


Poker Beginner Mistake #1 - Not Understanding the Power of Initiative


One of the hardest things for many poker beginners to learn is the power of initiative in poker. And what I mean by this is being the person in control of the hand. Or in other words, the raiser.

So this is why you will see many poker beginners limp into the pot for instance. Now, there can be a time and a place where this makes sense. I am not saying you should never, ever limp.

But it should be very, very rare because it is simply a proven fact (you can check in any poker tracking program) that the aggressor or raiser in poker wins more pots.

And the reason for this is pretty straightforward. Most of the time in poker nobody really has much of anything good, often a pair or a weak draw at best.

So the person who has taken control of the pot preflop will often win the pot by simply continuing to exert their aggression after the flop.


Poker Beginner Mistake #2 - Not Understanding the Power of Position


The next crucial poker beginner mistake that literally took me years to learn was just how important position is in poker.

Now once again, I just love checking the data in poker because opinions will always vary.

So you can open up any tracking program like PokerTracker or Hold'em Manager and as long as you have a decent sample of hands (100k+), you will see that you are winning by far the most from late position.

I have coached hundreds of students before and I have seen their databases. Over significant samples sizes I have never seen this vary.

Late position by the way are the seats like the button and the cutoff where you get to act last after every single postflop street.

This is enormously important in poker because it means that you get to get in every last value bet and bluff with the benefit of already seeing them act before you.

This is why it is imperative that you learn early on to play tighter in early position and the blinds and to open up a lot more in late position.


Poker Beginner Mistake #3 - Failing to Play in Good Poker Games


The next massive mistake that all poker beginners make (and many never actually learn this at all even after 5 or 10 years) is that you can't "crush" a tough poker game.

Poker is a game that is played between people and it doesn't matter how much experience you have, how many books you have read and so on, if there isn't a soft spot in the game, then you aren't going to win big.

You have to find the players who make large fundamental mistakes like playing too many hands, calling down with any pair or draw after the flop and so on if you truly want to win big in poker.

This is why I believe that table selection is the most important part of being a professional or semi-professional poker player these days.


Poker Beginner Mistake #4 - Failing to Get Past Basic Variance


Another huge mistake that I see poker beginners making is not playing enough hands especially before coming to conclusions about their results.

You can find them everywhere, on forums, in casinos or in your home games. These are the guys who get hung up on individual hands, bad beats and so on.

The problem with this is we don't play this game for individual hands or even individual days. Poker instead is a game with a short term luck element automatically built in. So therefore, you can only determine your results over periods of time such as months or years.

Now believe me I get it though, we live in a day and age where it is all about the fast results now. But unfortunately this is just not the way that poker works, nor will it ever work this way.

As I often say, poker is literally the exact opposite of a get rich quick scheme. You have to put in the long hard hours at the tables (and away from them) if you really want to see real results in this game.

If you are just in this thing for a quick buck, then it probably won't end well for you.


Poker Beginner Mistake #5 - Not Having the Right Bankroll


The next poker beginner mistake that I see all the time is not being properly bankrolled. And believe me, once again, I get it. A lot of people want to just deposit $10 and see if they can "run it up."

But once again this is failing to understand the reality of how this game works. You really need to have at least 30 buyins in order to overcome basic variance in cash games.

And if you play tournaments or sit and gos you can multiply this number many, many times over.

So the very lowest stakes cash game online has a $2 buyin meaning you should have $60 to play that game and this is the very lowest amount that I would recommend.

Honestly, for most beginners I would recommend even more than this. Variance is simply a reality of the game and 20 buyin downswings can happen even to good winning players these days.

If you take poker seriously, then you need to make sure that you have the right bankroll for the games you play in right from the very start.


Poker Beginner Mistake #6 - Playing Stakes That Are Too High


Another common poker beginner mistake I see especially online is playing stakes that are too high. A lot of people will say that they simply cannot take games with buyins of $2, $5 or $10 seriously.

The problem with this line of thinking though is that often the games that they consider to be "real money" of $100 or more are full of hungry sharks ready to pounce on a poker newb like yourself.

Many people fail to realize that even at stakes as low as 25c/50c blinds online these days you will encounter many professional poker players. These guys aren't messing around and they aren't fish either.

As a newcomer to poker, or even as somebody who has been playing in the casinos for a little while with some success, these guys are probably going to fleece you very quickly.

Your best bet is to take the humble path and start in the $2 or $5 games first. If you start wrecking these games, cool, just move up right away. But you need to prove that you can indeed beat these games first before taking on the big boys.


Poker Beginner Mistake #7 - Not Moving Up When They Should


Now on the flip side of this, I also see plenty of poker beginners staying in the low stakes games for way, way too long. And the problem with this is that nobody gets rich at the micros!

