Common Mistakes by Small Stakes Poker Players that Cost Money Over Time
A leak in poker refers to a mistake that costs money. Your chips simply ‘leak’ away. If you are looking to improve your profits, a great place to start is your own leaks. By plugging them, you’ll get an immediate advantage over your recreational opponents – propelling you to the higher buy-ins.
Some small stakes poker leaks are with specific areas of strategy. As you will see below, others are higher-level, covering your general approach to the game. This page has a total of 10 common leaks. While not every single one will apply to you – even finding and fixing a few of these will be beneficial.
Most players who are new to poker play far too many starting hands. The first step on the way to becoming a profitable player (especially in the loose small stakes games) is to tighten up your starting range.
The most common mistake here is with hands containing aces. Hands containing an ace with a kicker 10 or below are dangerous. The reason is that they are easily dominated by the hands your opponents play. You can flop and ace, find yourself in a raised and reraised pot, and never know whether your opponent has a higher ‘kicker’. If you make a pair with your side card (for example an eight), this is unlikely to be the highest card on the flop – and you’ll never know when your opponent has an over-pair to the board.
Position is an important factor in starting hand selection. If you are one of the first players to act, you need to play significantly stronger starting hands than you would in later position. Small pairs, unsuited high card hands and those ace-x type hands are all unprofitable.
While there are many advantages to a loose-aggressive style, this is better against thinking players. In the small stakes games, players will call with virtually anything – meaning you have to make hands on the flop to show a profit more often.
For more on this leak, see our detailed article covering Poker Starting Hands.
Bet sizing is an advanced topic, which really comes into its own as you climb the stakes. Even at the smaller buy-ins, a common poker leak is to bet different amounts with different types of hands.
A common example is someone betting more with their mid-pairs (for example 10’s) compared to premium hands. That player would prefer not to see a flop and be faced with tricky decisions when an over-card hits. Some players raise a lot of hands, and then limp when they have aces or kings – looking to trap their opponents with a big reraise later. This has a big disadvantage. When that player does raise – you can be fairly sure they do not have aces or kings!
On the flop, many small stakes players raise a bigger amount with made hands and a smaller amount with draws (this also happens in reverse). If you take notes on these players, you can get a great read on their holdings – stealing the pot on a later street or getting out of the way when you are behind.
While it is easy to think that small stakes opponents do not notice this, you will find many that do. I recommend you adjust your bet sizes based on flop texture and the tendencies of your opponents. If you are betting different amounts based on your own hand’s strength – this is a leak which you need to address as soon as possible.
You won’t win much in even the smallest poker games if you never bluff. Opponents will quickly catch on that you have a hand when you bet – and will only call when they have a strong hand themselves.
The biggest bluffing leak in small stakes poker games involves not only bluffing too often – but doing this in the wrong spots. Simply throwing chips at a pot where you missed the board is hard at the best of times. In small stakes games, where opponents will often call with any pair (or hope of making a hand), it is simply bad strategy.
When considering a bluff, choose spots where you have a chance of making the best hand even when you are called. A great time to do this is when you have a draw to either a straight or a flush. If you get called, you easily make the best hand on the turn or river. Another important consideration is position. The best spot at the table for a bluff is the button – where you are acting last. If your opponents check to you, they may well have missed the flop.
Finally, never bluff when more than two players have shown interest in the pot. The chances that one or more of them has enough to call you goes up very quickly when the action is multi-way.
Many new players get scared of not getting action on their monster hands. This can involve a pair of aces pre-flop, or sometimes a set (or better) after the flop. These players limp or call with these hands too often – when building a pot is the better play.
I already covered limping aces in the starting hands leak above. Another danger with limping or calling with this hand is that it invites multi-way action. If you are seeing a flop with 4 or more players in an unraised pot with aces, then you are putting yourself at huge risk. This hand plays best in a raised pot, heads up against a single opponent that you dominate. Those times everyone folds are a risk, though losing a big pot when someone else who limped in with a random suited hand is much worse.
When you do hit a set on the flop, it is again important to build the pot. This is especially the case if there are draws to straights or flushes around.
Players quickly learn that continuation betting is a positive expectation play. This happens when someone raises pre-flop. They bet the flop, regardless of whether their hand connected.
This works well in small stakes poker games as many players have a ‘fit or fold’ leak. They will only continue after the flop if they hit the board – or have a strong draw. A continuation bet of half the pot only needs to work 30% of the time to make a profit. Against fit or fold type players, this move works a lot more often than this.
You need to mix things up by choosing hands to call raises with that can flop monsters. You also need to call with a wider range against people that continuation bet almost every time. There are many spots where that opponent will give up on a later street. If you are in position this can give you the opportunity to take the pot with a well-timed bluff (or preferably a semi-bluff).
When you are in one of the blind positions, and there is a late position raise, you will be out of position in the betting for the remainder of the hand. This leads to a major leak – calling too wide. The ‘discount’ of already having money in the pot often encourages a call to defend. This is related to the folding to continuation bets leak covered above. Many players will only continue if they flop well, compounding the error.
You need to have a 3-betting range from the blinds. If you don’t, then observant opponents will attack your blinds from late position all the time. This leak will cost you money over time, even these small amounts take a bite from your hourly rate.
As well as 3-betting, you need to defend against continuation bets. Against an obvious steal (raise from the button or cut off) your opponent will have a wide range – take advantage of this with the occasional check-raise – and make them a little warier about stealing your blinds next orbit.
A related leak is that small stakes players sometimes don’t steal enough. If you are folding your button when folded to a large percentage of the time – you could be missing out on some easy small pots.
If you don’t manage your poker bankroll correctly, you can find extra leaks creeping into your game. Bankroll management involves playing each game with only a small percentage of your total bankroll. You do this to balance out the natural swings (variance) in the games.
By employing bankroll management, you can ensure that money is not a factor in making the right decision. For example, you think there is a high chance that your opponent is bluffing, based on past hands with them. If you are down to your last few buy-ins, the risk that you are wrong might weigh heavily on your decision. This could cause you to fold, missing out on a positive expectation decision – one that is profitable over time regardless of whether you are wrong on this individual occasion.
Even the best players need to employ bankroll management. The recommended buy-in levels are 1/20th of your bankroll for each cash game, 1/50th for each Sit N Go – and 1/100th for multi-table tournaments. If you can reload easily you can be more relaxed with these guidelines. Making sure you can easily reload ensures that you can make the best decisions. Playing poker with ‘scared money’ is never the most profitable strategy.
If you stay still in poker by failing to study, then your opponents who do work on their game between sessions will quickly overtake you. If you are trying to build a bankroll and move up from the small stakes – then working on your game is vital. You already started this process, by reading this article on poker leaks. The next step is to take action. Here are some suggestions:
Poker is a tough game to beat, even when you play at your best. If you play while under the influence, or simply tired, you might find yourself making some very bad decisions! Resisting the urge to fire up a game when returning from a bar can be tough. This is also one of the biggest bankroll-destroying leaks among small stakes players. I recommend a second account at a different site with just a few dollars in it. This way, if you simply have to play, you can limit the damage.
The same logic applies when suffering the effects of tilt. This involves getting angry after a bad-beat (or succession of them) or even wanting to get even with an individual player. You can find out more about how to avoid this in our detailed article covering 5 Ways to Beat Tilt.
Some poker sites have games which are a lot tougher to beat than others. While there is a certain element of pride in being able to beat tougher games – this is misplaced. A far better strategy is to seek out the most profitable situations you can! There are two elements to this: