Mental mistakes are the single biggest factor keeping a 1BB winner from truly beating the game of poker.
In golf you can go from shooting 120 to 100 and below just by eliminating three-putts.
Mental mistakes in poker are golf's three-putts - they absolutely destroy your win rate.
Sure, it's possible to still beat the game. But you'll never realize your full potential if you're regularly making these five critical poker mistakes:
5 Critical Poker Mistakes
1) Playing Too Long While Stuck
You wouldn't be a poker player if you've never played too long while stuck.
When you're losing you just want to get even, so you force things and you play too long.
When you're losing and trying to get even, your game obviously suffers.
It's easy to slip into autopilot during long sessions and even the best poker players are susceptible to tilt.
When you're losing this is all magnified. You may not truly be tilting, but you're certainly not playing your best.
And if you're not playing your best poker, then you're "tilting."
2) Quitting Early to Book a Win
The flip side of the first mental error is booking a win prematurely.
Now, if you're coming out of a downswing, booking any win can be great for your confidence. But if you're regularly quitting as soon as you're up a buy-in, then you have a problem.
If you combine that with playing too long when stuck you have yourself an epidemic. You'll be playing 2,000 hands when losing and playing your "B" or "C" game and then booking small 300-hand wins when you're winning and playing your "A" game.
What happens is that you end up playing your "B" or "C" game far more often than you're playing your "A" game.
In any sport, confidence is your best friend. Poker is no different. If you're playing your best and winning and the games are good, keep playing. This is the optimum situation for playing winning poker.
If you were to quit now you'd be leaving money on the table.
3) Poor Game Selection
In poker you never have to be the best player in the world to make money. You don't even have to be the best player at the table.
You just have to be better than the majority of the table.
If you don't put the time in to find a good table, you're making a mistake every single time you sit down. There's no reason for it. Search the lobby for potential good tables and sit down.
If they're no good, don't be afraid to quit the game and find another one. Not recognizing when the table has gone bad can be a real win-rate killer.
Always pay attention to your tables and never be afraid to quit them in search of a better table.
4) Making -EV Plays Against your Best Judgment
This, above all, is the real win-rate killer. It's usually at the tail end of one of those long online poker sessions where you're stuck and tired and not playing your best.
You'll be facing a big bet and you know your opponent is very rarely bluffing and yet you'll call anyway with your bluff catcher. What causes it? Who knows, but if you want to progress as a poker player you have to eliminate that part of your game.
Trust your gut. Don't call just to find out if you're right. Take a deep breath, think about his range and if you're beat, you're beat. Fold.
Making calls you know to be -EV is a problem that causes too many players to stay stuck at the small stakes.
5) Making Bad Bluffs
Bluffing is definitely a big part of the game. But bad bluffs shouldn't be a part of yours.
When you bluff you have to be representing a hand. If you're not, a good opponent is going to catch on. Don't just bluff without thinking; think about what hand you're representing and whether you can credibly represent it.
If you can, good. If you have plan B equity - like a gutshot or overcards - even better. Bluffing becomes even more effective when you have a back-up plan. That is, if you get called you can still hit your long shot and win the hand.
If you bluff with a back-up plan and you think about the hand you're representing, you'll eliminate the bad bluff.
Mental mistakes are murder for your win rate. Always stay sharp at the poker table, take frequent breaks and concentrate. You shouldn't be chatting and watching TV. Winning poker is a business - so treat it like one.