Stop Making These 5 Amateur Poker Mistakes (Costing You Money!)

Stop Making These 5 Amateur Poker Mistakes (Costing You Money!)

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

The secret to winning in no-limit Texas Hold’em is this: don’t make any mistakes. And the only way to not make any mistakes is having a lot of experience.

So how do you get the experience? By making a lot of mistakes.

Fortunately, there’s a better, and less costly way, and that is learning from other people’s mistakes. It may not be the most effective way, but it hurts less.

Most amateur poker players tend to make the same mistakes. It doesn’t even have to do with their lack of knowledge, but with the fact they approach poker less seriously than a professional does. 

There’s nothing wrong with playing poker for fun, of course, but if you want to improve your results and actually make money over the long run, taking a more professional approach is a must.

With that said, here are 5 most common amateur poker mistakes, and more importantly, how to avoid them!

1. Playing Too Many Hands

This is a universal mistake virtually every beginner poker player makes when starting playing poker. It might sound counterintuitive at first, but playing too many hands will cost you far more money in the long run than you’ll earn. 

In fact, most people (about 70%) lose money playing poker, so if you don’t like losing money (nobody does), statistically speaking, you’re better off not playing poker in the first place. 

If you want to beat the odds of losing money, the first step is to stop playing junk hands. Over the long run, only about 20% of all starting hands in no-limit Texas hold’em have the potential of being profitable. 

This includes hands that can make strong pairs, or have the potential of making other strong combinations, like straights and flushes. 

Hands like pocket pairs (like pocket Aces or pocket Fives), broadway hands (like Ace-King offsuit or King-Queen suited), suited Aces and suited connectors (like Ace-Three suited or Ten-Nine suited) fit the bill. 

The rest is trash and should be thrown away.

This might sound a little too restrictive. Should you really just fold 80% of the time? Where’s the fun in that? 

And how can you expect to win if you never play?

I hear you. It doesn’t sound like fun at all. Shouldn’t poker be exciting? Well, that depends on what you want out of the experience.

As Nathan discusses in his latest video, you need to avoid these common poker mistakes at all costs, if winning money is your goal.

Now, if you just want to have fun, then by all means play every hand you’re dealt. 

Just don’t expect to make any money that way. Which brings us to the second objection, how can you win if you just fold all the time?

The answer lies in simple math. 

In no-limit hold’em, most hands miss most flops (two out of three times, to be precise). It’s actually pretty rare to make a really strong hand in poker. They simply don’t come around as often as you might hope. 

So you only want to play hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the board in some meaningful way. 

The more hands you play, the weaker your range becomes, and the less often it connects with the board. This is a fundamental truth of any proven winning poker strategy.

And since you have to pay to see every flop, the more flops you see, the more often you miss, and consequently, the more money you lose. 

But what about when you do smash the flop? You can’t miss all the time, right? 

That’s true, but on those rare occasions when you do hit, you have to account for all the other times you missed, and you need to make enough money when you hit to justify all the misses. 

And if you play a bunch of junk hands, the opposite might happen, i.e. you risk losing even more money if you have the second best hand and lose a huge pot.

If you play mediocre hands and hit a top pair on the flop, for example, your opponent can also have a top pair with a better kicker. Or if you make a flush, your opponent could hold an even stronger flush.

So either way, hit or miss, playing mediocre to bad hands is just about the biggest mistake most amateurs make. And it’s often not even the case that they don’t know any better, they just want to have fun. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. 

Poker is a hobby for most people, and like all hobbies, it costs money. Unlike most other hobbies, on the other hand, it can potentially even make you money. 

But only if you approach it the right way. If you’re in it for the fun and excitement, your results will reflect your approach. 

If you want to make money, on the other hand, you’ll need to sacrifice a bit of fun to do so. Kind of like in real life, when you think about it.

If you don't know what hands to play, Nathan has charts in his free poker "cheat sheet" which literally tell you exactly what hands to play.

2. Playing Too Much Suited Junk

Following up on the previous point, a lot of amateur poker players tend to play nearly every suited hand there is on the off chance of hitting a flush. 

Examples of Suited Junk:


There are two problems with this approach. 

First of all, flushes don’t come around nearly as often as people think. The chances of flopping a flush with two suited hole cards are only 0.82%, or once every 122 hands. 

And the chance of flopping a flush draw is only 10.9%. 

The second problem with playing suited junk is, even if you are lucky enough to flop a flush or a flush draw, your opponent could have an even stronger flush, so you can end up losing a huge pot.
When this happens, many people think the poker site is rigged against them or poker is not profitable anymore.

But actually, if they would just cut down on the amount of suited junk they play, these so called "setups" would miraculously start happening to them much less often!

Either way, you’re better off ditching those bad hands. The fact that the hand is suited actually does very little to improve your chances of winning a big pot, and can often cause you to lose one instead. 

What’s more, even if your opponent doesn’t have a stronger flush, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to extract a lot of value with your hand. Flushes are fairly obvious to spot. 

Even recreational players can see the third spade coming on the turn for example, and might not be inclined to pay you off. 

This means you have worse implied odds with flushes than with other combinations that are more concealed and difficult to spot.

Still, suited hands are stronger than their unsuited counterparts. You can still play suited Aces and suited connectors, for example. 

Suited Aces have the advantage in the sense that when you have a flush or a flush draw, you’re usually drawing to the strongest possible hand combination, so you don’t have to worry about having a second best hand.

For this and other reasons, Suited Aces also make great 4-bet bluffing hands as discussed in the Micro Stakes Playbook. 

But that is beyond the scope of this article.  

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3. Chasing Too Many Bad Draws

This was touched upon briefly in the previous points, but it’s such a prevalent mistake it’s worth taking a closer look. 

A drawing hand is the one that didn’t make a strong combination yet, but can do so on future streets, i.e. the turn and river. 

Chasing bad draws means two things:
A) Chasing draws that are highly unlikely to complete
B) Chasing draws that, even if they complete, don’t make the strongest possible hand combination.

The former means chasing draws with very few outs, or needing both the turn and river card to complete your draw. 

For example, if you have an inside straight draw, you only have four outs, so your chance of improvement to a straight is only about 17% from flop to river.

Inside straight draw example:

You have: 87

Flop comes: K54

You will make the nut straight (best straight possible) if any 6 falls on the turn or river. This is also called an "out."

(By the way, an out is a card that improves your hand combination on future streets. The more outs you have, the stronger your draw).

The main problem here though is that there are only four 6's in the deck which gives you bad odds, or in other words, a weak draw. 

Furthermore, one of your outs, the 6♣, is actually "tainted" because it could potentially give your opponent a flush. A flush of course beats a straight.

So make sure you watch out for this!

The second mistake regarding drawing hands is not drawing to the best possible hand combination (i.e. the nuts). For example, drawing to the bottom end of a straight, or drawing to the second or third best flush. 

In these situations, your hand has a chance of improvement, but even if it does improve, you could end up losing a huge pot because your opponent could be holding a stronger combination.

If you struggle with poker math like this, check out my the free poker odds "cheat sheet" I wrote recently. 

4. Playing Too Passively

Winning poker is not just about what hands you play, it’s how you play them. 

In order to be a profitable long term winner, you need to play an aggressive style of poker, i.e. betting and raising often with your strong hands. 

There are two ways to win the pot: you can either make the strongest combination of cards at showdown, or you can make all other players fold before showdown. 

If you’re playing passively, i.e. just checking and calling, you only have one way to win the pot, i.e. have the best hand at showdown. 

The problem is, strong hand combinations don’t come around often enough to rely on them alone. That is why this is one of the top 5 bad poker strategies that Nathan discussed in a recent video.

Besides, if you’re only betting and raising when you do have a strong hand, your more observant opponents can pick up on it easily and get away cheaply. This makes you extremely easy to play against.

The solution is, therefore, betting and raising more. Most players think they are playing aggressively, when in reality, they aren’t nearly as aggressive as they should be.

By the way, I discuss this in much more detail in my new Elite Poker University training. 

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So if you’re getting involved in a hand, always raise if you are the first player to open the pot. As a general rule, you should never just call a big blind if you are the first to open the pot (aka open-limping).

Open limping is ill-advised for a couple of reasons:
a) If you don’t raise, you can’t win the blinds uncontested
b) You leave yourself vulnerable to getting raised by other players
c) You don’t have the initiative post-flop

The initiative is an important concept when it comes to post-flop play. The player with the initiative is the one who raised on the previous street. 

