7 Ways Poker Players Sabotage Their Chances of Success
Poker players seem to have numerous things that keep them from winning. Most of these players encounter them without thinking about what they’re doing, but the results are the same as if they purposely set out to lose.
I’ve put together a list of 7 ways poker players sabotage their chances of success to help you see what you may be doing wrong.
Use this list to find holes in your game, figure out how to fix them, and identify the mistakes other players make so you can exploit them and increase your chances of winning.
1. They Gamble
Most people consider poker a form of gambling. Gambling is the process of placing a bet or bets on an uncertain outcome in hopes of certain things happening that pay you a reward. But most forms of gambling are designed with odds that slowly drain your money.
While poker somewhat matches the description above, the fact is that some players are able to play in a way that creates a long-term profit. If you play slot machines, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but in the long run, the machine is designed to make a profit for the casino.
But poker is a game where you can learn how to play well enough to show a long-term profit. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. This is because the casino or poker room takes a small percentage of each pot for their profit instead of stacking the odds against you.
This means that if you build your skills better than most of your opponents, you can win more than you pay in rake, creating a profit.
But most poker players play the game just like they play slot machines. They put their money in and hope for the best, instead of using a proper strategy based on math.
They make plays while hoping that their hand holds up or improves, but they ignore the facts. Winning players, however, make every decision based on facts and long-term expectation, and never gamble.
The next time you’re trying to draw to an inside straight, think about whether it’s a profitable long-term situation. If you don’t know how to do this, you’re going to learn in the next section.
Everything you do while playing poker is either profitable or not. You don’t always know everything you need to know to determine profitability in every situation, but with practice and knowledge, you can reach a point where you make more profitable plays than unprofitable ones.
Once you reach this point, you’re going to start winning more than you lose.
2. They Don’t Use Pot Odds
Pot odds are a calculation that can show you if a situation, usually calling a bet or raise, shows a long-term profit or loss. You compare the ratio of money in the pot and how much you have to put in against the odds of winning the hand.
This sounds complicated and can be difficult at times, but if you know how to do it, you can quickly learn how to estimate your chances to win. Here’s how it works:
The first thing you need to learn how to do is to determine how many outs you have. Outs are the cards that improve your hand in a way that helps you win the hand.
Here’s an example:
If you have an inside straight draw, it means that four cards remain that complete your straight. If you have a seven, eight, nine, and jack, you need one of the four tens in the deck to complete your straight. This means you have four outs.
If you have four cards to a flush, you have nine outs. An open-end straight has eight outs.
Now that you know how many outs you have, you can figure out the odds of completing your hand.
Here’s an example:
If you have an open-end straight draw in a Texas hold’em game, after the turn, you know that eight cards that can land on the river complete your straight. This means that 38 out of the remaining 46 unseen cards don’t complete your straight.
This is a ratio of 38 to 8. This can be reduced by dividing 38 by 8, creating a ratio of 4.75 to 1. In other words, if you play the exact same situation 46 times, you’re going to complete your straight eight times and not complete it 36 times, or complete it one out of every 4.75 times.
The ratio is important because once you know it, you can compare it to the amount of money in the pot and how much you have to put in to see the river, which is called the pot odds. If the odds of making the straight are better than the pot odds, it’s profitable in the long run to call, and if the odds aren’t good, then the call is unprofitable and you should fold.
If we continue with the example and the pot has $250 in it and your opponent bets $50, it means the pot now has $300 in it and you have to call $50. Divide $300 by $50 and you get a ratio of 6 to 1. This is better than the ratio of hitting your hand of 4.75 to 1, so in the long run, it’s profitable to make the call.
If you run the numbers, you can see why this is true. If you play the hand 46 times, the call costs you a total of $2,300. When you lose, you don’t get anything back, but when you win, which happens eight times, you get $350 back.
Eight times $350 is $2,800. So over 46 hands, you win a total of $500. This is the $2,800 minus the $2,300.
You can take this a step further to determine exactly how much the call is worth every time you make it. Divide the $500 profit by 46 hands and you get $10.87. This is the expected value of calling. This means that every time you make the call in this situation, you win an average of $10.87.
This entire process may seem complicated, but if you practice, you can quickly learn how to estimate your pot odds. You don’t have to do it perfectly every time. You just need to do it well enough to figure out if it’s profitable to play or not.
Once you learn how to use pot odds correctly, you can start looking at every decision you make at the table based on the long-term expected value. The key is playing more when your expected value is positive, and avoiding situations where it’s negative.
3. They Bluff Too Much
It’s fun and often gives you a rush when you make a bluff and win a pot. This makes most players want to bluff more so they can get the same rush again. It also makes you feel smarter than your opponent.
Bluffs are also some of the most exciting plays you see when watching poker tournaments on television. When a pro pulls off a big bluff in the WSOP or a WPT event, it’s fun to watch.
But televised poker tournaments usually only show the most exciting plays, so they show a higher percentage of bluffs than good players normally make.
This all leads to most players bluffing too much. When you bluff too often, it means you’re playing too many hands, and eventually, your opponents will figure out what you’re doing and start calling your bluffs more.
