Poker: The Big 4 Mistakes When Playing and How to Take Advantage

Poker player king ace cards
A poker player shows his cards pre-flop. Michał Parzuchowski/Unsplash

There are countless ways to screw up any single hand of poker. Maybe you misread the cards, or you forget how many or how few chips your opponent has. Maybe you fall asleep in the middle of a hand. These things happen but they can also be easily fixed.

The mistakes we’re talking about here are fundamental errors that play out over time. They’re the “Big 4” mistakes in poker, and if you’re the one making them, you need to stop.

Poker’s a lot more fun when your opponents are the ones making those mistakes. If you can spot them, you can capitalize by making the proper adjustments at the table. This is how you’ll make most of your money in poker – if you do it right.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at those “Big 4” errors and how you can exploit them.

1. Calling Too Often

This is the No. 1 mistake in poker. Newer players just can’t help themselves; they’ll call pre-flop just so they can play the hand, and they’ll call down to the river just to see what cards you have. It’s a classic Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) scenario.

When you see your opponents playing this “sticky” loose-passive style, you should of course bluff less often – but you should also bet more of your marginal hands for thin value. For example, Top Pair-Good Kicker (TPGK) might normally be good for two streets of value in No-Limit Texas Hold’em, but against this type of player, consider betting all three streets instead. You’ll be glad you did.

2. Folding Too Often

It’s much rarer to find someone who really doesn’t like to get involved pre-flop without premium hole cards and insta-mucks their cards to post-flop aggression. But these people are out there. This error is the mirror-image of Mistake No. 1, so it requires the opposite adjustment: Bluff more, but also check more of your marginal value hands. Better to get one street of value off these hands than zero.

3. Bluffing Too Often

Now we’re back on familiar ground. Overly aggressive players can be very frustrating to deal with at first – you know, the ones who keep 3-betting you pre-flop and raising you post-flop. So tilting. Here’s the prescription: Call with more of your marginal-made hands. And while you’re at it, you might want to tighten your opening range when said opponent has a position on you. Fold tighter, call down lighter is your mantra.

4. Checking Too Often

Once again, players who habitually check instead of betting for value are quite rare, but they’re doing it for a reason. Maybe they’re trying to trap you. Maybe they’re just risk-averse. Whatever the case, when these players do throw some chips into the pot, they’ve probably got a stronger hand than usual. So take the exact opposite approach as you would with Mistake No. 3: Call down tighter instead of lighter. Problem solved.


There you have it – your simple 4-step solution to exploitive poker. Or at least the steps themselves are simple enough to execute. The trick is in knowing how much is too much. In theory, every hand of poker can be broken down and analyzed mathematically to determine what the “Game-Theory Optimal” (GTO) play is.

That’s what computer programs like PioSOLVER and GTO Range Builder are for. Once you’ve spent enough time working with these programs, you’ll get a good sense of what a proper “balanced” poker strategy looks like, with the right ratios of calls, folds, bluffs and checks. Or you can figure it out yourself through experience.

A combination of both is ideal. Either way, once you figure out these ratios, you’ll know when someone is getting out of line – and to what extent. The more they stray, the more you can adjust and take advantage of them. So go get ‘em, champ, and may the rectangles be with you.