Top Poker Mistakes to Avoid


Playing a game as multilayered as poker ultimately leads everyone to some mistakes. Being able to identify mistakes is 'poker 101,' but if you’re just starting, flaws might not be apparent at first, yet you’ll still feel their consequences.

Poker mistakes can be made in-game, or away from the table. Working on mistakes when you’re off the table is a prerequisite for reducing the number of errors in-game to a minimum.

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Preparation is Key

Being prepared to play is a general mistake many new (and overconfident) players make, jumping into the fray unprepared and play recklessly by calling every bet, raising, or re-raising without giving much thought.

If you’re playing at real money tables, you should at least set an adequate budget before you enter the game. Determine an amount you are not ready to lose, but you are prepared to risk, as you never know how the game will pan out.

Estimate your poker proficiency objectively and pick a table with a buy-in that align with your experience and your budget.

Next, unless you play as a pastime, you have to work on your poker strategy pre- and post-game if you really want to improve. Take notice of any weaknesses exploited by other players and see that you don’t repeat them.

But playing at tables with more practiced players, even if you know you’re the odd player out, will still make a great learning experience. You can expect to be outplayed and outsmarted. Still, later, you can evaluate the areas in which you need the most improvement, take cues from how your opponents played, and apply your newfound skills at more level-appropriate tables.

Preflop Mistakes

Even if you’re entirely new to poker, certain fundamental concepts should be familiar, like the pre-flop game. The pre-flop phase of No-Limit Hold’em is the simplest to master, but there are still a few elements to consider. They include the strength of your hand, your position, and how others bet during the first round.

In No-Limit Hold’em, the dealer can give you one of almost 170 possible hands, yet only a few hands worth playing pre-flop. These include so-called ‘premium’ hands, such as the highest pairs (aces, kings or queens) and ace-king, as well as suited and connected high cards, for example the king-queen of clubs.

But even if you get a strong hand, you should still think twice about whether to continue playing if opponents (especially tight players) start raising pre-flop and cold calling. This is especially important if you are “out of position” - act early in post-flop betting rounds. As a general rule, the later the position you are in, the wider range (larger number) of starting hands it is profitable to play preflop.A common mistake is to play too many hands pre-flop in early position (in the blinds or under the gun).

Bear in mind: you may have the strongest hand at the table pre-flop, but the game can dramatically change after the flop. You can further lose your edge on the turn and river despite initially having a super-strong holding such as kings or aces.

New players should be wary of several other pitfalls during the pre-flop phase: cold-calling, 3-betting, and limping.

Cold Calling

Cold calling refers to a situation pre-flop when one player calls a bet involving a raise from at least one other player, having not previously invested any chips in a pot.

For example, if one player makes a raise pre-flop (the initial bet in this case is the big blind) and another calls their raise, the latter in this situation is cold calling.

This move is characteristic of low-stakes poker games, but is more rarely seen in high-stakes ones, where players tend to drop the cold call to either fold or re-raise. One reason is that by simply calling in this situation, you open yourself up to being “squeezed”, when another player at the table, or the original bettor, makes a further raise. Pots are also more likely to become multiway after an early position cold call (lowering your equity in the pot).


Three-betting is an aggressive move you can choose to make when there has already been a bet and a raise in front of you. In reality, it is the second, rather than third, raise of the hand. Or, rather, the first re-raise.

When a player raises after a bet, and it’s your turn, you are faced with either (cold) calling, folding, or raising. If you make a raise, you are three-betting. It is a move you should not apply arbitrarily, since it would be crippling to your win rate if you repeatedly three-bet, then fold post-flop. If you constantly three-bet, you are also liable to be labeled the table “maniac” and your raises will be called more frequently, and with a wider range of hands.

Three-betting preflop can, however, win a pot there and then, or make players fold who would otherwise have called the prior bet amount (this increases your hand’s equity in the pot).

So there are two mistakes regarding three-betting that are to be avoided: doing it too much, or too little!


Limping is a poker term used to refer to the act of calling the big blind’s bet before the flop instead of folding or raising.

In the right situations, limping can be an asset, for instance, if you want to underplay your strong hands, or encourage a multi-way pot preflop with certain holdings. However, limping as the first player to do so in a pot is generally seen as a passive and exploitable move, and pros would suggest you either raise (if you have a strong hand) or fold.

By limping, you allow players after you to take more aggressive action by raising and re-raising. Limp-folding repeatedly in the hopes of simply seeing a lot of cheap flops can be costly over time!

Flat-calling Instead of Three-Betting

Instead of raising or three-betting, flat-calling pre-flop is a common mistake made by players who play too passively. Flat-calling means calling a bet or raise with a strong or playable hand rather than three-betting (re-raising).

As we noted, three-betting can be a tricky move, but it can also help you assert yourself (and win pots preflop or reduce the number of opponents seeing a flop). After all, you cannot always fold under pressure when your opponents play more aggressively.

Flat-calling, when you should be three-betting, is something you should avoid doing as much as possible. If you have a premium or even moderately strong hand before the flop, the wise move more often than not is to re-raise.

Not Defending your Blinds

The BB and SB (big blind and small blind) are two of the most inconvenient positions on a poker table as they are the first to take action on every betting round post-flop and must make decisions without the extra information given by seeing opponents act first.

Because the chances are that someone will eventually raise pre-flop, the big blind will have to either fold or call an opponent’s raise. This is referred to as ‘defending the blind.’

Blinds are forced bets, and it’s only natural to want to defend your investment since you are already required to put money on the table. Simply giving up the big blind to a raise every time unless you have been dealt a very strong hand is not going to be profitable. The button, for example, can raise profitably with 100% of their hands if it folds to them, if they know that you rarely, if ever, defend your blind.

Mixing Playing Styles

In poker, you can be one of several types of player. You can play loosely, aggressively, tight, passively or mix these traits.

It’s best to remain focused on a single style and find ways to improve it. Playing tight and aggressively is a good place to start. Here, you play a few strong hands and play them to win.

Playing loosely and passively is the worst combination, as you play too many hands carelessly and weakly by mainly calling or checking.

Leave Emotions at the Door

When you start playing poker, you will be tried and tested, and you will probably lose more than you had planned. It’s all part of the learning process. After all, how else will you learn to improve and adapt if you don’t discover your weaknesses?

Final Thoughts

It is crucial you remain composed even when things don’t go according to your strategy. Expressing annoyance when you are forced to fold or unintentional nervousness in a heads-up situation will send all the wrong signals to your opponents, who will undoubtedly take advantage of them.

Being prepared and developing a strategy beforehand will save you a lot of sweat during any game. Moreover, it will prevent you from making more mistakes when you’re forced to make quick decisions.

Aim to win, but be ready to take a loss. After all, poker is a game of wits and mental discipline, and all mistakes derive from a wrong mindset and poor observations.