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Top 10 most common ways poker beginners beat themselves

25 October 2021

By Nathan Williams
Let's face it, poker is a tough game to consistently win at.

Players are better these days, even in low limit games, and if you don't have a good strategy, good game selection and some reasonable tilt control, then you will probably struggle to win.

However, having coached hundreds of poker students in the past, one thing I noticed is that many beginners in particular actually beat themselves.

That is, they shoot themselves in the foot and ruin their results with a variety of "rookie" or "amateur" mistakes.

So in this article I am going to break it down for you. These are the top 10 most common ways that poker beginners beat themselves at the poker tables.

10. Lack of patience
One of the most common ways that new poker players beat themselves is expecting to win right away. Many of them figure that after a week they should be raking in the big bucks!

But unfortunately this just isn't the way that the game works.

And quite frankly, when you are brand new to poker and still trying to figure out how to play a tight and aggressive strategy (TAG), you probably will lose!

You wouldn't jump into a game of Fortnite for example (having never played before) and expect to win right away. No of course not, you will probably be one of the first ones to get eliminated.

The same goes with poker. You have to take it slow at the beginning and you should expect to learn some tough lessons in the early going versus more experienced players.

This is also why it is important to play in the right poker games.

9. Not understanding variance
Variance is the technical term that we use in poker to describe the routine ups and downs that are built into a game like poker which has a large short term luck element.

Many poker beginners are shocked to learn that you can actually "run bad" (get unlucky) in poker for weeks and sometimes even months on end.

This is something that I discuss in a recent video on why you get so many bad beats online.

Make sure you are subscribed to my poker YouTube channel by the way for more high level poker strategy videos.

And what's more is that there is absolutely nothing that you can do to make it stop. It is important to understand that only results over a period of months or years mean anything to a poker pro though.

It is only amateurs that worry about day to day or week to week results in poker. And this is because they fail to understand the true nature of variance in this game.

Many people choose to let this destroy their entire poker career and they can never win because of it. Don't let this be you!

Poker is and always will be, a long term game.

8. Failing to value bet
One of the biggest ways that poker beginners commonly beat themselves is by failing to value bet at the lower limits.

What is a value bet?

A value bet is simply a bet that you make in poker when you believe that it is likely that you are ahead in the hand.

For example:
You have A-K spades and the flop comes A-spade, 10-clubs, 4-hearts, the chances are very high that you have the best hand in this scenario.

However, many poker beginners fail to make a value bet in a situation like this because they don't want to "scare" their opponent away. Or they bet way too small and simply do not get enough value.

Often this is because they saw one of their poker heroes like Daniel Negreanu or Phil Hellmuth do this on TV.

What they don't understand though is that these are world class professional poker players playing against other world class pros in high stakes poker games.

The poker strategy that they use has absolutely no correlation with the strategy that you should be using in your $10 games online or your local $1/$2 poker game at the casino.

Failure to consistently value bet against all the calling stations in low limit games is one of the absolutely biggest ways that poker beginners destroy their winnings.

7. Overthinking and studying too much
The next way that poker beginners shoot themselves in the foot is by over-thinking the game way too much and studying every advanced theory out there.

As I have mentioned before, it is much better when you are first learning the game to keep everything as simply as humanly possible. Just learn one simply poker strategy.

And if anyone tells you that you need to know something like "GTO" or study solvers, please for the love of god do not listen to these people!

I go on a decent rant about that in this recent video.

Because stuff like solvers is seriously holding so many people back in small stakes games these days.

You do not need to know any advanced math or study AI poker simulations in order to beat a bunch of beginners at NL2 or some drunk tourists in your local $1/$2 game.

I have some of the highest winnings in online poker history at the lowest stakes. I even wrote an entire book and video course explaining how I did it, Crushing the Microstakes.

I never studied any advanced poker math or used AI poker simulations in order to win obscene amounts of money in these games.

Keep it simple at the micros and you will win.

6. Playing under-rolled
The next way that poker beginners ruin their progress is a classic one. They simply don't have the bankroll to play at the stakes that they do.

This goes hand in hand with not respecting the power of variance in poker which I already mentioned above.

Here's the reality of poker that most people won't tell you:

Even very good winning poker players can lose sometimes for weeks or even months on end, through no fault of their own.

I have seen it time and time again throughout my own poker career with other people and it has happened to me countless times as well.

This is why I suggest that you have a bare minimum of 30 buy-ins for your stake if you play cash games or 100 buy-ins if you play tournaments.

A "buy-in" by the way is the maximum amount that you can bring to the table in a cash game (which is usually 100 big blinds) or the average stake you play in tournaments.

5. Not learning how to grind
Back when I first learned how to play poker more than 15 years ago we simply did not have the vast amount of poker training resources that are available today.

So for somebody like me, the only real option I had in order to improve was to learn how to grind. And what I mean by the "grind" is that you literally sleep at the poker tables.

I played so many hands in the first few years of my poker career that I often got accused of being a "bot" online and people questioned whether I was a real human being.

I am not saying that you have to play poker 12-14 hours a day like I did. But I do feel that many people these days have lost the ability to just simply put on their hard hat and grind.

Many of them sit around talking about the game in poker forums or reddit or watching somebody else play poker on twitch or youtube.

Now don't get me wrong.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. But if your goal is to improve and win big in poker, this should be kept to a bare minimum.

I have said it many times before on this blog. All of the best poker players I know have played way more poker than everybody else.

