Playing too many tables. Treating every player the same. Not understanding basic math.
Those were just a few of my early poker-playing sins. Truthfully, some of them are still evident in my game today.
There's no better teacher than experience but if reading this can help you avoid even a few of these as you get started playing poker, recreationally or seriously, it's well worth it.
There are the critical mistakes I made when I first started playing poker. What were yours? Let us know in the comments.
1. Misusing Starting Hand Charts
Starting hand charts are a prerequisite for any new poker player. They alleviate pressure on the mind by narrowing down the choices that you have to make at the beginning of each hand.
They define poker hand rankings and positional suitability. So why is using them a mistake?
Generally speaking it's not a mistake to use hand charts but I made a mistake when using them.
During an interview with Brian Koppelman, Vanessa Selbst spoke about the critical need to spend hours on the fundamentals when starting out.
I didn't do this. I wanted success quickly.
Instead of using hand charts in a flexible manner I became too rigid. There were times when the dynamics of the table made it apparent that I should widen my range yet I stuck rigidly to the chart and folded.
Another significant leak that I developed was playing hands from early and middle position because they were on the chart -- even if the dynamics of the table made it clear I should have folded.
A good example is opening up a small pair in middle position when there are a lot of stacks behind you that may be shoving. In this scenario it's important that you can move away from the hand charts and fold.
If you can do this, and not get lazy like I did, then hand charts are a beautiful thing.
2. Treating Every Player the Same
Closely linked to my hand chart leak was my attitude towards how I played my hands.
In the beginning I always based the playability of my hands on the strength of my holding and not the strength and weakness of my opponent. In other words I would treat all of my opponents the same.
It was a major leak for me that took years to repair and still occurs even today, showing that it's vital that the fundamentals are correct at the beginning of the learning cycle.
Whenever I talk hands through with professional players they always ask me what type of player I was facing.
What read did I have based on my experience with him or her? If there was no experience, what type of player did I think he or she was from a visual perspective?
If you're not making your decisions based on a combination of hand strength, chip stacks and player tendencies, then you are losing money.
3. Playing Too Many Tables
I fell in love with poker immediately but from the outset I found it boring to play one table online. I was multi-tabling before I even had the fundamentals pinned down.
Another problem I suffered came from my ego. I would watch online poker strategy videos, read forums and books and hear about all of these people playing 15+ tables.
If they could do 15+, then I could do 4, 8 and then 10.
During my years in the rail industry we had a CEO by the name of Keith Heller. He was American. He came over to the UK and immediately started removing locomotives from our fleet.
He didn't believe we were working them hard enough. When asked at what point he would stop taking them out of the train plan, he replied: "When I break it." And he did. He broke it. And then he started adding in locomotives.
The same philosophy is true in online poker for real money. I believe you should play one table until you consistently make a profit over a sustained period.
Then add a second table, rinse, and repeat. You will reach a number where your game suffers.
It will break.
Fix it by dropping the requisite number of tables until you show a profit again.
4. Not Understanding Basic Math
I hated math in school and this is a problem when it comes to falling in love with poker.
Even today I don't understand the intricacies. It's a big leak. It's a block that I don't want to manage.
I have never made a play in poker based on a mathematical calculation and I know how basic a leak this is.
If you're as lazy as me when it comes to basic poker math then you too will lose money.
5. Playing When Tilted
Everyone will suffer from some form of poker tilt. It's important to understand what your triggers are and introduce measures to mitigate the fallout.
One of my tilt triggers was losing consecutive flips when playing six-max cash games. Subconsciously I would start chasing losses and put my money in when behind in hopes of getting lucky.
I've lost more money in my lifetime through emotional issues than technical glitches. It's so difficult to walk away from the game when you are losing and on tilt, but it is an area of your game that will lead to disastrous consequences.
I recently interviewed Billy Chattaway; one of the brightest young minds in the UK. He told me he lost $10k bluffing in a $25/$50 Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) cash game and then subsequently lost another $20k in the next 20 minutes because he was on tilt and chasing.
If it can happen to the best of us, it can certainly happen to the worst of us.
6. Playing Like a Robot
Another huge leak that emanated from the way I first learned how to play poker. I wasn't thinking through my hand. I wasn't taking in all of the information at my disposal. I was a robot.
A great example would be looking down to see pocket aces pre-flop. My mindset would immediately be, "I am going to double up."
This belief would produce all sorts of problems because I wouldn't take into consideration the texture of the board or the playability of my opponent.
With this mindset I could easily get it in for stacks on 9JQ against the biggest nit in the world.
It all seemed so clear minutes after the hand happened and this leads me to my next fault.
Another leak tied in with ego. Some players will take an eternity to make a decision at the table. When I see this happen I think they must have the skin of a rhino. When I am in this situation I feel eyeballs boring into my mind.
I think they will believe I am stupid if I take my time, so I rush.
Until the rules change and shot clocks are introduced you should always take your time before making your decision. I'm not talking about basic hands.
I'm talking about important situations. My biggest problem was my eagerness to gamble, stemming from the fact that I am a former gambling addict.
I crave that instant gratification so I don't take my time. I make the most aggressive play and I do it quickly without thinking. Don't make the same mistake.
Your opponent is not Phil ivey.
Everyone exists within the hierarchical structure of poker. There is always someone better than you and that means there is always someone weaker than you.
One of the problems I used to suffer from was thinking that my opponent understood the game at the same level as me. This problem stems from my live reporting job.
I would spend thousands of hours watching professional poker players maneuver in every single possible situation and then try the same thing when playing against Ken, the man who runs the local butchers.
I have lost count of the times I have made a move on a fellow amateur only to be called down with the weakest of hands that turned out to be better than mine.
I have moaned and groaned at these people but the mistakes have always been mine.
I didn't think. I didn't consider whether or not my opponent would understand the line I was trying to take. And that is another huge mistake.