Top 5 Common Exploitable Cash-Game Poker Leaks & How to Plug Them
February 23, 2014 1 Comment
A “leak” is a term used in poker to describe an aspect of a player’s game that is flawed, and will ultimately cost them potential for profit in the long-run. A lot of these “leaks” are below the threshold of conscious awareness for certain players. Until they become aware of their flaws, they will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, negatively affecting their win rate in the process. Even the most experienced and skilled poker players in the world have leaks to a certain extent, as no individual’s poker game is technically “perfect.” The less leaks your poker game has, the less money you will leak off to your stronger opponents at the tables.
Top 5 Exploitable Cash-Game Poker Leaks
1. Playing a weak-passive style
One of my favorite targets at the poker table is the opponent who plays a default weak-passive style that is incredibly easy to read. This type of opponent bets when they have it, and check/folds when they don’t. They rarely bluff or semi-bluff, and very seldom will raise without a hand close to the nuts. This is they type of player I will continue to bluff and semi-bluff in different spots, usually with position. I have to determine my opponents “breaking point” for their hand range in each specific pot. If I believe I can bluff my opponent off a majority of his hand range, I will keep firing away bets, sometimes on every street if the situation becomes ideal.
The weak-passive opponent will often call down my bets with marginal inferior holdings to my own. Because I like to stay active and aggressive at the table, opponents are more inclined to “look me up” when they have any kind of top pair decent kicker like hand.
An ideal scenario would be that we flop a well disguised strong hand such as 2 pair or better, and our opponent flops top pair. Top pair is tough to let go when you are playing extremely tight and not seeing many flops. Our opponent can’t help but over commit his stack if we size our bets correctly on each street. We are looking to take a weak passive opponents entire stack when we have the opportunity to do so.
2. Failure to change bet sizing patterns
Sizing our bets properly is necessary if we want to extract the maximum amount of value from our opponent. Bet sizing is also important when bluffing or semi-bluffing. We want to bet as small as possible to induce a fold when bluffing, but not too small that we allow our opponents to continue in pots they have no business in.
We want to bet as much as possible when value betting our opponent without making them fold. Each opponent will have different tendencies and reactions to bet sizes in relation to the entire pot. If we know our opponent is clueless about pot odds, we can bet a lot more relative to the size of the pot when we have a strong holding. Other smarter players will seldom pay off big bets when they are unsure where they stand in a hand. For these type of players, we want to give them juicy pot odds to stay in the pot as long as possible with the inferior hand. A weak opponent might call a full pot size bet with the same holding a stronger opponent would only call 1/4th of a pot size bet with.
If we aggressively consistently bet and raise similar sizes with our entire range, our opponents will have trouble pinning us on a specific holding. They play the guessing game while we control the action and the size of the pot we want to play. In deep stacked no limit cash games, this concept is magnified because of the relationship of the blinds to the stack sizes.
The term “deep-stacked” is used to describe any cash game that allows a player to buy in for more than 100bb, usually up to 200bb and sometimes even higher. Playing a 200bb stack creates a lot more dynamic in each pot played against an opponent with an equal stack size. There is a lot more room for bluffing and semi-bluffing without having to commit our entire chip stack in the process. When we hit a monster hand, we have the potential to win a massive pot compared to if we hit a monster hand with only 100bb in front of us.
3. Inability to switch gears
Switching gears is vital for keeping our opponents from developing an accurate assessment of our style of play. By switching gears, we confuse opponents as to where they stand in specific hands against us.
We switch gears by increasing or decreasing our overall level of aggression throughout the session during specific time frames. These time frames vary in length, and are adjusted accordingly to the current action at our table. If we have open-raised the last 3 pots and gotten folds pre-flop, our opponents will begin to catch on if we keep open raising pre-flop. They will be more prone to playing hands against us, attempting to bluff us, and making marginal calls with marginal holdings to “keep us honest.”
A dream situation is waking up with a big hand when you have been bluffing and taking down small pots in the process. We wont get much credit for a big hand when we have one, because our betting patterns represent a variety of possible hands. If we only bet and raised with our strong hands, our opponents will eventually catch on that we will only get involved with strength. They will hesitate to pay off our value bets, and we net less profit in the long run because we can’t build a big pot with a hand that is virtually face up.
4. Succumbing to various background distractions instead of locking into a focused trance-like state
Poker is a mental game, played only at an optimal level with 100% distraction free focus. Distractions are everywhere when we sit down to play, whether it be in a live or online setting. Being distracted when playing poker results in the inability to gather and register valuable information about your opponents. Most of our information will be gathered when we are not in the hand. Observing the action of each player in every single hand, especially hands that go to showdown, ultimately benefits our reading abilities when we become involved in a hand with a certain opponent.
Your opponents will not necessarily assume you have information on their style of play, giving us the upper hand advantage when we get involved with them. Paying attention to hands that have a showdown at the end are of utmost importance because we get a free look to see how our opponents play certain hands, in certain situations, against certain opponents. The problem is most hands don’t ever go to a showdown, so we rarely get to see our opponents hand face up.
On the one hand that we do get to see a showdown, we can draw conclusions about the betting styles of our opponents, and what each pattern realistically represents in terms of hand range. Being distracted, and missing the action of each hand you are not involved in creates a void in your reading abilities. Your read will have no concrete information to utilize, creating uncertainty and invitations to fatal mistakes.
For further information on the “trance state”. please refer to my article “The Poker Trance”
5. Giving away too much information to your opponents & failing to pick up on free information from your opponents
Giving away valuable information to your opponents is done in a variety of ways. One of the easiest ways to gauge a player’s skill level and style of play is by listening to any conversation they get in to with another opponent about a specific hand. Many players like to share their pattern of thought on a hand to gain feedback, or to announce how they would have played a hand they weren’t involved in. Tuning into these conversations without chiming in any input is essential for hands we will play against these opponents in the future.
We can narrow down hand ranges of specific opponents while they subsequently can’t put us on an accurate range. Because they have trouble assessing our strength in a hand, they will be forced to guess by committing chips into pots they are not completely comfortable playing against us. There is a strong correlation between playing the guessing game and leaking chips.
How do we plug these leaks?
Plugging leaks is a never-ending process. It demands that you be brutally honest with yourself on your current level of skill. Plugging leaks requires conscious effort when not playing at the tables. Reviewing hand histories and studying your opponents tendencies are essential for spotting, and eventually plugging specific leaks.
Studying the style of play of the top winners in the game, and incorporating aspects of their game into your own is extremely useful. You must understand why these elite players are making the plays they do against specific opponents. There is an abundance of resources available on the internet that will help improve your poker game. Developing into a solid winning player in the long-run is only achieved by taking advantage of these resources to the fullest extent.
Incorporate aspects of the game that you learn along the way into your own style, but remember that each playing style is completely unique from one another. Your own unique style will be an overall reflection of your experience, and your ability to execute the correct decision in each unique situation. Every time you play, you have the ability to learn and improve if you consciously choose to do so. The opportunity is always available, it is ultimately up to you to make the improvements necessary to improve your win rate.
Good luck at the tables!