6 Not So Obvious Reasons Why You’re Losing at Poker

6 Not so Obvious Reasons You’re Losing at Poker

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

You’re not playing any junk hands. You’re not chasing miracle draws. You don’t go off on insane monkey tilts. 

Yet for some reason, you’re still not making bank at the poker tables.

Eliminating some basic mistakes is guaranteed to improve your poker results, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically start crushing the game beyond belief.

If you’re still losing despite seemingly doing everything right, keep reading.

In this article, we’ll take a look at 6 subtle reasons that may be keeping you from turning a profit at the felt.

1. You’re Playing Poker Too Straight Forwardly

If you’re playing the lower stakes, playing a simple tight and aggressive (TAG) style is hands down the best winning poker strategy. 

Tight and Aggressive (TAG) strategy involves:

a) only playing strong starting poker hands
b) playing most of these hands in position
c) value betting these hands relentlessly

This strategy works great in the small stakes poker games because it takes advantage of the weaknesses of most players you’re going to encounter at these limits, namely the recreational players.

If you want a simple step by step guide to TAG poker strategy, just grab a copy of my free poker "cheat sheet."

Recreational players play primarily for fun, and make all sorts of huge, fundamental poker mistakes like playing too many hands, not understanding the power of position, and calling too much.

It’s easy to see why a TAG strategy works like a charm against these players.

However, once you start climbing up the stakes, you’re going to encounter more difficult opposition. Against more skilled opponents, this strategy becomes less effective.

That’s due to the fact that everyone else is using it as well, so there’s no edge to exploit.

As a general rule, the most effective poker strategy is the one that’s the opposite of what most other players are doing.

For example, if everyone at your table is very loose, your best bet is to tighten up and vice versa.

If everyone is playing too passively, the best strategy is to play aggressively and push your opponents out of pots.

You get the point.

While a simple TAG strategy works great against clueless players, it’s less effective when everyone else is playing the same way.

The downside to the TAG strategy is that it can become predictable to players who are actually paying attention to what you’re doing.

While recreational players won’t pay attention to your betting patterns, betting frequencies, and so on, more skilled opponents may figure out what you’re doing, and adjust accordingly.

For example, if you’re c-betting the flop with a high frequency, but often check on the turn, they may figure out that you’re being “turn honest,” so they will try to push you out of the pot every time you check the turn.

A c-bet, or a continuation bet, is a bet made by the previous street’s aggressor.

Or if you are only 3-betting strong value hands like premium pocket pairs and Ace-King, they can adjust by simply folding every time you 3-bet them.

(A 3-bet preflop is a re-raise against another player’s open-raise).

After a while, it will be as if you’re playing your cards face up. 

If you truly want to crush the game, you need to learn how to beat all the opponents you encounter, not just the clueless fish.

This is why it’s crucial to mix up your game from time to time. You also need to start paying attention to your table image and the metagame. 

These details become more important as you start encountering tougher opposition.

Your table image is how your opponents perceive you; i.e. whether you are tight or loose, passive or aggressive. Your table image will change based on the way you play.

The metagame is closely linked to your table image, and it has to do with how your session is going, and what is happening “beyond the game”. 

For example, if you’re on a roll because you’re getting great cards, if you’ve been caught bluffing lately, if your opponents are tilting, is there a lot of action on the table or is everyone folding all the time etc.

All of these factors can affect the game in subtle, but profound ways, so it’s important to pay attention to them.

Again, these details are less important when you’re playing against opponents who simply aren’t paying attention to them. But against more skilled competition, details like these are crucial if you want to win.

Check out my other article on how to play a loose and aggressive (LAG) poker style for more info on how to mix up your game.

Also, check out Nathan’s recent video for tips on beating the low stakes poker games.

2. You’re Not Light C-Betting Enough

Playing only strong starting hands and playing them aggressively preflop gives you the opportunity to continue the aggression post flop.

If you are the preflop aggressor, you have the opportunity to make a continuation bet (or c-bet for short) on the flop.

Since you are the preflop aggressor, you are perceived to have the strongest hand on the flop, which gives you the initiative to keep betting and build up the pot further with your strong hands.

Here’s the problem, though. 

In No Limit Hold’em, most hands miss most flops (2 out of 3 times, to be precise). 