The player with the initiative is perceived to have the strongest hand, otherwise other players would have re-raised themselves. 

If you have the initiative, you can continue applying the pressure with the continuation bet (or a c-bet). 
(By the way, a c-bet is simply a bet made by the previous street’s aggressor.)

So opening the pot with a raise is far more favourable than open-limping. 

It allows you to build the pot with your strong value hands, as well as take down the pot with a simple c-bet if you believe your opponent missed the flop (which happens more often than not, or 2 out of 3 times to be exact).

Most of your winnings will actually come from those strong value hands we mentioned earlier, so once you get them, it’s crucial you start building up the pot as soon as possible. 

If you have a really strong hand, don’t be afraid to put as much money in the middle as possible. 

If you ever want to make the big bucks in poker, for example $100 an hour or more playing poker, you must understand this point on a deep level.

5. Playing The Wrong Stakes

When you are first starting out playing poker, chances are you are going to lose money for a time. You are bound to make a lot of mistakes while learning the ropes. It’s just the way it is, and you shouldn’t let that discourage you. 

Nobody was born an expert, and there is a learning curve to overcome. 

So it goes without saying you should only play with the money you’re comfortable with losing, because chances are, you will. So it doesn’t really make sense to lose more than necessary. 

If you’re playing poker online, it’s advised to start at the very lowest limit for cash games, which is NL2, aka 1cent / 2cent blinds. 

This is the best place to learn the basics of a solid tight and aggressive strategy, which includes being very selective with your starting hands, playing in position, and playing aggressively.

I would highly recommend checking out my ultimate guide to NL2 poker strategy if you are new to this stake.  

This is also the limit where you will encounter a lot of other beginner poker players, so with the right approach, you can start winning fairly quickly. 

It’s also a lot less cost-prohibitive than live games. 

While live games in brick-and mortar casinos usually have the blinds structure of no less than 1 and 2 dollars, online cash games have the blinds starting from only 1 and 2 cents. 

Now, you might scoff at the notion of playing for pennies, but jumping to higher stakes right away can be a huge mistake. 

That’s because the player pool in online poker is far more skilled on average than their live counterparts, even at the very lowest stakes. 

In fact, the average skill of $1/2 live player equates to the average skill of players in 1c/2c cash games online. 

If you attempted to play $1/2 cash games online or (NL200) you’d play against very tough and experienced opponents, or even full-time professionals.

By the way, I have already written the complete guide to beating $1/$2 live cash games if you currently struggle to win consistently at the casino.

So it’s a safer bet to gradually climb the stakes once you’re confident you can actually beat your current stake over the long run. 

And due to the nature of variance (i.e. the short-term fluctuations in your results), it takes a while to accurately assess your skill level. 

Ten thousand hands is the bare minimum to draw any meaningful conclusions about your game.

5 Amateur Poker Mistakes You Must Avoid (Summary)

To recap, here are 5 most common poker mistakes:

1. Playing too many hands. 

Only about 20% of all starting hands in no-limit Texas hold’em are long term winners. Play those only, and dump the rest.

2. Playing too much suited junk. 

Suited hands don’t make flushes nearly as often as you might hope for. And even when they do, they might end up costing you far more than they’re worth. Suited junk is still junk.

3. Chasing too many bad draws. 

Drawing hands are always an underdog against a made hand on the flop. Always put your money in with the mathematical advantage. Don’t chase money hoping to hit, because chances are, you won’t.

4. Playing too passively. 

If you want to make money, build up that pot! Money doesn’t magically fall in your lap. You have to go out and get it.Winning poker is aggressive poker. 

5. Playing the wrong stakes. 

Only play with the money you’re comfortable with losing. Also, only play in games you have a reasonable chance of beating. 

So how many of these mistakes are you guilty of? 

Hopefully it’s zero, but even if it’s five, don’t worry. Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. If you’re not making any, it means you’re never trying anything new, and you’re not growing. 

What’s important is that you learn from your mistakes and keep expanding your knowledge. Do that, and you’re already way ahead of the competition.

Lastly, if you want to know my complete strategy for making $1000+ per month from small stakes poker games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

5 Amateur Poker Mistakes You Must Avoid