What are poker leaks?
Poker leaks are actions you continually make that cost you money. They can be preflop leaks like too frequently limping into pots or calling from the Small Blind. They can be post-flop leaks like folding to every cbet without holding a pair or triple-barrel bluffing too often. Or they can even be mental game leaks like anger, entitlement or even playing too late into the night and making poor choices due to exhaustion.
Your job as a thinking player is to find your poker leaks, analyze the causes, then work on- and off-the-felt to plug the leaks. This work requires learning new strategies then applying them in-game to help yo make better decisions.
Top 10 Common Poker Leaks and How to Plug 'em
Listen to this podcast episode:
1. Suffering from Anger and Tilt
- Broken mouses/keyboards
- Suddenly realizing you’re down 5 buy-ins
- Cursing at the monitor and wishing horrendous things upon the other players
- Never playing your A-game
Plug this leak:
- Catalog your tilt in a poker journal (click here for my free 21-page Poker Journal). Write down what sets you off and how your anger/tilt manifest themselves.
- Read ‘The Mental Game of Poker' and put what you learn into action ASAP. I can't recommend a better book on handling poker leaks like tilt, anger, distraction, fear, confidence, etc.
2. Playing too tight/loose preflop
- Playing too tight (nitty) makes it easy for players to read you for strength and quickly fold, so you miss out on value. Your VPIP/PFR stats are low at 10/8 or 8/7 player.
- Playing too loose leads to losing with too many 2nd best hands. You might be 2bet/folding to 3bets way too often (like 90%) or you 2bet/call too often with very weak hands. Your stats might be 45/22 or 30/20 and you show you're not positionally aware (VPIP is roughly the same in every position).
Plug this leak:
- Utilize preflop ranges and good choices to help you see more flops with better ranges than your opponents do. This will give you a mathematical advantage over them.
- Visit the PokerTracker 4 website to watch their great leak tracking videos on VPIP and PFR. You'll learn the definitions and calculations for each and how to smartly increase/decrease them as necessary to get you closer to the average winning player's statistical percentages.
Use LeakBuster 2 to help you find leaks:
3. Playing While Exhausted
- Symptoms: falling asleep at the tables, lack of concentration, robotic play.
- Plug this leak: get more rest! Life gets in the way sometimes, but choose to only play when you can be focused on your decisions.
4. Playing when Distracted
- Symptoms: allowing outside things to pull your attention away from the tables like tweeting, YouTube, texting, Netflix, etc.
- Plug this leak: When it’s time to play, it’s time to play. Know what you're easily distracted by purposefully avoid them before you begin your session.
5. Playing with Scared Money
- Symptoms: feeling apprehension when you put a lot of money on the line for cash games or tournaments. When you're too concerned about the money at risk, you don't make good decisions and you often pass up on +EV aggressive spots.
- Plug this leak: play within the bankroll rules you set for yourself. I recommend your poker bankroll be at 100-200 buy-ins for tournament play and 40 buy-ins for cash game play. It’s totally up to you, just find where you’re comfortable and go with it.
6. Acting without Planning for the Future
- Symptoms: you call or bet preflop, flop or turn and you don't even think about the future. There's no thought into stack/pot sizes, future cards, how likely you'll get to showdown, etc. You simply play your hand and this board right now. It's like driving down the street and looking only 20 feet ahead of your car.
- Plug this leak: play focus sessions where you deliberately consider what might happen in the future before you click the button now. Recite what you can expect on the next street. “I'm calling now to hit my draw because the price is right. Villain likes to barrel so if I hit my draw, I can check-raise for value. If I miss, I might be able to check-raise bluff them off their hand depending on the card that comes and the size of their bet.”
7. Stealing Too Frequently
- Symptoms: your steals never seem to work because players defend too frequently with calls and 3bet resteals.
- Plug this leak: utilize preflop ranges to keep your steals under control. When you steal too often, players defend more often. Also use a sizing that can convince them to fold. Players hate folding to min-raises, so go 2.5 to 3.5bb's to convince them to fold.
8. One-and-Done Cbetting (never firing the second barrel)
- Symptoms: you're fine bluffing flops, but when they call, you can't pull the trigger on the turn cbet bluff. Your Flop Cbet is high at 70% and low on the turn at 35%.
- Plug this leak: review turn cbetting opportunities (filter below) in your database of hands. Look for good bluffing opportunities that you skipped and try to figure out why you chose to not double-barrel cbet. Maybe you failed to notice their Fold to Cbet stats before the first cbet. Maybe you're out of position and you realized on the turn they hate folding when OOP. Record your mistakes so you can work to make better decisions in the future. Also, increase your flop cbet bluff sizing (1/2 pot is too small) and use a new standard of 2/3 or 3/4 pot.
9. Playing Fit-or-Fold on the Flop
- Symptoms: Your Cbet is too low at 30%, so when you check the flop they know you don't have a strong hand.
- Plug this leak: Cbet bluff more frequently, especially when in position. Look at their Fold to Cbet stat and if it's >60%, bluff them frequently. Also, work on your range/board understanding so you can gauge how likely your opponent hit something worth continuing with. Bluff them often when their range doesn't interact well.
10. Snap Calling or Folding without Thinking
- Robotic button clicking
- Calling or folding just based on the strength of your hand and ignoring all other information
- Playing too many tables so you don't have time to think
- Constantly making -EV plays and realizing it after the fact
Plug this leak:
- Ask and answer Poker's Ultimate Question before every decision: “What are they doing this with?”
- Cut the number of tables you play to give more time for thought.
- Use a tick sheet to record how many times and the reasons for each fold/call/bet/raise.
- Take into account as much information as possible like your opponent's tendencies, stack/pot sizes, future cards, table dynamics, etc.
Get to work plugging poker leaks. Choose just one from the list above and get started on the fix!
Study important strategy elements to help you make better decisions (watch a video, read an article, listen to a podcast).
Play a FOCUS session where you purposefully practice the strategies you learned.
Tag questionable hands, review them off-the felt and look for mistakes made. Rinse and repeat this process until your poker leaks are plugged.
Check out one of my leak plugging study sessions:
Turning Poker Weaknesses Into Strengths
I know there are areas of your game that you’re not happy with. Maybe they’re poker leaks costing you money, or they’re spots where you just know your skills are lacking.
Listen to this podcast episode: Turning Poker Weaknesses Into Strengths
Here are my top 4 weaknesses (in order of priority):
- I do not iso-raise against the fishiest of fish as often as I’d like to
- My 3bet resteal is infrequent from the blinds
- I want to exploit LAG’s better
- My heads-up SNG skills are lacking
How did I come up with this list?
- Being present at the table and realizing uncomfortable feelings. Uncomfortable feelings are a sign that your skills are lacking in an area. For example, if you hate facing 3bets and never know how to respond, that’s a weakness you must be aware of.
- Reviewing my stats and win rates. I consistently go through my database and I see areas in which my play statistics and win rates could be improved. Negative win rates over large samples are a sure sign of weakness, and folding or calling too often in certain spots are weaknesses as well.
- Reviewing tagged hands. I try to tag important hands with PokerTracker 4 as I play so that I can come back and study them later. Sometimes I see patterns in my tagging. The other day I tagged 3 hands in one session that were all monotone flops. That’s a sure sign of weakness.
If you aren't doing these three things yet, get on it! Knowledge of your weaknesses is the first step in turning them into strengths.
Whip out a piece of paper and list 4 areas of weakness you currently have.
You probably don't need to open PokerTracker 4 or your poker journal for this.
Jot down the first 4 areas that come to mind. This list will be useful below.
Prioritize Your List of Weaknesses
Always start with #1. The key to choosing #1 comes from answering this question:
“What’s the ONE poker strength you can build such that by building it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?”
This is a question taken from The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (one of my favorite books).
Building strengths has a cascading effect.
So always work big to small because fixing big issues often aids in fixing the little ones or makes them unnecessary. For example: strengthening your preflop game improves your post-flop game. Strengthening your board texture understanding helps your hand reading and your cbetting skills. Playing more from the CO and BTN and less from the blinds puts you in easier post-flop spots because you’ll have position more frequently.
Prioritize your list of 4 weaknesses.
Which will strength will have the biggest impact on your game?
Put that as #1 then out of the remaining 3, which of those will have the biggest impact? There’s your #2 and so on.
How to Turn Weaknesses into Strengths
How do you tackle this list of prioritized weaknesses? It just takes these 4 simple steps.
Step 1: One at a time
Tackle the first item on your list and only that item until you feel you’ve turned it into a strength. You prioritized your list so you know developing this as a new strength will have the biggest impact. Don’t waste time on other things.
Step 2: Study something
Just Google or YouTube search the strategy and find something to study. It doesn’t matter if it’s a podcast, video, article or chapter in a book. Simply consume and learn from it.
Step 3: Take notes
Always take notes in your poker journal as you learn from the item you chose. You’ll want these to refer back to during your sessions. Plus, you can use your notes as your warm-ups to get your mind focused on this new strength your building.
Step 4: Take action
You studied something and learned something new. Now you MUST take action with it on the felt because taking action is the best way to learn. How can you possibly become a stronger 3bettor or fisherman or river caller without practicing it?
Taking Chips from Others with the Same Weakness
Let’s talk about one of the best side effects of turning weaknesses into strengths.
