5 of the most common cash game leaks – and how to fix them

Cash game expert Ross Jarvis fixes the five leaks in your online six-max cash game

We are all individuals with the ability to think for ourselves and make our own decisions. At  the poker table everyone has the ability to make their own choices as to how they play a hand and why. In theory, there should be a vast array of different playing styles and opponents out there, making the game very complex and difficult to beat.

The reality, though, is that there are many weaker players making identical, repetitive mistakes each and every day at the six-max online tables, and you may be one of them. Join us as we list the five most critical leaks that losing players make at the six-max tables – and how to fix them.

1. Sitting in the wrong seat

What is the leak?

To win in cash games everyone knows you must have great game selection. What’s often overlooked is that the seat you take is more important than the make-up of the whole table.

Why is it a leak?

Depending on which seat you have at a six-max table, the game can suddenly become hugely profitable or unbeatable. Too many players log on to a site, instantly put themselves on a ton of waiting lists and sit down without paying attention to their seat and who is next to them. Sometimes this works out fine, but with just a little more research in the lobby you can give yourself a much better chance of finding good seats where you can make more profit.

How to fix it

You should be doing two things when deciding where to sit at a poker table. The first is avoiding having a very good, aggressive player sitting to your left. Even if the remainder of the table is made up of a few fish and weak regs, having that one good LAG on your left can ruin everything. It’s no fun being constantly three-bet out of position or being floated continuously on flops you may have missed, and that’s in store if you take a seat like this.

When a player on your left really has the measure of you, simply leave, find another game and win cash. But the main consideration when looking for a seat is finding a spot to the left of a clueless, bewildered, spew-tastic mega-fish. If you can somehow acquire this hallowed seat then the chances of you taking their money rise hugely.

Now you can decide to play only pots that they are involved in, isolate them preflop and have position on them throughout the hand. Many times I have seen a seat like this open at higher stakes than I normally play, and even if the rest of the table is composed of tough pros it’s still very profitable to sit down and focus on the fish to your right.

2. Inflexible thinking

What is the leak?

Always sticking to the same default strategy no matter what the table dynamic is. This can range from never limping to always four-betting pocket Aces. If you use your imagination, there’s sometimes a better way.

Why is it a leak?

When you’re multi-tabling four, six or more tables it’s easy to start playing on autopilot and adhering to the same ‘rules’ to determine your play. As long as you have solid fundamentals  this approach can certainly be profitable. But if you want to emulate the best players it’s much better to add in some creativity and treat each situation as unique rather than relying on a ‘system’.

How to fix it

Here are some easy ways to mix up your game. There’s a common mantra that you should never limp in a six-max cash game. Mostly, that will be the case, but there are certain points where limping may be best. A good time to limp would be if a fish limps in the cutoff and you have 8-6 suited on the button. By limping you can try to flop a monster cheaply, confident  that the fish will call you down and help you create a large pot. Any hand that can flop well but is unlikely to make top pair is a good candidate for limping behind with rather than bloating the pot.

With all this aggression flying around the modern game, it’s largely been forgotten that there are still good times to slow-play. A great example is when you raise A-A and a player you think is full of it three-bets you. As you’ve already assumed he doesn’t have a big hand, there’s very little point in four-betting now, as he’ll just fold the vast majority of the time.

It’s better to just call and gain the extra continuation bet from him on the flop before deciding how to proceed. Of course, any time you suspect a player is strong when he three-bets you must revert back to your usual tactic of four-betting the Aces, as getting all the money in preflop is so tremendously +EV for you. It’s vital to play fundamentally sound, but always be aware that there are alternatives for every scenario.

3. Playing too many hands from the blinds

What is the leak?

Calling raises in the blinds too often preflop, meaning you play the rest of the hand out of position.

Why is it a leak?

Unless you’re in a blind versus blind situation, playing marginal hands out of the blinds can be a huge drain on your profits, for the simple reason that you will always be out of position and at a disadvantage. Despite getting a discount on the call, it will be nearly impossible to show a profit from the blinds against good players. You will lose less if you just fold every time you don’t have a monster. Play tight or prepare to lose.

How to fix it

There is a narrow range of hands you can profitably flat-call with versus a button or cutoff  raise. These are: A-T, A-J, K-J, Q-J and pairs 2-2 through 8-8. The main reason these hands are playable, and hands like A-8 and Q-T are borderline, is that you are going to be able to dominate some of your opponent’s looser open raises.

By playing this range it allows you to win some big pots; if you hit a set you can even try to stack him. If the original raise comes from an earlier position like under the gun then you need to tighten up even more. Now hands like A-J, K-J and so on are very likely to be dominated, so you should just fold.

With every other hand you wish to play you should be three-betting. This is broken down into two categories: three-bets for value and three-bet semi-bluffs. For value you should be reraising A-K, A-Q, K-Q and pairs 9-9+, looking to get it all-in preflop against a suitably aggressive villain.

Conversely, suited hands like T♣-8♣, A-2 and 7♠-6♠ are not good enough to call with, but are definitely good to frequently three-bet light out of position. Often you’ll just take down the pot preflop but even when called you can still pick up a number of good draws that you can then play aggressively.

If you spot a fish calling too much out of the blinds he’s really at your mercy. