We were all beginners once...think about it, even the greatest legends of poker once had to be told basic things like, which hands beat which, when was their turn to bet and not to go all in just because they had an Ace. The initial learning curve with any new game is always steep, and this is magnified in the case of poker because we are usually playing for real money! If you can't get through the first few months at the poker table without losing your bankroll, then you will probably give up.
To help any future legends to get over this initial "hump of inexperience, " we've come up with a few very common mistakes that afflict novice poker players. If you can avoid these, then you will be on your way to becoming a winning player at the poker tables.
1. Poker is not all about bluffing!
So, it's true, almost every single film ever made about poker concentrates almost entirely on bluffing - on psychologically outwitting your opponent - and essentially just being a massive legend in the process. BUTBUTBUT...bluffing, whilst a part of poker, is really not the most important part at all. In fact, many beginners would probably do well to play without bluffing at all. Bluffing well requires excellent game reading skills and astute opponent reading skills.
Tip 1: Don't randomly bluff into other players without a good reason to be doing so.
Note 1: Bluffing is not the same as playing aggressively to try and move other players off marginal hands - for example - if you are drawing to a hand of some kind.
2. Playing either too many or too few hands
Many players when they are starting out will fall into one of two categories. The first is the "super-scared-rocks". Due to feeling uncertain or worried they will play literally just the top few hands and bet only when they know they are ahead. These players will usually just slowly leak chips gradually over time, and fairly quickly everyone will cotton on to the fact they are only playing top hands and just fold when they are involved. The second is the "uber-loose" type. They will play everything, just "because".
Don't be either of these types. The recommended strategy for beginners is to play what is know as "tight-aggressive" style. You should play mainly premium hands, and you should bet them on the hard side. A good way to get a guide on which hands to play is to search online for "poker starting hands chart" or something similar. Find a "tight" one that you like and try it. Always remember tho, that you do need to throw in some unexpected hands occasionally, as you don't want to be too predictable.
Tip 2: Get a startings hands chart and keep it by your computer (or learn it before you head to the poker tables!)
Note 2: You may have to either tighten up or loosen up depending on your opponents.
3. Don't be a "calling station"!
You know those players who just call everything, never raise or bet big but always seem to be in every pot? These players are called "calling stations" and they are almost definitely losing players. Calling, generally speaking, is less profitable than betting/raising. This is because when you raise there is a chance that you opponents will fold, as well as a chance that you will just have the best hand. The technical term for this is "fold equity". Raising with strong hands also allows you to build the pot and get value from your rare hands.
Tip 3: Raising is usually better than calling. (lots of caveats here of course)
Note 3: Slow playing massive hands is rarely a good idea. You need to win big pots with big hands!
4. Chasing and Getting Emotional - !!TILT!!
Poker is not an emotional game - that's why James Bond is so good at it. His ice cold nerve and clear head always win (plus weirdly he always seems to get the best cards...?). Beginners can sometimes get frustrated, feel cheated, or feel that poker is "just not fair" - especially after a bad beat or getting outdrawn by the idiot chasing a "runner runner" flush. Well, tough! Poker, actually, is totally fair. Everyone gets outdrawn sometimes, and equally (over an infinite number of hands) gets good and bad cards. If you find yourself getting angry and chasing losses, then leave the poker table for a bit. The poker table can be an intense place and the last thing that you want to do is go on tilt. Tilt is where you just totally lose it, emotionally. You start betting everything aggressively and getting more and more frustrated - why is everything conspiring to make me fail!!! Arrgghhh!!!. Its a downward spiral that doesn't end well (trust me from experience here).
Tip 4: If you find yourself getting angry or upset, leave the poker table.
Note 4: Look for other players on tilt - they will give you their money!
5. Not playing position correctly
Playing "position" correctly is vital to poker success. For details of this check out our "At the Poker Tables: Strategy Series 001 - The Importance of Position" article. It explains what position is, how to use it and why it is so important
Tip 5: Play more hands in late position than from early position
Note 5: Try and sit to the left (in position) of experienced and, particularly, loose and wild players.
Poker is a game about which you will never stop learning. It is (almost) infinitely granular. However, first you need to internalise these basic principles, and doing so should mitigate any significant losses, increase your enjoyment or the game and expedite your graduation from beginner to intermediate and onwards.
Good luck at the poker tables!