Eradicate basic poker mistakes from your game today!

Mistakes. Everyone makes them – even the top pros – but eliminate these from your game and you’ll be a better, and more popular, player

Playing live poker is a lot of fun, but it’s also pretty stressful at times – especially if you’re fairly new to the game or you’re playing for large sums of money. Mistakes can be costly, both financially and emotionally – nobody wants to look like an idiot at the poker table or draw the ire of their fellow players. Join us as we take you on a journey through poker’s worst mistakes as acted out by a cast of some of the biggest players in the world. And remember: Smart players learn from their mistakes, but the best learn from the mistakes of others… 

1. Don’t talk too much

Poker’s a game of incomplete information. Or at least it’s supposed to be. But talk too much and you can give away the strength of your hand, as Daniel Negreanu found out to his cost against Antonio Esfandiari in this classic hand from an early season of High Stakes Poker. Negreanu is a master of speech play and is highly proficient at teasing crucial nuggets of information out of amateur and pro players. But in this hand he takes it too far and his big mouth gets him in trouble before he is saved by the river. 

After making a great read, putting Esfandiari on Jacks, Negreanu moves all-in on the Q-6-T flop with K-T. And then proceeds to talk. And talk. He offers to show a card and then retracts the offer. And just when Esfandiari is looking like he’s going to fold, Negreanu talks some more, telling Esfandiari that he’ll show him a card after he folds. Esfandiari quickly makes the call, leaving Negreanu to sheepishly admit, ‘I gave it away at the end’.

2. Don’t muck the best hand

It’s become de rigeur to muck your losing hand without showing in tournaments. It means your opponent doesn’t get free information from you in addition to your chips. Which is fine if you’re actually mucking the losing hand. However, in the heat of the moment it’s easy to misread your holding sometimes. 

So if you’re one of those players that doesn’t want to turn your hand over, check it, double check it and check it once again before mucking. If you’re still not sure whether you are winning or not, just turn your hand over and let the dealer work it out for you. 

And don’t be embarrassed – it can happen to the very best players in the world, as Phil Ivey showed at the 2009 WSOP Main Event. Holding 8-8 on a 5-Q-T-Q-A board, his opponent announces Ace, shows his hand and Ivey mucks the winning Eight-high flush. Ivey explained after that he didn’t notice four spades on the board. Well, if he can do it…

3. Protect your cards at all times

In a game of poker it’s up to you to protect your cards. That’s why a lot of players use card protectors. Stick one of those on top of your cards and the dealer isn’t going to inadvertently muck your Aces. And that rather unfortunate situation is exactly what happened to Estelle Denis at the 2009 WSOP Main Event. Sitting next to the dealer, she shoves for 140k over the top of JC Tran’s 32k preflop raise. The dealer mucks her cards and, despite telling the floor what she had, they can’t be retrieved from the top of the pile. The correct ruling is that her hand is dead and she has to forfeit the 32k it would take to make the call. Ouch! 

4. Don’t talk about the hand (if you’re not in the hand)

This is a real no-no and a mistake that’s only really made by absolute beginners or total idiots. Once you’ve folded a hand you’ve got information that has a direct bearing on the play. Say you fold A-3 and the flop comes down A-A-3. You slap your forehead and say, ‘I can’t believe I folded A-3’ to the player on your left. One of the players still in the hand has an Ace and he now knows it’s the last one in the deck, giving him tons of vital information. 

It’s rare to see something like this happen in a big tournament, but when Shawn Sheikhan folds his short stack to see a 9-8-A flop in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, he jumps out his seat and slams the table, causing Mike Matusow to drop an f-bomb. Old Sheiky isn’t an absolute beginner, so… We’ll let you fill in the blank.

5. Don’t flip your hand over early

In the heat of the moment it’s easy to get overexcited and turn your cards over early thinking your opponent is all-in or everyone else has folded. When that happens the usual ruling is that you can’t make any bets or raises – you can only call any bets. It obviously gives your opponent a huge advantage of either checking the hand down if you flop a monster, betting if they’re beating you, or bluffing if the board puts out some obvious scare cards to your hand.

In this first hand Tony G flips his pocket Sixes after making a call thinking that Andy Black is all-in. He’s not and Tony G has to suffer the ridicule of his tablemates. It reaches fever pitch when the G-man turns a set. Andy Black tells him he’s drawing dead and mucks in a fit of giggles.

6. Don’t get stuck on hands that are obviously beaten

You only get Aces once every 225 hands but they’re still just one pair. And pairs get beaten quite often at the poker table. If you want to be a successful poker player you’ve got to be able to lay down big hands that you thought were going to reap you a huge pile of chips. And that includes hands stronger than just one big pair. 

If the action strongly suggests that you’re beat, you’re quite often going to be beat. Don’t get frustrated and don’t make a call saying, ‘I know I’m beat but I’m not good enough to fold this’. Fold and know you’ve made a good laydown. Sure, you’ll be bluffed off a pot every now and again, but not often enough to stay stubborn. 

That’s what happens to Daniel Negreanu here. He’s on a terrible run during High Stakes Poker, flops the nuts with T-9 on a Q-8-J flop and ends up losing to quad Eights. Sure, he was unlucky but when Erick Lindgren moves all-in on the river with the board reading Q-8-J-8-A it’s an easy fold. He calls out of frustration, after slamming his fists on the table, and loses an extra $70k. He can only beat a bluff and even says, ‘Full house is good’ as he calls. Lindgren’s quads are even better.

7. Don’t underestimate your opponent

That spotty kid who you think is spewing chips is actually an online Supernova Elite. And that bloke acting the tourist on the cash table is actually a grinding reg in disguise. What we’re trying to say is that unless you know someone’s game inside out, you should never underestimate them.

There’s a great example on High Stakes Poker. Season 7 might have been a huge disappointment – stripped as it was of Gabe Kaplan, AJ Benza, and the Full Tilt pros – but it had its moments. Most of them came from the unique dynamics of top-name pros against big businessmen. And the latter weren’t there to make up the numbers.

In this fantastic hand Bill Klein pulls a sick bluff on Phil Galfond – one of the very best cash game players in the world. After Galfond turns the nut straight with Q-T on the J-9-2-K board, Klein sticks around with his 10-6 for a gutshot and flush draw. The river puts another Jack down and Klein leads straight out for a pot-sized $150k. Galfond thinks for a while before basically saying he knows Klein has the full house (‘What else could you have called with’) and mucking. Klein shows. Of course he does. How else would he get to fist bump Antonio Esfandiari?

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