I don’t know you or how you play poker, but it’s probably safe to say that you currently bluff too much. I can say this because the same is true for almost every poker player alive.
If you want to start getting better results, start bluffing less. The next time you play poker, don’t make a bluff the entire session. Simply bet your best hands, and check and fold when you don’t have a good hand.
The next time you play, allow yourself one bluff during the entire session. Continue playing this way until your opponents stop calling your bets when you have a good hand.
You’re going to find that in most games, your opponents are never going to figure out how you’re playing when you almost never bluff, and you’re going to win more.
Before moving to the next section, you need to understand the difference between a straight bluff and a semi-bluff. A semi-bluff is when you have a hand that may or may not be the current best hand, but has a draw to a better hand.
Here’s an example:
You’re playing Texas hold’em and have the ace and queen of diamonds as your hole cards, and the flop has an ace and two diamonds. Your top pair may be the best hand, but even if it isn’t, you can improve by hitting a flush. This is a good place to bet.
You can make semi-bluffs, and should do so when you can. Straight bluffs, in which you can only win the hand if your opponents fold, are the ones you should avoid.
4. They Don’t Pay Attention
Winning poker players pay attention when they play. They watch the game and their opponents, both when they’re in a hand and when they aren’t.
If you want to be a winning poker player, you need to gather as much information as you can about the game, your opponents, and how they play.
Most poker players don’t pay attention when they aren’t involved in a hand. This is a mistake because they miss how their opponents play. When you see an opponent make a mistake, you can often use this information later to make more money when you’re in a hand with them.
When you play poker, you have to make most of your decisions without having all of the facts. You don’t know what cards your opponents have, so you have to do your best to guess what they hold.
When you have to make decisions that lead to long-term profit and loss, you have to use every last bit of information you have. If you know something about the way your opponent plays and how they’ve played similar hands, it helps you make better decisions.
This is why you should always pay attention when you’re at the poker table.
5. They Play Too Many Hands
In an earlier section, you learned that most poker players bluff too much. Most poker players also lay too many hands. It’s not very exciting to fold, but if you want to win more often, you need to fold more often.
This is based on mathematics, but it’s easy to understand. The player who enters a poker hand with the best starting hand wins more often than the player who has a weaker starting hand.
So if you want to start winning more often, you need to enter the pot with hands that are better than those of your opponents.
The only way to do this is by folding more starting hands and only playing your best hands.
The hands you can profitably play depend on what position you’re in at the table in relation to the dealer button, but the overall fact is that you have to play better hands. You can play more hands from the late position than from early position because it forces your opponents to act before you. This gives you more information than they have when you act.
The next time you play, only enter the pot with your best-starting hands and play even fewer hands from early position.
Most players enter the pot with 30% or more of their starting hands. In some low-limit games, you might be able to make a long-term profit this way, but playing 25% or less of your hands is more profitable. In most games, if you only play 20% of your starting hands, you’re going to be more profitable. Sometimes you can play as little as 15% of your hands and maximize your profit.
Each poker game is different, so your percentage of hands played will vary if you want to make the most profit. As a rough rule, you should play fewer hands than your opponents in loose games, and more in tight games.
Almost every low-limit game is loose, so start with playing fewer hands. You can always adjust your play to add a few more hands, but you’re going to find that playing tighter is almost always going to increase your long-term profits.
6. They Don’t Shop for Good Games
The fact is that if you play poker with bad players, you can make more money in the long run. If you play with good players, you’re going to make less money.
This means that if you want to make as much profit as possible, you need to find and play in games filled with players who aren’t as good as you. Most players simply take the first available seat in the first available game and don’t worry about their competition.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, you should do the opposite of what most poker players do. Most poker players lose in the long run, so if you want to win, you need to do the opposite of what they do.
Start paying attention to your opponents so you can learn which ones are good and which ones aren’t. Keep track of poor players, and look for opportunities to play against them more often.
When you walk into the poker room, find a game with poor players, and either get a seat at the table or join the waiting list. You can also search for private games filled with bad players and figure out how to get invited to play.
7. They Play for Fun
It’s fun to play poker, but it’s more fun to win in the long run. Winning players play poker with a goal of winning. Losing players play for fun.
Even poor players win from time to time, but if you’re playing for fun instead of doing everything you can to win, your long-term results are going to suffer.
Decide that you’re going to play poker to win, and forget about having fun. It’s enjoyable to play too many hands and make lots of bluffs, but it’s not profitable.
When players see poker players who are able to grind out a long-term profit, they often think that it’s a fun way to make money. But most winning long-term poker players feel more like they’re working a job.
It’s hard to win consistently, and until you start treating your poker play more like a job than a vacation, you’re not likely to be a winner.
The way most poker players hurt their games is by playing just like most other players. But when you realize that most poker players lose in the long run, you can start trying to avoid doing what they do. This is the key to long-term profit.
Use the 7 ways poker players sabotage their chances of success on this page to start improving your game.
As you master each area, your profits will start climbing.