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Top 10 biggest mistakes made by amateur poker players

20 Aug 2018

By Gary Trask
Jennifer Tilly at the 2005 World Series of Poker where she won her only WSOP bracelet.

Jennifer Tilly at the 2005 World Series of Poker where she won her only WSOP bracelet. (photo by Wikimedia Commons)

LAS VEGAS – One of the great benefits of attending the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas is the access to professional players. As you roam the halls of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, it’s not uncommon to bump into some of the most familiar faces and most successful players in the game. And, for the most part, these players are gracious with both fans and media.

While covering this year's WSOP back in July, we took advantage of the opportunity to speak with some of the most popular poker players in the world, and asked 10 of them about the most common mistake they see amateur players make at the poker table.

So, read on and take this advice to heart. Combined, these 10 players have more than $135 million in career live earnings (as well as more untold millions in online and cash game winnings) and 25 WSOP bracelets, including three WSOP Main Event titles. They speak from experience, and utilizing these tips will no doubt improve your poker game almost immediately.

10. Mike Sexton: Calling too much
"Most amateurs should be betting more, instead of just calling. You want to be the bettor at the table, not the caller. Become a calling station and good players pick up on it pretty quickly, and pretty soon your chips will be gone."

9. Jennifer Tilly: Talking too much
"People think like, 'Oh, I’ll act really casual and they won’t know that I’m bluffing.' But every time you open your mouth during a hand you’re giving off tells, unless you’re extremely, extremely skilled at table talk.

"A lot of times, people will ask you how many chips you have when they already know. They're asking because they want to make you talk to them, so they can gauge where you're at emotionally. In most all cases, you're better off just keeping your mouth shut."

8. Ben Lamb: Not bluffing enough
"When most amateurs make a big bet on the river, they have a strong hand. So, that makes it pretty easy to play against. They need to try and bluff more, and they’re only going to figure out how to bluff one way, and that's by doing it.

Maria Ho says that amateurs typically either get involved with too many pots, or they play too tight.

Maria Ho says that amateurs typically either get involved with too many pots, or they play too tight. (photo by Gary Trask)

"They may fail at it for a while, but they’ll get better. It’s a learning process, but you get better at it and you get more comfortable executing it the more you do it. And then it becomes a huge strength."

7. Erik Seidel: Playing too many hands
"I think most amateurs aren’t really sure if they should be calling or what they should be raising with. So, the auto-reaction is to just play the hand out and see what happens, when a lot of times they should be folding. The best way to combat this is to learn the opening ranges. That's the quickest way to figure out if you should be folding or not, in most situations."

6. Phil Galfond: Inconsistent bet sizing
"Choosing your bet size based on hand strength is a common mistake, because it makes it too obvious what you have. I see it a lot in the (WSOP) Main Event and other big field events. You should pick a bet size that you want to go for in different spots and stick with it.

"For example, if you always bet half-pot on the flop, stick with it whether you have a strong hand or a weaker hand. It’s not a super difficult concept, but it’s not something an amateur really grasps unless it's explained to them."

5. Jonathan Duhamel: Impatience
"Sometimes, you can go an hour or more without getting any cards. Amateurs tend to sit there and think they have to make a move at some point, even without cards, so they start gambling and taking chances when they don’t necessarily need to. This usually ends up costing them.

"Or, let’s say they lose a hand, they feel like they have to get their money back right away. They want to get back to even and they start to play with their emotions. But, in reality, you are better off waiting to get cards, as difficult as it can be sometimes"

4. Maria Ho: No happy medium
"There tends to be two extreme sides of the spectrum that amateurs get caught up in. They either get involved with too many pots, or they play too tight. Neither one is very helpful and will end up costing you. I would like to see some sort of happy medium and that just comes with experience."

(When we asked Liv Boeree, she made a similar comment, saying that most amateurs play too loose pre-flop and too tight post-flop, when it should be the other way around: "Best way to fix that is to think, 'Pre-flop tight, post-flop dynamite!'")

3. Scott Blumstein: Not thinking through decisions
Daniel Negreanu is 2nd on the all-time money list

Daniel Negreanu is 2nd on the all-time money list (photo by Gary Trask)

"A lot of the time an amateur player probably knows what the correct decision is and it’s probably pretty obvious if they think it through. But I see amateurs all the time get caught up in the moment and make a quick decision that ends up being the wrong one.

"Sometimes you need to take deep breath and think things through for even an extra couple seconds, or a minute. Don't make a rash decision because you're feeling the pressure."

2. Daniel Negreanu: Getting fooled by better players
"When amateurs are playing with pros, they automatically think the pro is trying to pull a fast one on them. They think the pros bluff a lot more than they actually do, so in the end they end up folding hands when they have it.
Be confident in the hand you have and the way you played it, even if you are up against a better player."

1. Joe Hachem: Overplaying their hand
"Amateurs get too enamored with a big pair or another big hand, and although they may have started with the best hand before the flop, they don’t take in account that it can change, and it can change on every street.

"I think the reason they do that is they tend to look at their cards only and don’t think about what other players have. That’s probably the first step in improving your play. You have to learn to not only think about your hand, but think about what everyone else at the table may have."
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