In my previous article, I talked about having a good process by writing down some of your own leaks to give your study time direction. But if you’re in an early stage of your poker career, finding them can sound daunting. Where do you even start?
These days, I personally use a solver-based approach to find these leaks. I look at the baseline solution for a certain spot and see how I deviate from that.
Luckily solvers are not the only way. Say you’re watching your favorite video maker and notice them do something you wouldn’t. This could point to a leak in your game. But be sure to know what the thought process is, otherwise you might misapply it. And remember… your favorite video maker could also make the occasional mistake.
(Yes, even if it’s me)
In addition to actively watching and studying poker videos, most people greatly benefit from discussing hands either in real life or online. I was lucky enough to find a helpful Belgian poker community when I was starting out and that has been a tremendous boost to my career. So find yourself some like-minded peers!
If you’re still stuck at this point, you could consider private coaching. But I think a subscription for a poker training website is the best bang for your buck.
So yes, even without expensive tools, you can find leaks in your own game.
In the pre-solver days, over 5 years ago, I did some version of this “find your own leaks and write them down” process. I wrote the following in a blog buried in the graveyard of the internet:
Another change I made, was to write down a small list of working points in my poker game. Here’s an example of two of those that are closely related:
1) GTO is no excuse to make way more calls.
2) An exploitable call is just as bad as an exploitable fold.
I have always been sort of a calling station. Which is not necessarily bad, it’s just how I roll. But lately, I’ve been reading about GTO (Game Theory Optimal) poker and all that other math magic.
“A balanced opponent will always have bluffs in any spot and will make me indifferent to calling with my bluff catchers”, has been a very easy excuse to just call call call.
But that’s obviously not how you apply GTO.
Being too scared to make a bad fold, I’ve been making too many bad calls.
(Of course, this was during a downswing, the moment we’re all a bit more motivated to work on our game)
A bad fold is a fold that should have been a call from a GTO point of view. If you don’t make that call you will be over folding.
And then, villain can …
The shame. The horror.
“NO!”, you shout, as you slam your fist on the table. “I am not a fucking nit. I will not be exploited!”
I feel ya. For me, being called a nit has always been a worse insult than being called a spew monkey. A nit is weak. A nit doesn’t fight for the pot. A nit is a pushover and will never be a true crusher. A spew monkey on the other hand at least has potential. A spew monkey will not be pushed around. Maybe they’re a bit too loose now, but a small change here and there and BAM, force to be reckoned with. Just like that.
That’s what we tell ourselves.
But I digress. Back to the bad folds and the bad calls.
A bad call is a call that wouldn’t be made at GTO equilibrium. If you make that call, you’re calling too often. Yes, you can make the call as an exploit. But without a good exploitative read, you are the one who is making the mistake.
The problem with folding
If you fold, you will just NEVER EVER know for sure what they had. Think about the countless nights of sleep that will be lost.
Calling gives you peace of mind. Calling gives you closure. And calling gives you a note.
At least that’s what they used to say. Call and make a note.
(Maybe they still do?)
That can be risky advice. It can become the slippery slope leading to lazy calls. Calls where you should have known better.
So you see, it’s easy for some players to have a tendency to call down. And with the advent of GTO, I could rationalize (or more appropriately: delude myself into) calling even more often.
Spotting the leak
A simplified attempt of a GTO strategy is defending the minimum defense frequency, or MDF, in as many spots as possible. That heuristic will often be “wrong”. Or at least not entirely right. But it’s still a good step in the good direction.
For example, when facing a river bet, you think about your own range and then call down with the top x % of hands, as defined by MDF. If your hand is very high up in your range, you just make the call. Simple.
But I was taking it even a step further. A balanced river bet from villain makes our bluff catchers indifferent between calling and folding. So I got lazy there and started calling even more. They’re all 0 EV calls anyways. At least then I could see what they had. And can’t win if you fold, amirite?
Lack of discipline started creeping in and compounding. At some point, this specific leak can become visible when your WTSD starts going up. Especially in combination with a lower W$SD. Or you could just be marking for review a shit ton of “close” calls. Which you probably lost.
Once this trend became clear, I wrote it down in my first list of leaks.
Working on it
This list was a constant reminder of the points I needed to improve on. The marginal call downs I tended to make without extra thought, finally got the attention they deserved during play. Simply being aware already helped me make those mistakes less often. I also focused on marking these kinds of hands to analyze them during my off the table work.
All of this gradually helped me get to a more reasonable calling frequency in these spots.
We can do more
GTO and indifference with bluff catchers became an excuse for me to make an excessive amount of lazy calls.
But even if you don’t call more than MDF, watch out.
“GTO” can become an excuse to snap call and stop the thought process right there.
Don’t get me wrong. If you know and play GTO ranges in every spot, you would print money. As I explain in my GTO basics video, GTO helps you capture your fair share of the pot. But what if you want more than your fair share? After all, with the correct reads, you can deviate from what you think is GTO to exploit villain and capture that sweet, sweet extra EV.
Bringing this back to the topic of calling down: there are spots where the average villain simply doesn’t have the necessary amount of bluffs. And you don’t even need a solver to find them.
Think about situations where a lot of villain’s flop and turn bluffs get there on the river. The flush draw hits. The straight draw hits. Villain doesn’t have any real air left in his range. Usually, they need to bluff some made hands many players would check back, in order to show up with a decent frequency of bluffs. This is where folding more is the exploit.
Folding as an exploit
When we’re talking about exploits, most of the focus is often on a bet, call or raise. You bet or raise more versus a villain who’s folding too much. You make a sick hero call versus an overaggressive villain who’s bluffing too often. Those are clear, easy to understand exploits. And they win you the pot.
How can folding and not winning the pot be an exploit? An exploit is supposed to win you money!
When villain doesn’t have enough bluffs in his betting or raising range, the extra EV you can extract by exploiting comes from 2 areas:
- You don’t pay off his value hands. Of course, a fold doesn’t win you any chips from the pot, you simply lose less. At equilibrium, the bluffs in villain’s range entice you to make the call and that’s how they get value with their stronger hands. If villain doesn’t have enough bluffs, you fold your strict bluff catchers.
- When villain bets too strong of a range, you can think of it as them shifting some of their bluff combos from the betting range to the checking range. So you exploit with a fold when they bet, and you win more versus the weaker range they are left with after a check.
While over folding might not be as sexy as other exploits, it can still net you more than your fair share of the pot.
Stop and think
Fight the autopilot. Before of snap calling your attempt of a GTO calling range, take a second. Breathe.
Yes, you are very high up in your range. But what is villain really betting or raising here?
The question is not “does villain EVER bluff here?”
It is “does villain bluff here OFTEN ENOUGH ?”
This is how even in the current world of GTO and advanced solver software, there keeps being room for the art of poker. With certain reads, you can make certain adjustments. But how strong are those reads? And how far do you go in your adjustments?
I would still strongly suggest taking a GTO influenced strategy as your starting point. It doesn’t need to end there though. It can, and you likely still make money. But you can do better because real people aren’t perfectly balanced.
So add an extra layer in your decision-making process. There’s more EV to be extracted, more chips to be won than what you would get at GTO equilibrium.
Don’t think of it as GTO versus exploitative play. Think of it as a base layer of GTO with a layer of exploits on top.