Once you know the basic rules of Texas Holdem you can at least function. But you'll still be a complete greenhorn when it comes to playing well. As a poker beginner you may find yourself stuck in a rut in terms of your play. Thus, making the same mistakes over and over again. Sometimes (often) you won't even recognize what you're wrong. All is not lost, though!
We're here to help get you over that painful poker beginner hump and on track toward solid, winning poker play. Read on for five traps new poker players commonly get stuck in and for strategy tips on how to avoid them.
Top 5 Beginner Poker Traps
1) Playing Too Many Hands Before the Flop
This is the biggest trap of all easy-to-fall-into traps for new poker players.
New players play far too many hands pre-flop. If you watch poker on TV it may seem like players are playing every hand but they're really folding a LOT more than you see.
When choosing a poker hand to play before the flop it has to meet certain requirements. In fact you should be playing only 19-24% of all your hands and folding the rest!
Read more about proper poker hand selection:
- How Not To Suck at Poker: Play Fewer Hands
- How to Play Texas Hold'em Correctly Before the Flop
- Texas Hold'em Starting Hands Cheat Sheet
2) Taking Hands Too Far Past the Flop
This is an extension of the previous trap. Not only do most beginners play too many hands; they go way too far with them.
Many players take any pair or any draw to the river. Generally you should be continuing with only top pair or better or a strong draw.
- When to Call the Flop with Less Than Top Pair
- How to Play Good Poker Post-Flop: A Beginner's Guide
- How to Play Better Post-Flop Poker: An In-Depth Guide
3) Playing by "Feel" Rather than by Cards, Situations and Math
Many new players play hands because they have a "feeling" about them. This is wrong. Poker is a mathematical game: everything that can possibly happen boils down to odds.
Therefore, you should only play a hand because it has good odds of winning - not because you feel lucky or you feel you're due.
You play a hand because the situation dictates that in the long term, by playing that hand, you're going to make money.
4) Letting Your Emotions Get the Better of You
Poker can be a stressful game. If you lose a couple of hands and start to let your emotions get the better of you, you're going to start making bad decisions.
Poker is all about decisions; to make the best possible ones means you have to approach decision making with a clear frame of mind.
5) Thinking Short Term
A lot of players will make a correct play, lose the pot and second-guess themselves. They'll say, "Oh - I should have folded pocket aces because he ended up making a straight."
This is wrong. If you get your money in good, it's the correct play whether you win or lose. Poker is a long-term game. You may make all the right decisions and still lose frequently over the course of a day or a week or even a month.
That's because there is a lot of short-term luck involved. However, in the long run, bad players will lose more of the time and good players will win.
- Rein in the number of hands you play before the flop
- Fold while the folding's good
- Base your decisions on concrete factors
- Keep your emotions in check
- Take the long view when you assess potential action.
Keep these basics in mind and you'll get the hang of the game without breaking the bank in the process.
Bonus Tips: 5 Ways Beginners Lose Their Whole Stack
A common beginner poker affliction - and one of the reasons all sharks love noobs - is the tendency to get stacked (ie lose their whole stack of chips) in less-than-stacking-worthy situations.
Being a beginner at a No-Limit game can be an exciting, but expensive, experience. The sharks are always looking to exploit a beginner's proclivity for getting it all-in.
The key to making money at poker, which all professionals know only too well, is to spend as much effort minimizing your losses as you do maximizing your winnings.
Here are several cautionary examples of classic beginner missteps. Read 'em and adjust your play accordingly.
Learn how to read the board or you end up looking like a doofus with jack-high.
5) Misreading the Board
One of the greatest mistakes beginners make is misreading the board or their own hand.
There is nothing more demoralizing than getting it all-in, saying, "I got the straight" and turning over a busted four-straight.
It usually takes the table about five seconds to assess things before they let you know, "Actually, you have jack-high."
But that's a pretty major misread. More commonly, beginners will miss the possible straights or flushes out there.
