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5 Poker Leaks That Cost You Money at the Tables

By Randy Ray
Published on January 05, 2018
Poker-Table-and-Dripping-Faucet

Drip, drip, drip.

You hear that?

That’s not your leaky bathroom faucet. It’s your poker game leaking and bleeding you dry.

And if you don’t do something about it, not only will these leaks eat at your profit margins, but they’ll be entrenched in your game–making them hard to detect and fix.

Whether you’re a beginner or a career poker player, your gameplay has leaks that prevent you from advancing your game and your career.

If faced with a 3-bet, what should you do?

Fight or flight?

Fold, call, or 4-bet?

And how about balancing your ranges against tough opponents?

If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, then your game is not as strong as you think it is. And you have leaks that are costing you money and keeping you from achieving the levels of greatness you aspire for.

Here are 7 common leaks that affect almost every player, and how to deal with them:

1. Allowing Opponents to Read and Exploit Your Weaknesses

The LEAK:

Poker is getting more competitive every day. You either keep up or pay the price of being outsmarted at the tables. There are small leaks here, but they all cost you dearly if you don’t fix them soon.

They are:

  • Not c-betting after raising pre-flop: A standard and a quite common leak, especially among beginners. Your opponent can immediately detect weakness and steal the pot with a bold bet.
  • Checking twice: Another sign of a weak hand. A discerning opponent can tell that you’re trying to get to showdown as cheaply as possible. Your hand is either a weak bluff catcher or a showdown value hand. He’ll exploit that with a big-size bet, knowing full well you can’t risk a significant part of your stack to call them.
  • Going weak at the knees on the river: After running a 3-barrel bluff, you check the river instead of betting. Your opponent, who held his ground all three streets, is waiting to see you falter. When you fail to bet on the river, you’re making it easy for him to bet and steal it.
THE FIX:

All three leaks above have one thing in common: you show weakness when you should be projecting strength. You should almost always c-bet after raising pre-flop and take the pot then and there. Checking is passive.

And passive play gets punished mercilessly.

And when you’re bluffing, take it all the way to the river. You’ll win 52% of the times you bet the river.

2.  Not Knowing When to End Your Session

THE LEAK:

Your long-term success as a poker player depends largely knowing when to call it a day–or night–at the tables. Some players understand putting in the volume to mean working long hours until they drop. They think they should keep playing in all conditions, hail or snow.

Even when their mind is on the verge of shutting down from exhaustion, depleted energy, or lack of sleep, they keep pushing themselves. Playing when tired, unfocused, or distracted means you’re playing your C-game. That’s when the mistakes pile up and your win rate drops.

THE FIX:

There’s no magic solution or one-strategy-fits-all here. You’ll have to find your sweet spot and know when to stop playing or when to take a badly needed break.

Here are a few considerations to help you decide when it’s time to go get some fresh air:

  • Session results as indicators: The theory behind this goes like this: if you win or lose a specific number of buy-ins, you should stop playing. The logic is that winning or losing a certain amount would affect your emotions (especially losing) and impair your judgment. Like everything else, it’s up to you to decide how many buy-ins should be your limit and whether you really need to stop playing when you hit your mark. If you can put your emotions in check and keep playing your best game, why should you stop? But if losing a big hand or a bad beat puts you on tilt and you start playing loose–chasing draws and taking uncalculated risks–then a break is right for you.
  • Getting distracted and losing focus: If you catch yourself thinking about food or the TV show you watched the night before, it’s a sign you’re getting mentally tired or maybe just bored. In either case, you won’t be fully concentrating on your hand, keeping track of other players, or making the right decisions. Leave the tables even for a short while to freshen up.
  • Your emotions have a say in it: Are you angry, sad, or just in a bad mood? Then you shouldn’t be playing. Having strong negative emotions eclipses your mental capabilities and leads to awful and costly mistakes. Poker, among other things, is a mental game. So starting the session with a calm and clear mind is paramount, and if you lose this calmness, then it’s time to stop. The tables won’t go anywhere. Some deep breathing away from the table or a short coffee break should be enough to regain your inner peace and focus.

3. Tilt – Control Your Inner Demon

THE LEAK:

Tilt happens when emotions take control and your mind takes a back seat. Anything less than your A game is considered tilt. You don’t have to angry to be tilted. You can be sad or scared or just distracted.

And it doesn’t have to show for you to be tilt.

There are people who can put on a mask and look calm and collected, even though deep down there’s a storm brewing and their guts are in knots.

They’re tilting.

If it’s not your brain that’s taking charge of the game, you’re on tilt.

That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you make a bet and fear that you won’t see that money again?

That’s tilt.

The player next to you has an annoying voice?

The cards you’ve been getting all night are garbage and you start to wonder if you’ll ever get a decent hand?

