Poker leaks are actions that you continually make that cost you money. And cash game players and tournament players can suffer from the same leaks.
They can be preflop leaks like too frequently limping 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 and revenge hijacking your brain, 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 you make better decisions.
Listen to this podcast episode as you follow along below:
Plug These Top 10 Poker Leaks
1. Suffering from Anger and Tilt (Entitlement, Revenge, etc.)
Suddenly realizing you’re down 5 buy-ins.
Cursing at the monitor and wishing horrendous things upon the other players.
Frequently NOT playing your A-game; seem to be stuck in C-game mode.
Plug this Leak:
Catalog your tilt in a poker journal (click here for my FREE Poker Journal). Write down what sets you off and how your anger/tilt manifest themselves.
When you see a potentially tilting situation approach, remove your hand from your mouse and think through every decision. No finger tilt!
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 or Too 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.
Play roughly these ranges: 15% in EP, 22% in CO, 33% in BTN and 22% in blinds.
To simplify things, just get the KISS Cash Game Ranges from my book Preflop Online Poker or right here for free:
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 and by purposefully avoid them before you begin your session. Like spending 15 minutes answering email first, then playing poker.
5. Playing with Scared Money
Symptoms: Feeling apprehension when you put a lot of money on the line for tournaments or cash games. 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 on any street 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. Make a tick mark on a sheet of paper based on the reason for your play. This will get you thinking about the reason behind every play you make.
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7. Stealing Too Frequently
Symptoms: Your steals never seem to work because players defend too frequently with calls and 3bet resteals. Your blind win rates are worse than had you folded every blind. Your CO and BTN win rates are negative.
Plug this Leak: Utilize preflop ranges to keep your steals under control (KISS Cash Game Ranges will absolutely help). 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.
Play steal and defense focus sessions to improve your decisions.
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 80% and low on the turn at 25%.
Plug this Leak: Review Flop and Turn Cbet 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:
Do it more 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.
Take Action and Plug Your Poker Leak with Leak Plugging
Get to work and plug ONE of your poker leaks tonight. 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.
Plug a Leak First THEN Find and Exploit That Leak In Others
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 #426:
Here are my own 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.
Quick: Take Action!
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 Leaks
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.
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.
Quick: Take Even More Action!
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 Leaks 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?
Action is the Greatest Teacher!
Taking Chips from Others with the Same Leaks
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… Take Action to Plug and Exploit Leaks!
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 on your list.
Support the Show and Grow Your Skills
These incredible poker peeps improved their game with the Finding and Plugging Leaks with PokerTracker 4 Webinar (save 10%): Lestyn, Merle, Buster Bamford, Tarvo, Tom D., Tobias Laux, Gnik, Joran Chalal, Brian Gartman and Kyle Horning.
Sky Matsuhashi is the creator of the Smart Poker Study Podcast and www.ThePokerForge.com training site. He has authored 4 poker books including ‘How to Study Poker Volumes 1 & 2’, ‘Preflop Online Poker’ and ‘Post-flop Online Poker’. As a poker coach, Sky is dedicated to helping his students play more effectively, earn more money and be 1% better every day.
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