If you are new to poker and are looking to improve your game, the first thing you are going to want to do is make sure that you do your homework.
Poker is a mental game:
You want your game to be as sharp as possible before you play against friends or head to the WSOP to swim with the sharks.
Check out our breakdown of pre flop poker mistakes that rookies make and try to clean up your game before the next poker night.
While the World Series of Poker offers basically every poker variant on the planet, Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular game, and Hold’em is where you are going to want to focus your learning efforts the most. For most rookie poker players, the biggest leak that they have to plug, is making too many pre-flop poker mistakes. Making pre-flop poker mistakes can be a major drain on your win rate, as you can avoid a lot of tough spots by addressing your pre-flop strategy.
The best way to get out of trouble, is to stay out of trouble, and correcting some of these common pre-flop poker mistakes is a great way to instantly improve your game.
In this article:
We are going to highlight some of the most common pre-flop poker mistakes that rookie poker players make and tell you how to avoid them.
Let’s get started by looking at the most basic pre-flop poker mistake that rookies make, playing too many hands!
Pre-Flop Poker Mistakes
Listed below are the top 10 most common pre-flop poker mistakes that rookies make. If you can successfully avoid falling into these common pitfalls, you will notice a significant increase in your results, both in the short term and long term.
Playing Too Many Hands
Playing too many hands pre-flop is the single easiest way to get yourself into trouble when playing Texas Hold’em.
Your starting hand requirements are going to be game flow and stack size dependent at times, but I constantly see rookie poker players playing 8 or 9 hands an orbit, and no matter how good the game you are playing in is, that is a strategy that will get you killed. I don’t want to set an arbitrary number of hands that you should be playing pre-flop, but you must pay close attention to how often you are entering pots.
For you online poker players out there that may use poker tracking software, the term VPIP might ring a bell, as a metric that tracks how often you voluntarily put money into the pot.
If your VPIP is north of 30%, you likely need to tighten things up a bit.
One thing I would caution you on though is to make sure that you are basing any adjustment to strategy decisions on a big enough sample size of data.
You never want to overreact to too small of a data set. I would suggest at least 50 sessions worth of data before you start to have any strong opinions on what it might be telling you.
Playing Hands Out Of Position
If you do find that you are playing too many hands, the quickest way to tighten up your pre-flop ranges is to cut out some of the hands that you are playing out of position.
Texas Hold’em is easier to play post-flop when you are in position, and when you are playing hands out of position, you are knowingly putting yourself at a disadvantage later in the hand.
Your hand selection requirements should be on a spectrum.
If you are under the gun and first to act, you will need a much stronger starting hand than if you are on the button. When you enter a pot out of position, you have very little information about how the hand will play out.
This means you are basically playing the hand in the blind, whereas the players in better position get the opportunity to gain additional information before making their decisions.
Not Being Aggressive Enough
Texas Hold’em is designed to be an aggressive game. There are millions of different strategies that successful poker players use to win at the table, and while these strategies can vary a lot, one thing that all successful poker players have in common is that they are aggressive.
I am hesitant to make statements that are absolutes when it comes to poker strategy. In poker, decisions are rarely ever “always” or “never” scenarios, as most of the time, it is situationally dependent. But I can assure you that being aggressive pre-flop needs to be part of your game all of the time. If you are the first player to enter a pot and you have a hand worthy of playing, you should be coming in with a raise, not limping.
If there are calls or raises in front of you and you have a premium hand, you need to punish players and fire in a 3 bet. If your hand isn’t strong enough to be aggressive with, then you should probably just throw it away.
Playing Drawing Hands Incorrectly
Playing drawing hands in Texas Hold’em is a great way to win huge pots. You rarely see giant pots won by single pair type hands, as the best way to scoop a monster pot is to connect on a drawing hand where you make a straight or a flush and are then able to get inferior hands to pay you off. That potential to win nice pots makes pre-flop drawing hands attractive to most players.
But if you aren’t playing these drawing hands correctly, you are going to lose a lot of money! Pre-flop drawing hands are hands like suited connectors, small pairs, and hands that won’t likely end up flopping top pair, like 8/9 or jack/10. We are already talked about playing in position, and when you flop a draw, it can be difficult to play effectively out of position.
If you flop an open-ended straight draw or a flush draw, for example, knowing what the other players are going to do before you act allows you to save money when you miss and make more money when you hit. You always want to play these types of hands in multi-way pots, as you need to make sure that when your hand does come in, that there are enough players in the hand to ensure you get paid off.
Not Isolating Enough With Premium Hands
We just talked about how drawing hands play best in late position and in multi-way pots. If you are going to make a big hand, you aren’t worried about what the other players might have, so you want as many players in as possible, so you can get paid. That isn’t the case when you are playing with premium starting hands, as you want to limit the field size as much as possible.
When you have a premium holding like pocket queens, for example, you want to be able to win the pot without having to improve your hand. You are only going to flop a set about once in every 8 hands, which means that about 90% of the time, the pair of queens that you started the hand with, will still be just a pair of queens after the flop. A pair of queens is certainly a nice hand, but as you get deeper and deeper into the hand, a single pair hand only loses value and is hard to improve. That is why you want to isolate players pre-flop, to limit the field size.
If a player limps upfront, raise it up, so the players behind you have a tougher decision to make to enter the pot. Is there already a raise before you act? Hammer them with a 3-bet and try to get heads up to the flop. Not isolating enough pre-flop is one of the most common pre-flop mistakes rookie poker players can make!
