As Robert Williamson III once said, “Poker takes a day to learn and a lifetime to master“. Becoming a true poker ace requires mastering a wide range of skills and disciplines through experience and study of the game. But even after mastering the fundamentals, the math, and turning your first profitable month, most poker players still suffer from many bad habits which are costing them hundreds or even thousands of dollars each month. We’ve compiled a list of 25 of the most common bad habits that plague most poker players and help you make more money at the tables. Remember: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Stop playing in games with a high rake
Over time, the rake cuts deep into a players profits and it is unwise to play in a game with a high rake. Make sure you are taking the rake into consideration when picking which game to play in. Many poker rooms will offer a half-rake if 6 players or less are seated at the table. The only “catch” is that the players must ask for it. If additional players join the table, the game gets fully raked again.
*Note that if players then leave and you’re back to 6 or less, you must ask again to receive the half-rake; it’s never given automatically.
Stop playing in tight games
The real value in poker comes from the very weak players which don’t understand the fundamentals of the game. Try to avoid games that are full of tight players because it is very difficult to get significant value from them.
Bonus Tip: If you do find yourself in a tight game, the best way to maximize your value is by raising more pots and stealing the blinds more often.
Bonus Bonus Tip: Try and convince the players to put on a compulsory straddle or to introduce an ante to the game. This is a sure way to loosen up the table which will suit you better in the long run.
Stop playing in casinos and poker rooms that don’t offer poker comp dollars
Most major poker rooms in the United States offer players a valuable incentive to keep playing, namely poker comp dollars. Basically, once you sign up for a free loyalty/rewards card, each hour of play will net you anywhere from $1–$3 in comp dollars. On top of that, many poker rooms will reward you with a sign-up bonus (e.g., $20 gets you $50 or $60 gets you $100) the first time you play there and register as a loyalty club member.
The comp dollars you earn while playing can be applied towards your casino hotel room bill or gift shop purchases, if applicable, or simply cashed out (but not always at full value). Not taking advantage of the opportunity to earn poker comp dollars is simply leaving money on the table.
Stop missing out on live freerolls and bad beat jackpots
What separates great live poker rooms from the other run-of-the-mill ones are the excellent player-friendly promotions they run. Put simply, who wouldn’t want to play in a poker room that offers you loads of opportunities to win free extra cash?
For instance, some rooms only pay out bad beat jackpots to players at the table where such a beat takes place. But smart-minded players opt for better offers, such as the Mega Beat Progressive Poker Jackpot in Las Vegas and the Total Bad Beat Jackpot in Atlantic City, which reward every single player seated in the rooms!
If you’ve got a choice among a few different local poker rooms, choose the one that has the best additional incentives, which can include promotions like:
- splashed pots
- high hand of the day
- aces cracked wins a rack
- double poker comp dollars and/or double bad beat jackpots during happy hour (which usually lasts for 2 hours)
Moreover, if you spend a good deal of time each month playing live poker, be sure you do so at a poker room that offers monthly freerolls to qualifying players. These freerolls often feature guaranteed prize pools that reach well into the five figures.
There’s no better way to try and beat the rake than by claiming free moneymaking opportunities like these.
Stop forgetting to take notes on players
The more you know about how your opponents play, the more money you can make off them by capitalizing on their weaknesses. Use the free-to-download Poker Notes Live Mobile App to quickly classify all players at your table and jot down your observations. The more often you play, especially with the same people, the more valuable your poker notes become. The app also helps you keep track of tips you give dealers and casino waitresses, which naturally affects your bottom line.
Stop playing slots and other unbeatable games
Surely you have heard the saying “The House always wins”. But there is a small catch, the house only wins if you are playing. Avoid playing games where you have no edge and stick with beating the game of poker, where you’re competing against other players.
Stop playing games you don’t understand
Mastering one form of poker is difficult enough. Stick with the game you most enjoy and are most experienced in and concentrate on first becoming a profitable player in this game before even considering learning a new game. Don’t be the fish in the stud game if you are the big winner in the no-limit hold’em game.
Stop playing when you are tired, hungry, or angry
Poker is all about choices. When to raise, when to fold and most importantly, when to play. In order to maximize the time you are playing your A-game, don’t play when you are too tired, hungry, or angry. If you are forcing yourself to play when your physical or emotional state is inferior to your opponents, then you are costing yourself money.
Stop calling bets on the river
One of the most expensive and common leaks that poker players suffer from is too often calling their opponents’ bets on the river. Players who bet strong on the river are most often doing it for value, especially if they have been betting throughout the hand. Folding more bets on the river is a sure way to end up with more money at the end of the month.
Stop playing in games you can’t afford
Playing confidently and with a style that is most natural to you is critical for success at the poker table. If you are playing in bigger games that you can’t afford, you won’t be playing with the same confidence you have in your regular game. Make sure you are playing in games that are appropriately within the range of your bankroll.
Bonus Tip: The standard bankroll requirement is 20 buy-ins for cash games. So if you have a $1000 in your bankroll then you divide $1,000/20 = $50. Which means you shouldn’t be playing in games which require a buy-in of higher then $50.
Stop slow playing big pairs
Most amateur players are loose and looking to gamble. The best way to build up a pot and earn significant value by the river is by betting. In games full of amateurs who are over-calling, there is no logical reason to slow play big pairs. In fact, doing so can often get you into big trouble because big pairs play the worst in multi-way pots. Make it easier on yourself and raise with Aces, Kings, Queens, and even Jacks every time.
Bonus tip: A common question that is asked around this topic is “what if I’m on a very aggressive table where everyone raises a lot? Shouldn’t I then limp with my big pairs?”. The answer to this question is still “no”. If you are at an aggressive table and only limp raising your big hands, then your opponents will quickly pick up on this and you will not get any value from it. If you are raising your entire range, then your opponents will have a hard time knowing when you have a big hand. This will almost surely result in more value in the long run. Beating your strong hands is tough to exploit, especially by weak players.
