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Poker Chip Leaks

The Chip Basket Analogy - Imagine for a moment that our poker chips, our entire bankroll, is kept in a basket.  Every time we win a pot, we add a few chips to our basket.  In the perfect world, we would always be searching for a larger basket, as our solid poker play fills that basket to overflowing!

However, the reality is, most poker players never fill that basket up, no matter how small.  In fact, many look in the bottom to find only dust and are forced to make a deposit after deposit just to keep a bankroll going.

Why?  Chip leaks.  Every mistake, every losing tendency, every “why not, it's only money” rationalization is a small hole in your basket that lets those hard earned chips fall right out of the bottom.  Some of us have more leaks than others, but we all have them.  The key is discovering and plugging those leaks as quickly as possible.  Over time, if we plug away faithfully, the wins will be greater than the leaks and we will indeed be shopping for that bigger basket.

So what are some of the most glaring chip leaks?  I have listed a few below that are very common and very devastating to your bankroll. 


Playing too many hands.

This one is elementary.  The best statistic to view here is your flop percentage.  If you are seeing 30% or higher flops over a large number of hands in a standard, full Texas Hold'em table, then you are playing way too many hands to be a profitable player.  A good flop percentage is 20-30%, and most tight aggressive players are much closer to the 20%!

Folding is no fun, but neither is losing money.  One basic fundamental of winning poker is always putting your money in when you are ahead.  This concept is what every slot machine or lottery is based upon.  By being selective and waiting on good cards, your starting hands are almost always a bit better than your opponents.  This edge, no matter how slight, will pay dividends over the course of hundreds and thousands of hands.

Calling when you know you are way behind.

Also referred to as “chasing.“  Calling with bottom pair on the flop against a tight player who only bets top pair, for example.  This leak is also very evident in 7 Card Stud.  A player with an open pair of Aces will be called down by a player with a smaller pair.  The hapless loser is chasing, hoping that he catches a second pair and the aces do not.  In the long run he is just feeding his chips to the rest of the table!

An old poker axiom applies here.  Have the best hand or best draw.  If you have neither, fold!

Drawing to the 2nd best hand.

This chip leak is not so obvious.  Many players feel it is ok to draw to a straight, even when there is also a flush draw on board.  This mistake is just as much a loser as calling with bottom pair.  If he improves and you do not, you lose.  If you both improve, you lose.  The only way you can win is if you make your draw and he misses his. 

To go with our basket analogy, for every chip you win this way, you are most certainly losing two more through this glaring hole in your game!  Best hand or best draw, no exceptions.

Not paying attention to pot odds.

I have met players that claimed to be winning players who when asked about pot odds looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  Pot odds is yet another overlooked fundamental of winning poker play.

Every bet we make has a long term expectation of either winning or losing.  The concept of pot odds is central to this theme.  Playing draw hands should not be an intimidating excercise.  Either you have the odds to call, or you do not.  Simple decisions that do not require college math to make.

We have an excellent section explaining pot odds and even a pot odds cheat sheet that you can use until you have committed the numbers to memory.

Not paying attention to the game.

This one is most difficult, even for winning players.  Even so, it is still a leak.  You see those players who have a great connection but their “act“ timer almost always runs out?  They may be multi-tabling, but most often they have three instant messaging chats going, are answering emails and watching Oprah at the same time.  What they are not doing is playing poker!

Don't allow yourself to be too distracted.  Fill your time between hands by watching the other players, noting patterns in their betting, attempt to put them on a hand and see if you were correct.  Does Sue bet with 4 to a flush or does she always wait on a made flush to bet?  What does Bill raise with?  Call with?  Does he always slowplay big hands to the Turn when bets are doubled?

Players would be amazed at how much information is there for the taking if they will just pay attention.  The difference in your bankroll will be surprising as well!

Folding on the river to one bet when the pot is large.

Not all leaks are as obvious as others.  This particular leak often escapes the attention of profitable players, and is even more prevalent in weak players who are enamored by all those “great laydowns,” we have seen in televised poker events.  If you are playing good starting hands, then by the time the river card falls, your hand should be pretty good.  Unless you are staring at a busted draw, if you have made it to the river on a garbage hand, then you should skip over to our Texas Holdem Strategy section and rethink your game.  Simple chip leaks are the least of your problems!

The rule of thumb to follow here is, if the pot is a good sized pot, if you can beat a bluff, and if it only costs one bet to see the cards, then it is almost always a mistake to fold.  Simple pot odds play into this concept. 

For example, there are $20 in the pot and it costs you $2 to see if your hand is the winner.  You are getting 10:1 odds on your call.  You would need to be right only once in ten to show a profit!  If you were wrong nine times, it has cost you $18, but by being right just once, winning the $20, you show a $2 profit.

Are you 90% sure your hand is beaten?  If so then fold.  Against a tight-passive player, or rock, you might consider folding.  Against almost any other player who makes even a rare bluff, calling one bet on the river will generally show profit in the long run.

Count the pot, calculate the pot odds, and then weigh that against the opponent's tendency to bluff.  If the numbers add up, do not hesitate to make the call and do not beat yourself up if he has the better hand.  Again, you only need to be right a couple of times to show nice profit on this play.  An added benefit will be that players will not be as prone to bluff into you, since you will not gain that “weak/tight” reputation as a player who is easy to bluff off of a pot!


Conclusion

Why stop here?  Because we could go on all day with chip leaks.  I guess the concluding chip leak would be “players who quit searching for them.”  Never stop the process of self-examination.  Though some have managed brief moments of perfection, there have been no perfect poker players in the history of the game.

Study, Play, Review, Study, Play, Review!  You will find your chips piling up in the process.