Cash game leaks draining your bankroll? Here are five ways to stem the tide
There’s a common saying that you shouldn’t sweat the small things. And most poker players don’t. Whenever players look back over a session or post hands on a forum it’s always the big pots that they focus on. The countless small pots lost after failing to fire a second barrel or completing from the small blind only to check/fold the flop are quickly forgotten.
However, if you want to take your poker to the next level it’s crucial to fix these small cash game leaks. It may not seem like much to lose a few big blinds, but these errors are often the difference between winning and losing players. Read on and see if you recognise any of these small leaks in your game…
1. Completing in the small blind
There’s a limper in middle position, the button limps behind and you’re in the small blind with J-2 offsuit. You decide to call.
You might not think this is much of a leak because of the pot odds, but even getting 7-to-1 it’s going to be difficult for you to win the hand and near impossible to win a big pot.
Let’s look at the likely scenarios you could encounter. After you ‘complete’, the big blind could decide to squeeze, meaning you have no choice but to fold, needlessly losing an extra small blind. If the big blind checks, the flop will often come down with overcards and/or you’ll miss it completely. You’ll then check/fold to any bet, losing that extra small blind again. In fact, most possible scenarios see you losing this hand – even when you flop top pair you won’t be able to continue in the face of much aggression because of your kicker problems.
Instead of taking this passive and wasteful line just fold your trash hands from the SB regardless of the pot odds. Of course, it is okay to complete with speculative hands if you have the chance of making a big hand and winning a big pot. Small pairs, suited connectors and one-gappers like 7♥-5♥ are completely playable.
However, a much better way of thinking is to either raise or fold. If a hand isn’t good enough to raise then just throw it away. The blinds are usually the positions where you lose the most money anyway – don’t compound the problem.
2. Firing once and giving up
You raise in middle position with a hand like Q-9 and get called by the button. The flop is J-7-4, you fire a c-bet and get called. You check on the King turn and deuce river and lose to Ace-high.
Against good players it’s not enough to fire a single continuation bet and then give up if you haven’t hit. Look at the example above. Your opponent could be calling on the flop with a variety of hands including a Jack, a seven, straight draws like 5-6 or 8-9, Ace-high, complete floats and occasionally monsters like sets. Of all these hands, only a few are going to be able to call again if you bet when the King hits. That card looks like it will hit your preflop raising range much more than your opponent’s.
Getting into the habit of taking more chances and being aggressive throughout the hand will help you pick up a lot of mid-sized pots that you otherwise would give up on. Be careful to pick the right circumstances though. The turn has to be one that could feasibly have helped your hand. If in the above example the turn was another four (making the board J-7-4-4) it may be a mistake to fire. In this case you would be representing a really narrow range, making it far more likely you’d be called down light.
3. Folding the button
You aren’t playing enough hands from the button, regularly folding when it’s passed to you, or not calling and three-betting enough when others have opened the pot.
If the blinds are the biggest losing positions in poker, the button is the exact opposite. You should win considerably more money from the button than any other spot on the table, yet too many players play far too tight here. David ‘Raptor’ Benefield once stated that he plays at least 50% of all hands from the button in every cash game session – it’s that profitable.
Simply put, if the action is folded to you on the button you should be looking for a very good reason not to raise. Only the very worst hands – 2-4, 3-7, 5-2 – should be folded; you must raise everything else! You also have much more leverage to call raises and three-bet light, as the button will give you a huge advantage throughout the rest of the hand if called.
There are numerous benefits to playing so loose on the button. You’ll steal the blinds frequently, develop an aggressive image that will help disguise your monster hands, and it will also be easy to win many pots postflop with a simple continuation bet.
It may seem counter-intuitive that folding is costing you money, but it’s essential that you take advantage of every edge that comes your way – and in no-limit Hold’em or pot-limit Omaha the biggest edge you can get is that of having position.
4. Failing to isolate limpers
A fishy player limps from early position. It’s folded to you in the cutoff and you limp behind or fold your medium-strength hand.
One of your key goals in poker is to play pots with bad players who will give you money. Folding when they have already shown weakness is a dangerous leak. If your hand is even slightly playable you must isolate the fish by raising in position – it’s one of the most profitable moves in poker.
There’s a good chance the villain will fold, and, if he calls, he will more than likely just check/fold to a continuation bet. Either way, it’s a great result for you. Stop worrying about your own hand and start playing the players and your position. Exploiting spots like this should be like taking candy from a baby.
5. Checking to induce bluffs
You have A♦-K♥ on a K♣-2♦-3♦-7♠-T♠ board. You bet the flop and turn for value but check the river to induce your opponent to bluff. He checks behind and loses with J-J.
There’s an epidemic among cash game players these days called checking to induce bluffs. The idea is that your foe possibly has a missed draw on the river and can’t ever call your made hand with worse, so the best line is to check and let him bluff at the pot. While it has merit in certain spots, the vast majority of the time you are just missing out on a ton of value.
Let’s look at the example above and see why it would be more profitable to bet for value. On the river, the draws that missed are diamond flush draws along with a hand like 4-5. As you hold the Ad there are far fewer flush draw combos your opponent is likely to have called two streets with. Compare this to the holdings he could be calling down with, either in the belief that it is the best hand or as a bluff-catcher. These would include pocket sixes through Queens, a rivered ten and any King. It’s clear that there are a lot more combinations of pairs in his range than there are missed draws.
Even if you do correctly surmise that your opponent has a range weighted towards missed draws, he still has to bluff for you to gain value. A missed value bet on the river should be as frustrating as losing to a one-outer – getting maximum value is what the game is all about.
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