A very common leak that most players suffer from is playing too many hands and becoming calling stations. By constantly limping with your weak hands and raising with your strong hands, your opponents will easily pick up on your betting patterns and will exploit your play. By following a simple rule, “if you are the first in the pot, then raise”, you will force yourself to play fewer hands out of position and this will make a significant difference to your profitability in poker.
There are always exceptions of course. If you are in a very loose game where everyone is limping all the time and you are confident with your post-flop play, then seeing many flops on the cheap is the correct strategy.
Stop trying to be too clever
Weak players see the game from the confines of their hole cards, so in most scenarios there is no good reason to slow play or try and be too clever. When you have a made hand, bet and bet and bet. Try and get 3 streets of value with your hands and against weaker opponents – you’ll make a lot of money this way.
Like most things in poker there are exceptions though. Slow playing monster made hands (full houses/4 of a kind) is often the best way to maximize your value from them.
Stop berating the dealer
Berating the dealer is one of the most irrational things someone can do at the poker table. The dealer simply deals the cards and has no control over which cards land on the flop, turn, or river. There is no logical reason to berate the dealer and doing so can result in you being banned from the casino or even worse, not asked back to the regular home game. If you absolutely must, then just don’t tip your dealer (for the record, at Cardplayer Lifestyle we’re very pro dealer tipping).
Stop playing when you are losing
Remember that session where you couldn’t win a hand no matter what you did? You always got it in good but some how the flush/straight/full house got there on the river, right? The worst thing that you can do during these sessions is to “chase your money”. Sticking around during these bad sessions is a sure way to lose a lot more money. Just quit. There’s always another hand. Plus, there are plenty of other better ways to deal with a poker downswing.
Bonus Tip: Set yourself a stop loss and when you reach it quit the game.
Stop quitting when you are winning
There is no better feeling in poker when you are in that zone where you can’t lose. The entire deck is hitting you. You’ve got tremendous positive poker momentum. You were just dealt your 4th pair of aces for the night and your presence at the table is intimidating to even the seasoned players. The way to maximize your winnings during these periods is to stick around for as long as you can take it. Another reason to play long sessions is if the game has one or more big fish who are stuck and donating money to the table. General rule: stay as long as there are fish in the game.
Stop drinking when you are playing
Poker is a game of the mind and in order to play your A-game, you need to have full control and composure throughout the game. Drinking alcohol during sessions will negatively affect your bottom line. Generally speaking, it’s far better to play a healthier brand of poker.
Stop playing too many tables online
Online poker players often play too many tables struggle to identify common mistakes and leaks in their game because they are not entirely focused on each hand they are playing. If you are used to multi-tabling online, cut down a bit and you will start to identify and be able to rectify a lot more weaknesses in your game.
Stop playing online poker without tracking software
Knowledge is power and we are fortunate to live in a time where technology can provide us with insights into how our opponents are playing on the virtual felt. Using online poker software like Poker Tracker or Holdem Manager to get statistical data on how you and your opponents play is one of the smartest investments you can make in becoming a better online poker player.
Stop playing in games without any fish
Playing in poker games without any weak fishy players is a bad idea. If you are a competent player, these games will be breakeven for you at best (if there is a rake then you will lose money in the long run, even if you are breaking even in the game). The real value comes from the weaker players who don’t understand the fundamentals or the math required to beat the game. If after the first hour you don’t see any players you can exploit, quit the game and find another better table. On a different level, if you can identify a better seat at your table from which to capitalize on your opponents’ weaknesses, then by all means request a seat change.
Stop being a nice guy at the table
Away from the felt, go on and be the world’s diplomat. Poker is war though, and every player must look out for themselves. If you are splitting pots with friends and allowing your opponents to take back money, you will be losing out on profit that you have worked hard to earn. Stop being the nice guy and aim to do what the game is all about, namely building yourself a towering stack with every chip on the table.
Stop playing long sessions without taking short breaks
To maintain your A-game, you need to be focused throughout the poker session. In order to help with staying focused you should take short breaks from time to time and try and get some fresh air and stretch. Perhaps if you’re Phil Laak, this particular poker tip need not apply to you.
Bonus tip: Create a routine where every two hours you take a break and have something to drink. Use this break as a form of “reset” where you “rinse” yourself of all the emotions experienced at the table up until that break.
Stop playing with your phone/tablet/mp3 player
Even the smallest piece of information can help in tough spots where thousands of dollars are on the line. Stop playing with your electronic device and watch each and every hand played. You will usually learn your opponents’ habits much more quickly if you put down your mobile device. The more you pick up the better your reads will be. Moreover, if you are always on your phone, you will slow down the game and this will irritate everyone else at the table. Of course the exception to this rule is to use the Poker Notes Live App to take notes on your opponents.
Stop bringing your brother/girlfriend/uncle to the game
Poker can become a very emotional game, especially when a lot of money is on the line. If you are surrounded by family or your girlfriend is looking over your shoulder constantly, either in the game with you or just watching, you will find it harder to make the right decisions because emotions will become part of your thought process.
Stop wearing uncomfortable clothing to the game
Make sure you wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing to a poker game so that you are not distracted and can sit comfortably for as long as needed. Make sure you bring something warm to wear as well, especially if you are planning on playing long sessions at the local casino, which tend to go a little overboard on cooling their poker rooms.
If you have cured any of your own bad habits, help us out by telling us about it in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
Ed. Note: Regular Cardplayer Lifestyle contributor Justin Butlion helped us compile this poker blog post.