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Poker Leaks

Most Common Poker Leaks

Nearly all new clients that come to me for coaching suffer from some combination of the following poker leaks, if not all. These definitely represent some of the most common problem areas for folks and if properly addressed could yield a significant winrate boost.

Positional play

Yes, we all know that position is king, but so many players still open too many hands in early position and not enough in late. At a standard 6-max table, your EP open should be somewhere around 13% to 15%. On the button, assuming you’re min-raising like the all the other cool kids, your steal should be between 50% and 65%.

From a theoretical perspective, you should only open raise with a hand if you are going to show a profit with it. Reaching beyond 15% of hands from early position (EP), means you must consider the smallest pocket pairs or the weakest offsuit broadways or suited one-gappers. Showing a profit with these hands is difficult at best and ultimately requires a consistently soft game. Also, as soon as other regulars notice that your EP raise-first-in percentage has cleared 18%, they are going to start attacking you with additional 3-bets. I certainly do.

From the button (BU), it is almost hard NOT to show a profit with any two cards (ATC). The next leak I’m going to cover is blind defence, but I’ll give it away now: most regulars don’t defend wide enough. What then is our counter-strategy? Steal extremely wide from the button! You will only have gone too far, when: 1) your fold to 3-bet moves above 65% from the button AND 2) many regs are attempting to exploit this.

Blind defence

As I just said, most regulars are not defending their blinds enough. They are folding upwards of 80-85% from the SB to a BU steal and 70%+ from the BB. Realize that when the BU risks 2bb to win the 1.5bb of the blinds, he can raise ATC if the combined fold from the blinds is 2/(2+1.5) = 57%. If the SB folds 80% and the BB folds 75%, then together they are folding .8 * .75 = 60%! In a sense, it is your “duty” to NOT fold too much so the button doesn’t have a free pass.

Now, I realize the reason many of you are folding so much is because you are not comfortable playing out of position. Fair enough. Few people are. However, if you hope to move towards optimal play and the highest win rate you can muster, you will eventually have to come to terms with playing a wider range out of position. My suggestion is that you defend the small blind primarily by 3-betting, but from the big blind you still do plenty of calling. Afterall you don’t have to worry about getting squeezed, and given how much you’ve invested, you are only trying to lose less than 1bb overall with whatever hands you decide to play.

Also, make these adjustments slowly. If you are currently folding 70% from the BB to a steal, I would not jump right to 55%. Instead, pick 5% of hands you tend to fold and add them to either your 3-bet or flatting range (which one depends on a number of things and is beyond the scope of this blog entry but if you ask me in the comments I will elaborate). Then start paying attention to how you play these hands postflop. The danger is that you simply add a bunch of hands to your defence, play them too passively postflop, and then overall your win-rate actually declines! So add hands gradually and simultaneously work hard on improving your postflop play with them.

For further info, read my post on SB defence.

Continuation betting

Given that most of us sport tight “gaps” between our VPIP and PFR, it follows that we spend the vast majority of flops with initiative. This means that leaks in our continuation betting game are usually more costly than spots where we are facing continuation bets.

Off the top of my head, I’m not sure whether I see more clients that continuation bet too much or too little, but I certainly see plenty of both. Also, many are simply c-betting in the wrong spots.

Let me say that your overall continuation betting strategy should be sensitive to the game you play in. What I mean is that at the lowest stakes it is possible to c-bet bluff any dry board and tend to give up on wet boards. At higher levels (perhaps around 25NL to 50NL on Stars), the other regs are starting to figure this out. You need to start c-bet bluffing more carefully, usually with at least backdoor equity.

Once you get to 200NL+ on Stars (or higher stakes on softer sites), regs will routinely exploit you if they notice you are not balancing your checking. This means you need to polarize your range more, and move more value hands into your check-calling or check-raising range. Those less skilled at c-betting often tend to bet with too wide of a value range and not enough bluffs. Again this can work at lower stakes where there are more calling stations, but not in tougher games.

Using the HUD/stats

Sure, most regs have the basic stats down, but to get an edge in today’s game you should strive to know ALL of the stats in your HUD. When there are lulls in the action, poke around the pop-ups. If you see a stat you don’t know, look it up. The database software provides glossaries for the statistics on their websites. Learning new statistics can also trigger new strategic discoveries.

Common statistics that I implore upon new clients are as follows.

Positional stats

Once a player opens from a particular position, your first question should be what is his range from that position? Check the stat. Once you open and another player calls or 3-bets, what is his range from that position? Good hand reading must begin with putting your opponent on as precise a range as possible.

Showdown stats

These include went-to-showdown (WtSD), won-$-at-showdown (W$SD), and won-$-when-saw-flop (WWSF). These statistics are extremely powerful! WtSD will tell you how much of calling station somewhat is and consequently whether to bluff more of value bet more. W$SD among other things indicates how thinly a player is betting the river. I describe WWSF as how hard a player fights to win pots. For example, a player with a WWSF of 50% can easily triple barrel bluff.

Street by street

Noticing significant changes in frequencies between streets can yield interesting information and suggest specific counter strategies. For example, a player that c-bets the flop 70% but the turn only 45% is easily floated. Another example: a fish with an aggression % that increases on each street will typically only fight for the pot when it gets big (e.g. on later streets).

Also know how many total hands you need for each statistic to be reliable. Some players do go to far. They get really excited about all of the numbers, and then attempt to apply them when they are still rather meaningless. This will just introduce more randomness, variance and stress into your game. I try to look for at least 40 samples on an individual statistic before I make major decisions based on it. An exception though is if the statistic is an outlier, in which case you can get by with fewer samples. For example, villain 3-bet 5 out of 5 times or has folded to 1 out of 7 c-bets.

Next Steps

I’d also recommend reading my article that lists the 5 Biggest Preflop Strategy Mistakes.

11 Comments
  • Brian
    bribri
    May 8, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    a small addition to the c-betting part of this: a majority of players when opting not to cbet after raising pre-flop tend to check-fold much more than check/raise or check/call.
    It is a good idea to add the stat ‘skipped cbet and check-fold’ in your HUD

  • Alex Hart
    August 7, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Hey Mike, Great blog post i found it very interesting. I was kind of curious at some of the showdown statistics. I play on Bodog so the games are much different at NL25 compared to stars and i run a 42% WWSF kind of curious as to what this # can tell you.

    • Mike "fooz" Gano
      August 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Great question Alex. I LOVE that statistic: WWSF, by the way. Actually starting about 25NL, this stat is perhaps your best indicator on how good a reg is. The closer the number is to 50%, the better the reg is, assuming all their other statistics are pretty similar. If yours is 42%, you’re still playing too passively and ABC and should look for more ways to be creatively aggressive postflop.

      Also, what site are you playing on?

      • Alex Hart
        August 13, 2015 at 12:16 pm

        As stating the the first post I play on Bodog, at NL 25 it is not uncommon at all to see 3-4 players going to the flop even when i iso the limpers 4-6x bb. So i am beating the game for 11bb/100 over the last 20k

        • Mike "fooz" Gano
          August 14, 2015 at 2:16 pm

          Bodog/Bovada is one of the softest sites out there. It’s less important to have a high WWSF, the softer your site. And if your winrate is 11bb/100, then you probably don’t need to change anything!

  • Mike "fooz" Gano
    August 8, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Great question Alex. I LOVE that statistic: WWSF, by the way. Actually starting about 25NL, this stat is perhaps your best indicator on how good a reg is. The close the number is to 50%, the better the reg is, assuming all their other statistics are pretty similar. If yours is 42%, you’re probably still playing pretty passive/ABC and should look for more ways to be creatively aggressive postflop.

    What site are you playing on?

  • Pingback: doubts about studying for results - Poker Forums
    August 23, 2015 at 9:50 pm
  • Serge
    November 17, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Hi..You said ”If you are currently folding 70% from the BB to a steal, I would not jump right to 55%. Instead, pick 5% of hands you tend to fold and add them to either your 3-bet or flatting range (which one depends on a number of things and is beyond the scope of this blog entry but if you ask me in the comments I will elaborate)”

    Can you elaborate please..

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