Players with top two pair will eagerly call an all-in bet, not realizing J Q is not that strong on the Q J 10 9 4 board. These players are always a little shocked to see the pot being pushed to someone else's seat.
If you're playing online, flush draws can be picked up much easier by switching to a four-color deck. If you're going to do most of your playing live, try the 10-second rule - meaning always take a full 10 seconds before you act.
For one, you'll feel less rushed. For two, you'll have the time to pay closer attention to the board.
4) Making Dumb Bluffs
Dan Harrington calls typical beginner bluffs "dark tunnel bluffs."
Knowing that you can't win the pot unless you make your opponent fold is a solid piece of intelligence, but it's harmful if you're unaware that your opponent holds the nuts or won't fold for any bet.
If either of those is the case you're really left with no way to win the pot. Seeing your all-in bluff get snap-called is a depressing experience.
In these situations, the old cliché "A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing" rings true.
3) Outplaying Yourself
Sometimes beginners like to think they're much more skilled at the poker table than they actually are. This can be a very good thing or a very expensive thing.
The delusion becomes expensive when a player starts to outplay himself.
Outplaying yourself as a beginner means trying to get creative or crafty. When you don't understand the intricacies of the game well enough, your creativity backfires more often than not.
One example of outplaying yourself is by cleverly disguising your big hand. You play it as if you're incredibly weak, willing to fold to anything.
When you smooth-call your opponent's small probe bet, allowing them to hit their gut-shot on the turn, you spring your trap, check-raising the crap out of your rival who now holds the nuts.
Your opponent, who was willing to fold to any show of strength on the flop, is now getting all of your chips without having to even think about what was going on in the hand.
A beginner may be especially tempted to outplay himself when he gets a legitimate read of weakness. He's 100% sure that his opponent's all-in bet is a bluff - he knows his adversary has nothing. So he makes the all-in call with his no-pair, eight-high hand.
It's how often someone makes a big call because they "knew" their opponent "had nothing." If you're holding less than ace-high, chances are your opponent's "nothing" is actually better than your hand.
The moral is summed up nicely by a classic poker saying:
- "When bluffing, more often than not you're actually betting with the best hand."
2) Calling Off Your Stack on a Draw
What's the deal with beginners and flush draws? It has become almost impossible to make a beginner fold a flush draw, for any amount of money.
Almost all of these beginners have read the books and are aware of the idea of pot odds, claim they understand it, rattle off terms such as implied odds, equity and pot-committed, and yet still call off their whole stack on the draw heads-up.
Not only that, these beginners have no respect for a paired board, not hesitating to call off their stack on a flush draw while drawing completely dead to the boat. In a cash game it's almost always inadvisable to go broke on just a draw.
Throw that KK away!
1) Getting Married to Hands
Easily the No. 1 reason a beginner loses his or her stack is by getting married to a hand.
Regardless of the action, board or any other factors that clearly show them they're beat, most beginner players are simply unable to fold a premium starting hand.
It's as if after getting dealt AA, KK or QQ, the player just shuts off and assumes they're indestructible. These beginners have to realize that even pocket aces are nothing more than one pair.
If you can help it, never go broke holding just a pair.
Even non-premium starting hands will have beginners at the altar after hitting a strong flop. Flopping bottom two is an example of a hand beginners get easily married to.
Although this hand is very strong, the only opponent willing to put large money into the pot, with very rare exceptions, is an opponent who has you crushed.
There is a time to get all your chips in the middle. Every time you're dealt AA or KK is not that time.
If you're going to play classic poker you have to be willing to make the big fold and cut your losses before you lose your entire stack.
More Beginner Poker Strategy Articles:
- Beginner Tips in Poker (Poker for Dummies)
- Why You Shouldn't Slow Play
- Sit-and-Go Essentials Part 1: Low-Blind Play
- Don't Let Your Poker Mistakes Compound
- How to Get Started Playing Poker Online
- List of Poker Hands
- Online Poker Tournament Tricks (2021 edition with Jesper Hougaard)
- See More Online Poker Sites