As I have discussed many times before, it really should only take you a couple of months to start beating the very lowest stakes online especially if you follow the system outlined in my free poker strategy guide.

But I see some people who continue to play at these limits for years and years. Now believe me I get it, because I used to do the exact same thing. It's nice to just get that easy money and barely ever lose.

However, if you ever want to truly make some real money in poker, or at least a significant side income, then it really is necessary that you move up and challenge yourself in higher stakes games at some point.


Poker Beginner Mistake #8 - Tilting All Their Winnings Away


The next most common mistake I see poker beginners making is tilting all of their poker winnings away.

Essentially, they are doing fine, making some profit and then a fish comes along, bad beats them a few times and they proceed to lose their mind and give all their money away.

I have seen this again and again over the years at the micros and also back when I used to coach poker players at the micros, this was a very common theme.

If you want to be successful in poker, then like I discussed before, you are going to have to start viewing this game with a long term perspective.

You cannot allow yourself to get emotional over one bad player who gets lucky against you. Because this will happen again and again and it is just a part of the game.

So you either need to develop some strategies to keep yourself off of tilt when this happens or you need a proper quitting strategy in order to prevent these unnecessary losses from happening again.


Poker Beginner Mistake #9 - Over-Thinking the Game


The next most common poker beginner mistake that I see these days is over-thinking the game. And this has become more and more common in recent years with the large amount of poker training materials that is now available out there.

Many people who are new to the game and have not even played 100k hands in their entire career are spending far too much time studying everything they can get their hands on and spending countless hours debating hands on forums, in YouTube comments on Reddit or where ever.

The problem with all of this is that you don't need to be some poker genius in order to beat the micros. All you need to do is consistently apply a simple TAG strategy like I outline in all my poker books.

And what's more is that you don't get paid to talk about poker or to study complex theories. You only get paid when you are actually playing the game (assuming you are a winning poker player).

So my advice is to find one strategy, one mentor, one coach who is a proven winner in the games that you play in and just study that. And then get to the tables and start grinding.


Poker Beginner Mistake #10 - Bad Bet Sizing


Another common mistake that I see beginner poker players make is using tournament style bet sizing or bet sizing strategies meant for much higher limit games at the micros.

Honestly if you just went raise 3x preflop, and then 2/3 pot postflop on every single street (depending on your hand, the board and the other players in the hand of course), you really could not go wrong.

But I see many people using all sorts of bizarre blocker bets, probing bets and slowplay these days after the flop where they are simply losing value against a very basic opponent who would have paid them off for much more.

I see the same thing preflop with all sorts of weird little mini-raises or severely under-sized 3Bets in loose passive games where they are simply throwing away money.

This is like voluntarily selling your car which has a market value of 10k for 5k. If you seriously just hate money, then sure go ahead and do this.

But if winning at poker is important to you, then I would highly suggest learning some good bet sizing strategy early on and not straying from that.


Poker Beginner Mistake #11 - Fancy Play Syndrome


And that leads right into my next poker beginner mistake which is fancy play syndrome, the destroyer of so many micro stakes bankrolls.

Basically what this means is trying to use some crazy 10th level thinking play that you saw some high stakes poker player do against some half drunk beginner in your $5 game online.

Here's what will happen in reality.

Your extra fancy river check/raise (because you are representing the flush and he should TOTALLY understand this) will actually just go right over his head and he will quickly call you down with his top pair.

Like I have mentioned many times on this blog before, if you want to have success in poker, especially when you are starting out at the lower limits, then you have to learn to keep everything as painfully and stupidly simple as possible.

Trust me, this is what actually works in these games. Keep the fancy plays out of your game until you are actually playing against high level world class competition in high stakes games.


Poker Beginner Mistake #12 - Not Embracing the Grind


Poker is a tough game. It isn't for the faint of heart and the games are not easy these days either. I am one of the few people out there who actually tells you this nearly every single week on this blog.

In a word, poker is a grind. And it is a long and hard one if you truly want to be successful at it.

I got to where I am today by putting in longer harder hours than anybody. In fact that is what I prided myself on. They might be more skilled than me but they will never ever outwork me.

I used to play so much poker that I got accused of being a "bot" nearly every single day.

PokerStars actually started putting a CAPTCHA on my poker tables every once in awhile to force me to prove that I was a real live human being. This is because they got so many complaints about me playing too much and being an "obvious bot."

Look, I am not saying all this brag. After all, I am nowhere near one of the best poker players in the world and there are lots of guys out there who have made way more money in this game than me.

I am just trying to give you a glimpse into the kind of dedication that it takes if you truly want to succeed in poker. You simply have to want it more than the next guy, way more.

And yes, even when this game has been kicking your teeth in for days, weeks and sometimes even months on end.

You have to be willing to persevere through it all and simply soldier on. You have to fully embrace the grind.


Final Thoughts


So there are the top 12 poker beginner mistakes that I still see people making all the time these days. Some are easy to avoid, some took me years to learn.

But if you want to create real lasting consistent results in this game then my best advice is to do things right from the very beginning of your poker career.

Make sure you know the fundamentals of initiative, position, bankroll management, bet sizing, game selection and emotional control and among others.

And above all, be ready to persevere no matter what this game throws your way, and have the drive and discipline to keep improving every day and putting in the long hours at the tables, no matter what.

Make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet if you want a complete strategy plan for your success.


Are you a poker beginner? Are you making any of the mistakes listed in this article? Let me know in the comments below.

Can You Win at Poker Without Bluffing?

16 comments:

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  2. Some pretty solid advice as usual. Regarding 6 and 7 it is amazing, how on one hand some people jump right into stakes, that are way to high, just because they have the money for it. While others have played a million hands at 2NL and still not found the courage to move on. As in so many other situations you need to find the golden middle road.

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    1. Thanks Lars. Yes there are two ends of the spectrum for sure.

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  3. Great post. I personal have most of them under perfect control, but always great to see where you can improve a little bit. Think its fun to go down list like these, ones or twice a week and see if you missed something. Nathan = Great blogs!!!

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  4. Your point on "initiative" is crucial, and watching TV tournaments I see top pros, even Negreanu, mess this one up. Holding the winning hand at the river but with a scare card on the river they will check to their opponent who then represents a hand with the scare card, and then fold. This happens frequently, and to me is just a matter of the pro letting caution take over. I don't know what would happen if the pro bet his hand -- I assume sometimes the villain would bluff -- but it never makes sense to me that the pro, having bet his top hand throughout, would just give it up at the end just because a high card hits on the river. You are just asking to be pushed off your hand, which is the almost invariable result. Aggression usually pays.

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    1. I agree aggression usually pays especially at the micros. But as you move up and play against better competition it is important to balance it a bit more.

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  5. Very useful post as usual. Your blog is really helpful and makes the reader reflect and be aware of his / her own game. Thank you and well done!

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    1. Thanks Rahul glad my poker blog helps you!

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    2. Nathan, you missed one, and I would like to add Mistake #13: not paying attention. This is the A Number One mistake I see all the time, live and on-line: playing Group Solitaire. You often see the nittiest player at the table sitting behind enormous stacks -- two or more buys up, as he gets action *way* out of proportion to the action he gives. Doesn't matter that he hasn't played a single hand in a dozen orbits or more; doesn't matter he showed down two hands in as many hours and it was the nuts both times. They still come in against this guy and hand over another stack to his pocket aces or kings that I knew he had from the get-go.

      You see it at live venues all the time: they're sitting there with their smart phones playing some game between hands, or their eyes are glued to the big screen watching their favorite team play. They get involved in a pot and are clueless because they weren't paying attention. How much does Candy Crush Soda cost? The price of this game is free, yet I watched it cost a player at live 200NLHE over $800. That's insane.

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    3. Good point Dolphin and I agree that one should be on the list!

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    4. Definitly an important point. Online I often see a bunch of nits continuing to use default ranges and lines (i.e. fold a lot), even when there is a clear maniac at the table, who is running 82/49 with a 3-bet of 33%.

      They are probably playing 10 tables at the same time and simply not paying attention, and because of that they are missing out on many great opportunities to get the maniacs money.

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  6. Thank you, Nathan!
    In some places I knew myself.
    Bankroll management and emotions (tilt) are still difficult. I hope these things will "come" over time.

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    1. Glad this post helped. It takes time, especially dealing with tilt.

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  7. As for bankroll management I prefer to use an approach, where I always have at least X buyins before buying in to a cash table rather than moving to a higher limit, when my bankroll reach a certain number and then continue to play that limit, even if I lose.

    The advantage of this approach is, that it allow me to relatively quickly take some “shots” at a higher limit, but it also force me to stop again, if it goes wrong. I used to go for the 20 buyin approach, but today I am finding that a bit to aggressive, when we are talking about stakes of 10NL and higher.

    I want to use a bankroll management scheme, which minimize my risk of ever losing more than half my bankroll and having to move down more than 1 limit, unless I want to. And for that at least 30 buyins is required. For aggressive 6-max games and especially Zoom I would even argue for raising that number to 40 or 50.

    My largest downswing so far was 30 buyins, but I managed to save the majority of my bankroll by moving back to 5NL significantly earlier than the point, where I had moved up to 10NL. I started to gradually move from 5NL to 10NL at 200$, but I actually moved back down to 5NL already around 400$, and this is an approach, I can really recommend.

    The downswing unfortunately continued, but now having a very solid 80 buyins left for the new (old) game, I was playing, I was able to get through it without losing my composure completely, and the bankroll is now back near its all time high.

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