So even if you only play strong starting hands, you won’t have a strong made hand on the flop most of the time.

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make a c-bet on most flops.

A lot of players make the mistake of only c-betting the flop when they have a made hand. 

There are a couple of problems with this approach.

First of all, even if you missed the flop, your opponent could have missed it as well. And since you have the initiative, you can often take down the pot with a c-bet, even without a strong hand.

When you make a c-bet with the intention of getting your opponent to fold (i.e. you are bluffing), this is called a light c-bet. This is the opposite of c-betting for value, where you want your opponent to call you with weaker hands.

Mastering the light c-bet is a crucial part of the post flop play, and knowing when and when not to c-bet will make your post flop play way easier.

A light c-bet is especially effective against the so-called fit-or-fold players.

These are usually weaker players who love to see a lot of flops, but give up pretty easily if they don’t connect with the flop in some meaningful way (which is most of the time).

Against this player type, it’s profitable to c-bet with a very high frequency, regardless of your hand strength (or lack thereof).

For example, if someone folds to a c-bet two out of three times on average, you know they are probably playing pretty straightforwardly (i.e. they only continue playing if they have a decent hand, and fold the rest).

If you’re using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can see how often a player folds to a c-bet by checking their Fold to C-bet (FCB) stat on the HUD.

Also, check out this of mine article for the 15 most useful poker HUD stats you should be using.

Against these players, you can basically print money by c-betting just about any flop. If they give you any resistance, you know they’ll have you beat.

Another reason to master the light c-bet is that it makes you harder to play against.

If you only c-bet with strong value hands, it will become quite obvious to more skilled players who are paying attention. 

They can adjust by simply folding every time you make a c-bet, and refuse to give you any action unless they have a strong hand themselves.

By mastering a light c-bet, on the other hand, you will keep them on their toes, and they will constantly have to guess at your hand strength.

Example Hand #1

You are dealt KJ in the CO (cutoff). 

You open-raise to 3x. Villain calls from the BB (big blind).

Pot: 6.5 BB

Flop: T62

Villain checks. 

You: ???

You should c-bet 3.5 BB.

This is a textbook spot where you should make a light c-bet.

You don’t have a made hand on the flop, but you should still c-bet virtually 100% of the time.

The board is fairly dry, meaning your opponent could have easily missed the flop. You also have the initiative and the range advantage.

The preflop aggressor has the range advantage, meaning they theoretically have more strong hands in their range than the preflop caller.

You also have two overcards, meaning that your hand can improve on future streets with any King or any Jack.

You also have a backdoor straight and a backdoor flush draws, which give you an additional chunk of equity to fall back on if your c-bet gets called.

A backdoor draw means you need both turn AND river cards to complete your draw.

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3. You’re Not Thin Value Betting Enough

If you’re playing the lower stakes, your best bet is to stick to the fundamental tight and aggressive poker strategy. This means value betting your strong hands relentlessly.

However, a lot of players make the mistake of not value betting their hands nearly as enough as they should. 

If you want to win big, you need to win big pots.

Another mistake some players make is waiting for absolute monster hands to start value betting. 

In other words, they wait for the nuts, or close to it, to try to win a big pot.

The nuts is the strongest possible hand combination on a certain board.

However, you don’t need to wait around for the nuts all day to win a big pot. 

If you want to win big in poker, you need to learn to thin value bet.

Value betting means betting when your hand is comfortably ahead of your opponent’s range.

Thin value betting means betting when your hand is ahead of your opponent’s range, but not by a huge margin. In other words, you’re expecting to win the pot slightly more often than 50% of the time.

Example Hand #2

Let’s say you are dealt KQ and the board is: 


You have the stone cold nuts, and you are guaranteed to win the hand, unless you fold by accident. You can value bet without the fear of having only a second best hand.

Now, let’s look at a different example

You are dealt KQ again, but this time, the board runout is:


You have a second pair with a decent kicker. 

Suppose you are playing in position, you c-bet the flop, c-bet the turn, and are now pondering on what to do on the river when your opponent checks to you.

If you’re up against a recreational player, you should probably fire a third shell.

A lot of players get apprehensive in these types of spots, and simply check back because they don’t have a top pair anymore.

But failing to extract value in spots like these means you’re going to have mediocre results at best.

While your opponent will sometimes show up with an Ax kind of hand, there’s still plenty of hands you’re ahead of and would gladly give you action in spots like these.

Remember, recreational players love to call a lot, and will often show up with all kinds of nonsense hands.

In this spot, your opponent can easily have a number of weaker Qx or 9x hands, medium pocket pairs, busted straight and flush draws and so on.

Some of these hands will fold to your bet, but some of them will give you action. And yes, there are some hands that will beat you, but these hands are only a small part of your opponent’s overall range.

When making decisions, you need to take your opponent’s ENTIRE range into account, not just the hands that have you beat.

Another reason you should look for spots to thin value bet is the fact that poker is a game of razor thin margins. These tiny edges add up tremendously over the long run. 

You can’t rely on monster hands alone to be a profitable long term winner, because these hands simply don’t come around often enough.

Also, the river is the biggest money street, and knowing how to play the river optimally will boost your profitability more than any other street.

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4. You’re Playing Poker On Auto Pilot

When you’re playing poker, there’s a lot of things you need to think about. 

While most recreational players only pay attention to their hole cards and how they connect with the board, more experienced players process a lot more information in order to make the best decision possible.

A skilled poker player will pay attention to the effective stack sizes, their table position, their opponent’s ranges, their own perceived range, bet sizings, physical and timing tells, their table image, the meta-game and so on.

In other words, there’s much more to poker than waiting to get lucky and hit a miracle river card.

At the same time, poker can be slow-paced, monotonous and boring. This is especially the case if you’re playing a tight and aggressive strategy, which includes a lot of folding.

For this reason, a lot of players make the mistake of getting involved in marginal spots out of pure boredom. 

They try to force the action just so they can do something, even though it may not be profitable over the long run.

They may get impatient and start playing mediocre hands, chasing draws they shouldn’t be chasing, bluffing when they shouldn’t be bluffing and so on.

A lot of the times players lose in poker not necessarily due to the lack of skill, but due to the lack of patience.

Another more subtle way in which players mess up their winrate is by playing on autopilot.

You may not be guilty of playing bad hands and chasing action out of boredom, but chances are that you’re not completely in the zone when you’re playing, either.

Due to the slow pace of the game, players sometimes just go through the motions without really being engaged in the game. 

Their mind might start to wander, and they just mechanically fold and wait around for a strong hand.

Once you figure out the basics of a successful TAG strategy, it’s easy to get complacent, especially when you’re playing the lower stakes. 

But it’s important to remember that learning the basics is only the beginning of your improvement as a poker player, not the end.

Once you get the fundamentals down, you can start working on the details to keep improving your game.

This will keep you more engaged when you play, and it will also produce better results as well.

As mentioned, there’s a ton of stuff to take into consideration when you’re playing. If you’re only paying the bare minimum attention, you’re going to have sub par results at best.

It’s hard to play in the zone every single time, but you can get better at it with practice.

Get into the habit of asking yourself how you’re doing in a session from time to time. Ask yourself how you’re running, what’s your mental state, and how engaged you are.

If you can’t bring yourself back to focus, it may be time to take a break.

In order to play in the zone more often, try this exercise. Try telling yourself all the information you have available before making decisions. 

Talk yourself through your decisions instead of acting immediately, even though you already know what the best play is.

This will help you make better decisions at the felt, and spot details you might miss otherwise.

Check out my other article on how to read your opponent's hand every time.

5. You Don't Have a Good Poker Rakeback Program

Poker is a zero-sum game, meaning that in order for you to win, someone else has to lose. This is not a moral judgment in any way. 

There are other aspects of poker that add value to it, namely the fun and enjoyment of playing, and/or the social aspect of the game.

We’re just talking about the mechanics of the game here. When you add in the rake, this actually makes poker a negative sum game.

So, in order to be a winning poker player, not only do you need to beat the other players, you also need to beat the rake.

The rake is a small percentage of the pot the house takes out of every pot for orgainizing the game. So the more you play, the less and less chips there are in circulation.

The rake is inevitable, and it eats away at your bottom line. This is why most people actually lose in poker over the long run: they are fighting an uphill battle and are unable to beat the rake.

However, just because rake is inevitable, it doesn’t mean you can’t win over the long run. 

You can make the rake work for you (in a way) by opting into a rakeback program.

Most online poker sites offer some sort of a loyalty program to attract players to their site, and this program is often in the form of a rakeback.