This is not a coincidence by the way. They learn through direct experience like I did.

Play 10 million hands of poker like I have and I absolutely promise that you will be a much, much stronger player.

Heck, even just play one million hands of poker. It is shocking to me how few people these days have even played this amount!

While a million hands of poker might sound like a lot, most full time online poker pros who multi-table will easily play this many hands in one year.

4. Moving up the stakes too fast
If you are a poker beginner then I always recommend that you start at the very lowest stakes no matter how good you think your skill level is or how small the money seems to you.

Because if you can't figure out how to beat the $5 games, then there is no way on earth that you are going to beat the $50 games.

Many poker beginners struggle with this bizarre idea that if they play at higher stakes where players "respect their raises" and are "easier to read," then they will finally start winning.

This is completely illogical though because poker players always get better as you move up the stakes (i.e. smarter, more skilled and tougher to beat).

So if you can't learn how to beat all the "wild" players in the $5 games, then you will never stand a chance of beating the much better skilled opponents that you will face in the $50 or $500 games.
This is something that Daniel Negreanu actually talks about in his poker training course.

Do not fall for the common poker beginner flawed thinking that higher stakes games are easier to beat. Not only is this completely illogical but it also just isn't true at all.

3. Not studying their poker hand history
One of the No. 1 ways that I finally learned how to start playing better poker is by relentlessly studying my own poker hands.

I would often study my own hands (and still do) after every session, win or lose. This is exactly what professional athletes do when they study the game film.

So why shouldn't you do this as a serious poker player as well?

You need to start learning from your own mistakes if you want to get better at poker. And the best way to do this is to study your biggest winning (and losing) hands in a program like PokerTracker.

If you play live, then start taking notes on your phone and think through these hands later or discuss them with other strong players.

The bottom line is that if you take poker seriously and you want to improve then you need to start putting in the work away from the tables as well.

All poker pros already know this and study their poker hands regularly.

2. Playing in bad games
One of the biggest poker "skills" these days is learning how to game select and table select. This means finding the bad players to play against.

Because honestly, it doesn't matter how good you are, if you consistently play in tough poker games full of other strong players, you will not win big. Period.

Therefore, it is your job these days as a serious poker player to scout any game before you sit down to play in it. There needs to be at least one bad player who is playing too many hands, chasing every draw and so on.

It still surprises me just how few poker players actually do this, even much more experienced ones. You wouldn't just randomly invest in a stock or cryptocurrency you have never heard of right?
No of course not.

You would learn more about the company or the history of the cryptocurrency, study past earnings reports, learn who is on the board of the company or the coin, their vision and so on.

A poker table is the exact same thing. It is a profitable (or not so profitable) investment opportunity depending on which one you choose.

Do your homework before you sit down to play at a poker table. This is a crucial skill that you must have in today's games if you really want to be a winning player.

I have already written the most comprehensive guide to poker table selection available.

1. Not having a “quitting strategy”
The final way that poker beginners ruin their results is by not having an effective quitting strategy. Now what does this even mean?

It means that after you lose a set amount you will step away from the poker tables no matter what. We also call this a "stop loss" in poker.

The reason why using a stop loss is so important is because it prevents you from playing poker when you are heavily tilted and making very poor emotionally based decisions.

This is quite literally the death of so many poker careers. I have seen it time and time again. They literally just throw all of their profits away when the cards inevitably go south on them.

This is why for beginners I suggest using a 3 buy-in stop loss strategy. If you lose 3 buy-ins, then you quit for the day, no matter what.

Once again, a "buy-in" is typically 100 big blinds in a cash game or the entrance fee if you play tournaments.

So if you are playing the 2cent/5cent blind cash games online for example, then 3 buy-ins would be $15.

Final thoughts
So, these are the top 10 ways that poker beginners beat themselves in my opinion. They are in no particular order.

In fact, tilt is definitely #1 in my opinion even though I saved it for the very end. Make sure you have a plan or a stop loss strategy for when the cards inevitably go sour on you!

Other ways that poker beginners routinely beat themselves though are not having a big enough bankroll, expecting to win right away and over-thinking the game too much.

They also fail to play enough poker, don't study their hands in order to learn from their mistakes and try to move up the stakes too fast.

If you are a poker beginner yourself, hopefully a few of the tips on this list will help you from making these same mistakes yourself.

Lastly, if you want to know how to start consistently making $1,000+ per month in low stakes games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.
Top 10 most common ways poker beginners beat themselves is republished from

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Nathan Williams
Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams has been a poker pro for more than 10 years with some of the highest winnings of all-time at the micro stakes.

He is also the best-selling poker author of "Crushing the Microstakes," "Modern Small Stakes," and "The Micro Stakes Playbook."

Nathan plays mostly low limit cash games online, with some live play mixed in as well. He has coached hundreds of students to success in low stakes poker games through his website

Nathan believes in playing a strong tight and aggressive poker strategy in small stakes games, exercising excellent tilt control and table selection.

You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or on his website:
Nathan Williams
Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams has been a poker pro for more than 10 years with some of the highest winnings of all-time at the micro stakes.

He is also the best-selling poker author of "Crushing the Microstakes," "Modern Small Stakes," and "The Micro Stakes Playbook."

Nathan plays mostly low limit cash games online, with some live play mixed in as well. He has coached hundreds of students to success in low stakes poker games through his website

Nathan believes in playing a strong tight and aggressive poker strategy in small stakes games, exercising excellent tilt control and table selection.

You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or on his website: