So first, we all have leaks in our poker game. In many cases even when we realize it, we may not be sure what they are, how to identify them, or how to go about fixing them. Let's begin with some pointers for the first part of the equation… identifying your poker leaks. The key step in identifying poker leaks is to look for them. It should be obvious, and yet this is the area where many poker players falter. If you aren't actively looking for leaks in your game, how can you expect to find them?
So what are some ways I can look for leaks in my poker game?
- Review Hand HistoriesWhether you play cash games or tournaments, you can review your hands. On PokerStars you can have the client save all your hand histories directly to your hard drive. Or you can request them by going into Tools, History & Stats, Get Hand History. They can be requested by last number of hands, last amount of time you select, hand number, or tournament number, and PokerStars will email them right to you. They can be read, but it is easier to load them into a replayer to view. There are both free and paid options for hand replayers.
- Use Tracking SoftwareTrackers like PokerTracker 4 and Holdem Manager 2 have a fee associated with them, but they are well worth the purchase price. They take those hand histories and load them, putting all sorts of data and reports at your disposal. A key feature of tracking software for self-analysis is the ability to apply filters to your database. Suppose, for example, you feel like you've been struggling when you open raise on the button and one of the blinds 3-bets you. Instead of having to hunt for examples, you can set filters to pull out exactly this scenario… position button, raised first in, and faced a 3-bet. Then you can see your actual results, how hands have progressed when you didn't fold, what's worked and not worked, etc. The tracking software's also coincidently come with excellent replayers to review your hands in.
- Ask a poker friend who's game you respect to shadow youSometimes a fresh set of eyes on your game will be able to see leaks that you don't. Be careful with this one though. Getting shadowing advice from a losing player or an inexperienced player is likely to get you some poor feedback. Still, someone at your level may make a great "shadowing partner"… you can take turns shadowing each other and discussing. A number of very strong players "came up" together in small study groups like this.
- Hire a coachThis is an extension of the point above. The upside of this option is you will be working with a more experienced, winning player who will be more adept at identifying your leaks and helping you work through them, which definitely accelerates the learning curve. The downside is unlike a friend (free) or tracking software (nominal fee), this is a more expensive option. Thus it's not for everyone. It's a great option though for players who are already beating micro or low stakes and are struggling to move up in stakes. It's more affordable for their situation as well since they can invest winnings into their coaching.
So how can I fix these poker leaks in my game?
- LogicIt seems like the logical place to start. Once you identify a leak, if there is a logical solution to fixing it, start there. For example, if you find that you are cold calling raises too frequently and it's costing you money, logically the solution would be to call less often. You might use filters to pull out these spots, and start looking at all your cold call spots asking yourself the question, would a reraise or fold do better in this spot?
- Lessons/ConceptsSeek out and study or review materials relevant to your leak. If one of your leaks is in how you deal with 3-bets out of the blinds, a lesson on this may help reveal positive adjustments you might make to plug that leak. These could be from lesson plans, articles, videos, etc, anything on that topic.
- Discuss with friendsYour circle of friends, your shadowing friend, the strategy section of a poker forum. Anywhere you feel you can get sound advice for ideas on how to adjust and address your leak.
- Discuss with your coachThis is obvious… if you've made a financial investment to hire a poker coach, this is a big part of what that relationship is about.
As a practical example of putting into practice the above process, I would like to share with you a personal experience from many years back. I went through a period of time where I was struggling in tournaments to get any results. I felt I was playing well, and just running badly. It was easy to think like this, since my bust hands were often of the bad beat variety. But after about 3 months of this I decided it was prudent to examine my game in more depth for leaks. I selected at random 3 tournaments I had played in the prior month where I lasted into the middle stages, loaded the hand histories into a replayer, and began watching.
I had no expectations, as I felt I wasn't making any big mistakes, but watched with an open mind. What I discovered was quite a surprise. There was a significant leak that I hadn't realized I was doing. When I was the preflop raiser, I was continuation betting the flop 100% of the time. Even if situations that were terrible to c-bet, there I was, firing away. While my eventual exit hands were in fact bad beats in all 3 tournaments, I had leaked off so many chips with errant c-bets earlier that I was covered on my eventual bust hands. I took the logical approach, c-bet less often.
Since I already knew reasonably well when and when not to c-bet (I had just falling into a bad habit of firing all the time), this meant refocusing on my decisions post flop as the preflop raiser. One week later, I was in a large field tournament online and saved chips several times by not c-betting in poor spots to bet, spots where for the prior 3 months I had leaked away many chips. In the middle stages of that event, I had AA cracked by QQ all in pre, but covered my opponent. A couple weeks earlier that would have been another exit hand for me. Instead, I was still in the game, and managed to finish 3rd for a very nice score. I hope you find this article useful in your own quest to improve your poker game.