A rakeback means that you get a set amount of rake you’ve contributed back to your account. The more you play, the more rakeback you get.

Rakeback is basically free money you can use to boost your bottom line.

Some sites offer other loyalty benefits, like free tickets for tournaments, discounts for merchandise, or other freebies. I prefer the cold, hard cash though.

It’s worth shopping around to find a rakeback program that works for you. Most sites also offer welcome bonuses to new players, so take advantage of it.

Important note: don’t be fooled by the misleading marketing that offers exorbitant sign up bonuses. These are often marketing tricks to get you to sign up, and come with strings attached.

For example, if a site is offering a 100% sign up bonus, it often means you need to play a lot and contribute a ton of rake to “unlock” the bonus. 

This means the bonus won’t be awarded in a lump sum, but incrementally over a time period.

There will also often be time limitations; for example, you will only have a month or two to unlock the bonus, otherwise it is forfeit.

Bottom line: Sign up bonuses can be a great way to boost your bottom line, but always read the fine print to figure out EXACTLY what the requirements are for unlocking the bonus, and if it’s feasible for you to do so.

Also, only play on licensed, reputable poker sites to keep your money safe. If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution. 

6. You’re Not Working On Improving Your Poker Game

Poker is an extremely competitive game, even at the lower limits. This means you need to constantly work on improving your game in order to stay ahead. 

The winning poker strategies are constantly evolving. What used to work 10 years ago may not necessarily work as well in today’s games.

Back in the day, there were very few ways to learn the winning poker strategy. There were no books, videos, or courses, and the only way to improve your game was through trial and error. 

Nowadays, there’s plenty of readily available information to anyone interested in improving their game. 

This makes improving your game easier than ever, but there’s also another side of the equation to consider.

Since it’s now easier than ever to access information, it means that the overall player pool got better as well, i.e. the game became more competitive. 

It’s increasingly rare to find a totally clueless player who barely knows if a flush beats a straight. 

These days, almost everyone knows that you shouldn’t play most of the hands dealt to you, and most of the players at least intuitively understand the power of playing in position.

That’s not to say that there’s no more money to be made in poker. Just because anyone can theoretically learn the winning poker strategy, it doesn’t mean that everyone is interested in doing so.

Knowing how to do something and actually doing it are not the same thing. 

Everyone knows that in order to be fit, you need to eat healthy and exercise regularly. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t make it easy.

Same thing with poker. Everyone can learn to win, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to do it.

So if you're constantly working on improving your game, you're already way ahead of the competition.

Check out Nathan's recent video on how to quickly improve your game.

6 Not so Obvious Reasons You’re Losing at Poker - Summary

There’s much more to a successful winning poker strategy than knowing which hands to play in which position. 

If you’re still struggling to turn a profit at the poker tables, here are a few subtle reasons why that may be the case.

1. You are playing too straightforwardly.

Following a simple tight and aggressive strategy (TAG) strategy is enough to beat the recreational players, but it’s not enough to completely crush the game. 

To beat more skilled players, you need to mix up your game from time to time to keep them guessing.

2. You’re not light c-betting enough.

You can’t rely on strong value hands alone to be a long term winner in this game. Sometimes you have to win the pot without having the best hand. 

In order to keep your opponents guessing, you need to incorporate a light c-bet into your arsenal.

3. You’re not thin value betting enough.

Thin value betting means betting when your hand is only slightly ahead of your opponent’s calling range. You can’t always wait for the absolute monster hands to extract value from your opponents. 

4. You’re playing on autopilot.

Winning poker can be boring at times, so a lot of players make the mistake of tuning out and just going through the motions. 

This is not the way you crush the game. There’s always something to pay attention to at the felt, so don’t let your mind wander off while you’re playing.

5. You don’t have a good rakeback program.

Rake is inevitable, but there are plenty of good rakeback programs that can help you boost your bottom line. Shop around to find a rakeback program that works well for you.

6. You’re not working on improving your game.

If you’re not getting the results you’re hoping for, it may be a good indicator that you don’t have it all figured out. 

Don’t beat yourself up about it, because progress always takes time. If you’re working on improving your game, you’re already a winner. The results will surely follow.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small/mid stakes games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

6 Not So Obvious Reasons Why You’re Losing at Poker