As a poker coach, one of my most important roles for my students is being a leak finder and plugger. It’s my job to determine what mistakes are costing my students money, and I give them strategies to cut the losses.
In poker, as in life, a big blind saved is a big blind earned. So, every leak a student plugs is a boost to their win rates and bankrolls.
My mission for this article is to open your eyes to some leaks you may suffer from, and teach you some simple strategies to plug (fix) each one.
As you read my list of eight common poker leaks below along with the symptoms for each, take note of the ones you think you suffer from. Implement the fixes one at a time to begin plugging each leak.
1. Anger and Tilt
Symptoms: Broken mice/computers; can’t even start a session without anger; you end sessions within moments of starting or just after losing your first pot no matter the size; never playing your A-game and only in C-game mode.
Fix: Start cataloging your tilt in your poker journal by paying more attention to your mental state. Read and put into action Jared Tendler’s book The Mental Game of Poker ASAP. I can’t recommend a better book to help you deal with your anger and tilt issues.
2. Playing Too Tight or Too Loose
Symptoms: Your overly tight play is making it easy for opponents to read you for strength and they ditch their hands as soon as you show interest; your stats are nitty like 10/8 or 8/7 over a large sample. Or you’re overly loose and lose too often at showdown; you’re opening and then calling 3-bets way too often (like 80%); your stats are very fishy at 36/10 or 42/8; your VPIP and PFR don’t vary by position so you play roughly the same hands regardless of position.
Fix: Start using preflop ranges, like my KISS Cash Game Ranges (you can get the KISS ranges for free right here). They will have you playing a sensible number of hands, giving you preflop mathematical advantage quite often. Also, before open-raising, look ahead for 3-bet bluffers and constrict your range to better defend against their 3bet bluffs. Before calling or 3-betting, know who the open-raiser is and make a plan to face them on the flop. Before calling a 3-bet, put the 3-bettor on a range and know that your calling hand is at the top of their betting range.
3. Playing While Exhausted
Symptoms: Falling asleep at the tables; lack of concentration; robotic play; easily succumb to distraction.
Fix: Get more rest! Life gets in the way of poker, and if you’re not well-rested how can you expect to play great poker?
4. Playing Distracted
Symptoms: Twitter/YouTube/ESPN/Candy Crush – you know what distracts you. These things are pulling your attention away from the game.
Fix: When it’s time to play, it’s time to play. Turn off all the distractions before your session.
5. Playing with Scared Money
Symptoms: Sometimes the money at risk gets in the way of great decision making. Risking too much for any one tourney or cash game preoccupies your mind, and even though you know the best play, it’s difficult to make it because of the chips you’re risking.
Fix: Play within your bankroll. Set some limits for yourself, like having a bankroll 100x buy-ins for tourneys and 40x buy-ins for cash games. It’s totally up to you, just find where you’re comfortable and roll with it.
6. Calling on One Street with No Plan for Future Streets
Symptoms: You’re on the flop and you don’t even consider that there’s another street, or how the future cards can affect your hand strength or the perceived strength. You don’t even consider your opponent nor their betting tendencies on future streets. You’re basically, “Have pair or draw, will call.”
Fix: Play some FOCUS Sessions where you deliberately decide why you’re calling on one street and make a plan for the next street. Play just two online tables or one live cash game table so that you can have the time to think through exactly why you’re calling. If you’re unsure, it’s probably a better idea to fold. But, tag the hand to review later to determine if calling would’ve been a profitable play.
7. One-and-Done Betting (never firing the second barrel)
Symptoms: You c-bet the flop a lot, but check the turn often. You’re a one-and-done c-bettor, and everyone calls your flop c-bet just to bet when you check the turn.
Fix: Before firing the flop c-bet, gauge how often you think the opponent will fold. If it’s less than 50%, then before firing on the flop, gauge how often they’ll fold if you barrel the turn. If they’re not folding flop but you think they’ll fold on the turn (based on their range and the board or their tendencies), force yourself to fire the flop and the turn. If they’re not folding either street, it’s probably best to NOT c-bet bluff the flop but instead just value bet them with top pair or better.
8. Snap Calling or Folding Without Thinking
Symptoms: You’re just a robotic button clicker; you fold when a situation is too tough to think about; you don’t have time to think so you just ditch the hand or put out an unthinking bet.
Fix: Play less tables and play with a strategy focus every session. Remove your hand from your mouse to allow you some time to think before “finger tilt” happens (thanks to Tommy Angelo for this term). Consider more than just your hole cards and the board before a decision: stack sizes, bet sizes, their range, future cards, the type of player you’re up against, table dynamics, etc. are all important and will help you make better decisions.
You may have to go beyond the quick fixes I gave you above and do some further studies related to your leak. Watch some additional videos, read articles or listen to podcasts that address your leak. Take notes and take action on what you learn.
And of course, good luck plugging leaks!