Stay Away From Naked Aces
An ace in your hand pre-flop is an attractive holding for most players. When you flop your ace, you instantly always have top pair, which is generally a good place to be in. But the problem with playing any ace, is that a lot of players like to play aces, and many times you can find yourself with a 2nd place hand.
Rookie players seem to love calling with an ace and any other card:
But playing that way sets them up for a lot of tough decisions later in the hand. It can be very hard to know where you stand in a hand with top pair and no kicker, and that is by far the most likely hand you are going to make when playing an ace/rag type of hand. So, instead of trying to play the hand in the dark and having to make multiple tough decisions correctly later in the hand, do yourself a favor and punt pre-flop. Most suited aces still make sense to see the flop as your flush draw will be the nut draw, but hands like off suit ace/6, ace/7, and ace/8 need to be fired into the muck right away, to keep you out of trouble.
Also, make sure that you aren’t falling in love with any ace/wheel card hands either, as those are always going to be gut-shot straight draws at best, and those aren’t spots you are going to want to find yourself in either.
Avoid Non-Suited Gapped Connectors
If you have played a lot of Texas Hold’em, you have probably grown fond of hands like 6/7 and 8/9 suited. Those are great drawing hands, that are versatile, and can win you a big pot when you connect.
We call these types of hands suited connectors and making sure that you find ways to see the flop with suited connectors cheaply is a key to profitable play. But true suited connectors don’t come around all that often and we see players that think to themselves, well, if 8/9 suited is strong, 7/9 suited must be decent as well. We call that hand a gapped suited connector. The problem with a gapped suited connector is that it isn’t quite as strong as a suited connector and if you start playing them regularly, it can create a slippery slope, where you start to play too many hands that you shouldn’t.
It is easy to think that 7/9 suited is the same as 8/9 suited, but if you aren’t careful, you are going to start to think that if 7/9 suited is worthy of playing, then maybe so is 7/9 off suit.
Don’t fall for that trap!
Off suit gapped connectors are trash hands that are only going to get you into trouble. Unless you are in the blinds, you are going to want to save your money and toss those hands straight into the muck.
Cold Calling Raises With Weak Hands
I rarely ever say things like you always want to do this or you never want to do that, as poker is very situational. But there are some things that are close to falling into one of those categories. One of those is that you are very rarely ever going to want to cold call a raise unless you have a hand worthy of raising.
I constantly see players cold calling raises with hands like ace/10, king/jack, and jack/9. When you actually take the time to think about what the player that is raising has in their hand, you will quickly realize that you are almost certainly starting out the hand behind. That isn’t to say that you can’t win with hands like those, it just says that if you start out behind, you are going to end up behind more often than not. Instead of calling other player’s raises, find spots where they are forced to call your raises with inferior hands, rather than the other way around.
Taking the lead in the hand with a raise is a powerful way to start a hand. Calling a raise with a hand that you know isn’t the best at the time, is amongst the weakest plays you can make in all of poker and needs to be avoided at all costs.
Getting Out Of Line With Small Pairs
I personally really love playing small pairs in Texas Hold’em. If you flop a set, you stand to potentially win a big pot, and if you whiff the flop, you can usually safely fold without investing more money into the pot.
That being said:
It is quite easy to get out of line with these small pairs, and you have to avoid it if you want to be able to set mine with them effectively. In order to properly set mine, both you and your opponent’s stack have to be deep enough to justify the play. Calling with a small pair, knowing that you have to flop a set to continue with the hand is ok, but remember, you are only going to flop that set about once in every 8 hands.
And you have to be able to make more money from the 1 time that you do make your hand, than you would lose the 7 other times that you miss, if you want the math to work in your advantage. If your effective stack size for the hand makes it impossible to win enough to pay for the times you miss, you should just fold. I will illustrate this concept with the below example.
Let’s say a player raises to $25 under the gun after starting the hand with $100 in their stack. No matter how many chips you have in your stack, against this player, you can only win $100 total, as that is all they have. If you call the $25 and everything works out perfectly, meaning you flop your set, AND you get them to put all of their money into the pot, AND your hand is best and holds up, you are only winning $100 total. That means the implied pot odds on your $25 call to win $100 total are just 4-1. The odds of all of that perfect scenario happening? About 10-1 or more.
That is bad math and the more you find yourselves in spots like these ones, the more money you are going to lose in the long run. Small pairs are best played as set mines, trying to flop a set and win a big pot, but before you get involved with a small pair, make sure that there is enough money on the table to justify the play.
Not Using A Pre-Flop Poker Calculator Or Pre-Flop Poker Chart
This last tip isn’t one that is going to help you all that much at the table, but it will improve your game. There are tons of resources available nowadays when it comes to pre-flop hand selection charts and pre-flop poker calculators.
These tools are great as study guides:
Where you can focus on improving your game when you aren’t playing. Depending on your personal style of play, you may find that there are spots where you are folding that make sense to raise. And on the other end of the spectrum, there might be scenarios where you are calling, that should be an easy fold.
These pre-flop poker calculators and starting hand poker charts are almost always either free or very cheap, and you are going to see a dramatic improvement in your game after very little use. Poker is a hard game, but using these tools is an easy decision, and you would be silly to pass up on such a quick and easy way to improve your play.
Texas Hold’em is a great game and there isn’t a better time of the year to get in on the action than right now! Can’t make it to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker this year?
Don’t worry, you can play poker online from anywhere, and the games are amazing!
If you are looking to play poker online as a way to try out your new pre-flop strategy after reading this article, make sure that you swing by TheSportsGeek’s online poker sites page first, where we bring our readers exclusive offers at all of the top online poker rooms. Thanks for reading and good luck on the felt!
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