Let’s say your #1 weakness was “calling 3bets too often”. Maybe you just spent 2 weeks studying and taking action every single day and now you’ve turned this into a strength. You know exactly how to fight back against 3bets. You know when to call and when to fold. You’ve become a master at looking ahead to see whether or not you’re likely to face a 3bet before you open-raise.
All of this work on your weakness has taught you how others exploited you. You know they 3bet you larger for value because you couldn’t fold. They cbet bluffed you a lot because you were quick to fold on the flop. You know they 3bet you from position because you kept calling out of position.
Awesome! These are all exploits you can now employ on other players who call 3bets too often.
So, through all your work on this weakness of calling 3bets too often, here are the results:
- You’ve removed a weakness that was probably costing you lots of money. Your bankroll will increase due to this.
- You’ve turned facing 3bets into a strength and this will lead to increased profits as well.
- You’ve learned some great ways to exploit others with your old weakness, so even more profits are coming your way.
Now it’s time for you to turn weaknesses (or poker leaks) into strengths.
I challenge you to follow the 4 steps with #1 on your list.
Make it a goal of building this into a strength in the next week so you can improve your skillset and your bottom line. Then move on to #2.
Leak: Choosing to Play Weak Hands Out of Position
There are many poker leaks I would classify as “must fix” mistakes, but there aren't too many more troublesome than playing weak hands out of position.
Many players don't realize that they're getting into so many non-Bread & Butter situations with weak holdings. Let's dive into plugging this leak with signs that you suffer from it and ways to plug it, both preflop and post-flop.
Listen to the podcast episode: Choosing to Play Weak Hands Out of Position
Sam emailed me one of his poker leaks:
One of my poker leaks is not knowing what to do on the flop when I'm out of position. I raise it to 3bb's with QTs and get called by a player on the BTN or CO. The flop will come something like KQ2 or Q83 so I've got 2nd pair or TPWK and I don’t know what to do. I just don't know how to proceed and it seems like I have to check-fold a lot or check-call and pay off better hands or I cbet and get raised and have to fold. Being OOP sucks.
Thanks for any help,
Strong Preflop Hand Choices Plug Poker Leaks Like This
To help you make better preflop hand choices, think about the 3 Advantages before you enter any preflop hand. If you have all 3 advantages, play the hand. If only 2, consider whether you want to give that 3rd advantage to your opponent. And if you only have 1 or none of the advantages, DO NOT enter the hand.
1. Positional Advantage
Having position is the greatest advantage in poker. Acting last after your opponent gives you more information to work with. You can’t fully control this aspect of your game, but you can make decisions preflop that will lead to more frequent in-position post-flop play.
The button is the most valuable position on the table because you're guaranteed to act last on 3/4 streets from here. If playing out of position is a big issue for you, do these 3 things:
- Play most of your hands from the CO and BTN.
- Fold more often out of the blinds and 3bet resteal more frequently (call less often).
- Don't ever limp into pots and refrain from calling in the EP and MP to limit the options for others to enter the pot with position against you.
Run this filter right now:
The reason for filtering at 5+ players dealt in is so you can remove all short-handed games from the results which skews VPIP numbers by position.
Take a look at the number of hands played by position in the results. The # of hands played in the BTN and CO should both be more than in either of the blinds. If the blinds > BTN or CO, then you're playing too many hands in these least favorable positions and this is adding to your out-of-position woes.
2. Skill Advantage
The best players work to improve their skill advantage, which is the ability to make better decisions than their opponents. Better decisions earn you greater value with your best hands, and cost you less chips when you’re beat. Studying and playing with purpose widens the skill gap between you and your opponents. Targeting weaker opponents and playing against them in position takes full advantage of the gap between your skillset and theirs.
Before entering a pot, consider who is yet to act and whether they can enter the pot with position against you or shove some well-timed aggression in your face to make you fold your hand. Weak players, who you have a skill advantage over aren't as much of a concern as the winning LAG's and TAG's who are sitting to your left.
3. Range Advantage
The strongest players consider their entire range of hands as they make their preflop decisions and they think about the range of hands their opponent can hold. A range is a set of hands you can have at any time given your position, your style of play and the decisions you’ve made up to that point. If your range of hands is stronger than your opponent’s then you have a range advantage. This advantage makes poker easier and more profitable.
The first step to correcting a leak of playing poor hands out of position is to improve your hand selections preflop. This will require that you begin using preflop starting hand charts like my KISS Cash Game Ranges. The ranges are developed to give you an advantage when 2betting, 3betting and calling preflop 2bets and 3bets. Download them and use them over your next 10,000 hands to see how impactful using ranges can be.
Ultimately, be judicious in your hand selections and give yourself the best opportunity to make $ with each hand you select by having at least 2/3 advantages. If you only have 1 or none of them, DO NOT play the hand.
