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Top-10 mistakes made by Texas Hold'em players

8 December 2008

Being asked to come up with the "Top-10 List of the Most Common Texas Hold'em Mistakes" was an easy assignment for me. After all, there's a reason why my business card says "poker writer" on it instead of "poker player."

But rather than trying to explain why I am prone to making some rather unwise moves at the poker table, I decided to reach out to a couple of guys who know much more about the game than I do and ask them what they see as the most common mistakes made by Hold'em players.

Hevad Khan and Tom McEvoy were born into different poker generations, but both have made a fine living playing the game as seen by their combined $5 million in live-tournament winnings.

The 64-year-old McEvoy – who we profiled in May before the 2008 World Series – has been a poker pro since quitting his job as an accountant and moving to Las Vegas back in 1978 and he just celebrated the 25th anniversary of his win at the 1983 WSOP Main Event. He's an accomplished poker-book author and teacher of the game.

Khan's introduction to the game was a bit different than McEvoy. The 23-year-old New York native began playing online and the way he used to multi-table 43 games at once at PokerStars under the now infamous name "RaiNKhaN" on his 17-inch monitor is legendary. His crazy antics at the 2007 WSOP – where he finished sixth in the Main Event and cashed in for nearly $1 million – made him a recognizable character in the world of poker. But the new Hevad Khan is more reserved and much more tame. And he says the change in the demeanor has him playing some of the best poker of his life.

Khan and McEvoy -- who both represent PokerStars -- said that the following mistakes are made by the majority of amateurs, so take heed. Avoid them and your game is sure to change for the better in a hurry.

10. Lack of focus
Kahn is adamant that playing your best poker requires total concentration. If you're playing at a casino, don't be distracted by the football game on TV or that attractive girl with the low-cut shirt on the rail. When playing online, don't try to read your e-mail or respond to IMs. Pay attention to the reads your opponents may be giving you if you're serious about winning.

9. Falling in love with a hand
McEvoy cringes when he hears someone say, "That's my favorite hand!" He stresses that while it's OK to have a particular fondness for a hand, you still have to treat it like any other two cards. In other words, don't play a hand blindly just because it's been good to you over the years because in the end that kind of decision-making will cost you dearly.

Tom_Mcevoy_A

Tom McEvoy won the WSOP Main Event in 1983 (photo by Neil Stoddart/PokerStars)

"Remember, even ace-ace can end up being outdrawn," he cautions.

8. Using an iPod
Kahn says that sometimes what you hear at the table can give you as good a read on your opponents as the things you see. Having your favorite tunes blaring in your ears is going to hinder you from catching some of that important chatter.

"You can really get a feel for the table just by listening to the chatter or how some players talk to themselves," Kahn says. "And what cracks me up is that people who wear iPods usually hit the pause button when they get to a big pot. Why do they need silence only for big pots? What they don't realize is that the small pots are just as important as the big ones because they dictate how you're going to play the big ones."

7. Calling when you should be raising
Raising a hand in the right situation puts you in control of the action, Kahn says.

"You don't want to be calling every raise in front of you," he says. "If you've got a hand that you want to play, often times a raise is the better play. You want to be the one in control of the pot and raising helps you do that."

6. Playing too many hands
McEvoy says this is a classic mistake made by beginners because consistently limping in with bad hands will drain your bankroll.

"Let's face it: poker is a fun game and people like to get in on the action when they're sitting at the table," he says. "They look for excuses to get involved with a pot and that can be costly. You need to be disciplined enough to only play hands that are advantageous to you and your position."

5. Playing too few hands
This is the opposite of No. 6 and not as common, but McEvoy says that there are quite a few amateurs who wait and wait and wait for the perfect hand and eventually their stack ends up dying a slow death.

"You have the find the right balance," he explains. "You can't just sit there and wait for queen-queen to fall in your lap."

4. Over betting the pot
McEvoy says that winning in Hold'em is all about how you bet. And even experienced players tend to make bad bets.

"I remember one time in the Main Event a player whom I really respect made one of the worst mistakes of over betting that I've ever seen in my life," McEvoy remembers. "We were in the first round and the blinds were 25-50. He's holding two kings and he moves in with his entire stack. Now, the only way someone is going to call him is if they have aces. Sure enough, somebody calls and flips over aces and he's out of the tournament. All for a pot that totaled 75 chips."

3. Under betting the pot
While it's not quite as dangerous as over betting, under betting can be just as costly in the long run. For example, McEvoy says if there's $500 in the pot and someone bets $100 post flop, that's a bad bet no matter what they are holding.

"If you're trying to bluff people out of the hand, it's not enough to get people to fold," he says. "And if you've got a good hand you're just giving everybody a real cheap price to draw against you. Either way, it's a foolish bet."

Khan

Hevad Khan says to never look at your hole cards until it's your turn to act. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

2. Looking at hole cards too early
When the pros on TV wait until it's their turn to act before looking at their hole cards, it's not because they're waiting for ESPN to cue the Hole Cam. Kahn explains that you never want to look at your cards as soon as they are dealt.

"As much as you think you're good at hiding your emotions, if you look at your cards and you have two aces, you're going to give away some kind of tell," Kahn says. "And you don't want to do it before everybody else acts because you're just helping them make their decision. Good players will pick up on it. Also, a lot of players see that they have a good hand and then feel committed to playing it no matter what happens in front of them. Waiting until it's your turn will help you avoid that."

1. Ignoring position
Where you're sitting at the table should change how you look at your hand dramatically. But many beginners don't take this into account, says McEvoy.

For instance, 9-8 suited or a small pair is "almost always a mistake" if you're sitting in the first two positions in front of the blind, says McEvoy, because it is more likely to get raised. However, if you have this kind of hand and you're two positions next to the button, it is a "reasonably safe play."

"But more often than not, beginners will play these hands no matter where they are sitting," McEvoy says with dismay. "Position is just too important to ignore."

Top-10 mistakes made by Texas Hold'em players is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT