One of the most common mistakes many recreational poker players make is they limp (just call the big blind) far too often. They limp because they want to see the flop before deciding whether or not they have a hand that is worth investing significant money. In reality though, the vast majority of hold’em hands will rarely flop a strong enough holding to justify risking additional money.
While the best hands (strong pairs and big cards) are obviously worth playing, many players limp with a wide range of speculative hands. When many players see the flop (as will often be the case in small stakes games), you need an incredibly strong hand to justify continuing because it is highly likely that someone will flop a premium hand. You will find that middle (and sometimes top) pair does not fare well when lots of people see the flop.
For example, imagine four players limp and you also limp on the button out of your 100 big blind effective stack with, , or . The blinds also see the flop, which comes .
If you face a bet with any of these hands (all middle or bottom pair), you will be in a marginal spot. If you call, you may already be in bad shape against a better made hand and if your opponent happens to be bluffing, there are many turn cards that could easily improve your opponent to a superior hand. If your opponent continues betting on the turn, you may also have to fold, especially if the turn brings a scary card. Also, don’t forget about the two players in the blinds who could easily have you crushed.
If someone bets and someone else calls, you should almost always fold. One mistake many players make is to call and see a multi-way turn. This is a particularly detrimental leak because it often does not feel so bad due to the excellent pot odds you are getting. However, when you fail to improve, you will almost always have to fold to a bet, and if you are lucky enough to improve, you may still have the second-best hand or your opponents may not pay you off. If someone bets and someone else raises the flop, you should make an easy fold.
So, you do not want to play hands that will often flop marginal made hands. This typically includes hands containing one big card and one little card (K-5o), offsuit connected or gapped hands (8-6o), and junky suited cards (Jh-6h). These hands are all unplayable in almost every situation besides when you are in the big blind. Of course, hands worse than these should also be folded.
I completely understand that it may be tempting to see the flop when everyone else is splashing around, but realize that these players are losing money in the long term to the players who are a bit more patient and wait to play when they have a reasonable edge. The easiest way to beat players who play far too many hands is to simply start with better hands. Plugging just this one leak will go a long way to making you a better poker player. Good luck!