You can't play in position every hand unless you only entered pots on the BTN. You're going to see flops out of position, so how do you approach these hands?
Improving Out of Position Post-flop Play
In Sam's example, he holds a hand with decent strength (TPWK or 2nd pair) and he's OOP. His question: What do I do here?
Every post-flop action you take should have a reason (value or bluff) and you should see signs that you'll achieve your desired result. In the scenario Sam outlined, there may be 3 ways he'd like to approach this hand.
1. Sam wants to take the pot down on the flop before the turn.
If you want to end the hand for whatever reason (wet board, weak holding, don't know your opponent, etc.), you've got to make a bet that gets your opponent to fold. Before you just throw out a random bet, ask yourself, “Can they find a fold?”
- Look for “flop honest” players which means they play the flop for value. They have a low Flop Cbet stat (<40%) and a high Fold versus Flop Cbet (>60%).
- Look for players who fold the same when IP or OOP. Make sure you have Fold to Cbet IP and Fold to Cbet OOP in one of your PokerTracker 4 popups and use it.
- Compare their preflop range to the board. If the board doesn't give their range many strong hands nor draws, they're more likely to fold.
- You believe they're bet-sizing sensitive. You've seen them call lots of 1/2 pot bets but fold quickly vs 2/3 and 3/4 pot bets.
If you've thought through the situation and believe they can find a fold, either cbet from OOP at a sizing they can fold to or plan on check-raising them off their hand. Again, use a sizing you believe they can fold to.
If you don't believe they can fold, then you can try to pot control to see a cheap turn, river and showdown.
2. Sam wants to keep the pot small and get to the river cheaply with some showdown value.
If they're not folding and you don't want to bet for value, you must try to keep the pot small by checking. It's okay to check-fold when you hold nothing of value with no draw and when they're not likely to fold.
Other times, like in the situation Sam outlines, check-calling may be an absolutely fine play. If you believe your opponent can bet with worse than you hold (because you've paid attention to their stats and you gauge their range/board interaction), then calling is A-okay.
3. Same wants to gain value from worse hands.
Before value betting, gauge whether or not they can call with worse and name hands that can do so. In Sam's example hand, let's put Villain on this BTN calling range:
What hands can give Sam's QT value?
- On the KQ2 flop: only the under-pocket pairs like JJ-33 and straight draws like JT or AJ. Not much value to be had on this 2-Broadway board.
- On the Q83 flop: weaker pocket pairs again, mid-pairs like 98 and gut-shot draws like JT. Not much again to gain value from.
This doesn't appear to be a great value betting situation for Sam. I think he's better off trying to get to showdown as cheaply as possible or making one flop stab at the pot in an effort to take it down.
Consider the Future Before You Continue
Make sure to always consider future streets and board cards before you make your action. If there are many cards that can help your equity by making your hand stronger or giving you draws, be more prone to betting. For example, holding 9h7h on the 8h6c4h board. Any any 5, 7, 9, T or heart will add to your equity when called.
If there aren't many future cards that can help you (like holding 45o on a T95 flop), you're better off checking and giving up unless a miracle 2p or trips hits you on the turn.
If you’re involved in a multi-way pot, the problems with being OOP are exacerbated, so be very careful if you’re betting as a bluff or for value. And, if you’re planning on check-calling a wet board, make sure your call ends the action. This is important because you don’t want to get check-raised and be forced to ditch your hand.
Fix these poker leaks!
Start with setting opening ranges, then play some focus sessions with three areas of focus:
- Use these ranges pretty strictly preflop (unless it's a-EV hand to get involved with)
- Consider the opponents yet to act before you enter the pot
- When you get to the flop, decide on what you want your action to accomplish before you click that button.
Support the Podcast
The popularity of the Finding and Plugging Poker Leaks with PokerTracker 4 Webinar inspired this series of podcasts. Learn how to use PokerTracker 4 to efficiently find and plug your leaks, then turn your leak plugging knowledge into profitable opponent exploits. Get 10% off this super popular webinar. Thank you to Ian, Paula, Rasmussen, Todd, Shawn and Todd H. for purchasing.
Andrew Morris, Lou Averbach, Georges and James Froeschle picked up PokerTracker 4, the best poker tracking software. I love it and use it everyday! In appreciation, I sent them a copy of my Smart HUD for PT4. With an ever-growing database of hands to study and all the helpful features, PT4 is the go-to software for serious poker players.
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Paula, Dale Silver, and Ian picked up the Getting the Most From PokerTracker 4 Webinar (10% off) because they know that I'm teaching exactly this in the webinar. They're learning how to filter for leaks, run reports and dissect opponents (among many other things).
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