The dealer is taking his sweet time?

Someone is getting on your nerves?

These are all signs that you’re not focused and not on top of your game. They’re indications that you’re on tilt.

THE FIX:

Tilt can take you from playing your A game to playing your C game in minutes. From there, it’s a downhill slide to losing big hands and making costly mistakes. The only option is to stop playing, end your session, and go do something else. The problem, however, is that you don’t notice the signs of tilt. You’re too caught up in it to know you’re tilting.

That’s why the first step to dealing with tilt is recognizing the symptoms and making an immediate decision to stop playing. If you leave the tables every time you go into a tilt, you’ll save yourself a lot of money. And you’ll get a better handle on your emotions.

But if you’re playing a tournament and cannot leave the table, then tighten your game and wait for it to blow over.

Some players practice yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to help them stay calm during the game. Others find hobbies that require patience–like fishing and gardening–to seek inner peace. Tilt is the number one enemy of a career poker player, so make it your priority to conquer it.

4. Not Taking Your Poker Career Seriously

THE LEAK:

This leak affects career players who are still undecided about whether poker is a full-time job or just a hobby. This is especially true of players who have nothing to show yet for their long hours of grinding. They still feel a knot in their stomach every time someone asks them what they do for a living.

This leak is manifested in the following:

  • Not taking their career seriously.
  • Being obsessed with the results, the bottom line, and the money graph.
  • Terrible bankroll management.
  • Work takes over life or vice versa.
  • Dismissing learning and evolving their game as trivial pursuit.


THE FIX:

Taking your poker career seriously is crucial to success.

If you want to become the accomplished player you imagine yourself to be in a few years, then you should:

  • Be a professional: This means putting in the hours both on and off the tables. Playing volume is important to beat variance. Studying your hands as well as other players’ will put you ahead of the competition.
  • Maintain a good work-life balance: You need to still have a life away from the tables. Spending time with friends and family will keep your mind fresh and energized.
  • Focus on the process, not the results: Variance is part of the game, and a downswing can destroy that rising money graph. Accept it. Don’t let your emotions impact your decisions. If you work on improving your game, the results will follow.
  • Join forums and ask questions: For your own sanity and the betterment of your game, you should surround yourself with like-minded people. They will motivate you when the times are bad and cheer for your success. The social aspect of learning is just as important as the hours of studying and hand analysis.
  • Good bankroll management: If the money you’re putting on the table is your next month’s rent or grocery money, a downswing will take you out of the game. If you can’t afford to lose the money you play with, you’re putting your poker career in jeopardy.

5. Showing Signs of Weakness on the Tables

THE LEAK:

It’s not just the strength of your cards, or lack thereof, that decides the outcome of the hand. The signs you project on the table can be fatal and work against you. Here are some of the tells that indicate your hand is not as strong as you pretend:

  • Shaky voice: A breaking voice means you’re not happy with your hand or the situation you got yourself in.
  • Freezing: If you’re active at the table and then freeze after making a bet, you could be giving away your hand.
  • Checking your hole cards again: An observant opponent will tell that you don’t have a suited hand. It’s easy to remember one suit.
  • Acting strong: Players only act strong when they’re not. When you have a strong hand, you don’t want to show it. So acting strong means the exact opposite of what you want to convey.
  • Staring at the board: This is a good tell that you have missed the board and are wondering what to do next. Don’t do it.
THE FIX:

Counter those weak signs with the following indicators of strength:

  • Small bets: It’s the opposite of bluffing. When you bluff, you try to buy the pot with a big-sized bet. A small bet here is a sign of strength. Your opponent will assume that you’re value betting because you have a strong hand and will likely give up the pot.
  • Direct eye contact: Show confidence by making eye contact. You’ll make them second-guess their own hand. It takes practice, but once you master it, you’ll be able to appear confident and hide the true value of your hand.
  • Checking your stacks: After seeing your card, check your stacks. This will give the impression that you have a strong hand and are subconsciously checking how much you could win. Don’t overdo it, though–it can wear thin very quickly.
  • Making instant bets: Unless that’s how you usually play, making an instant bet when it’s your turn means you’ve got a made hand. This trick, too, is only good once or twice in a single session. Combined with the direct eye contact, you could win the pot right then and there.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this post, I asked what you would do when facing a 3-bet. Obviously, you can fold, call, or go on the offensive and 4-bet your opponent.

But to know which one is the right course of action depends on many factors–like the strength of your hand, your table image and your opponent’s table image, stack sizes, your position, and the pot odds.

These are all things to consider. The right decision depends on all of them. Failing to account for one or more of these factors will lead to the wrong decision and losing money.

That’s another leak.

Want to improve your game, increase your win rate, and strengthen your poker career?

Pay attention to your leaks and work on plugging them.
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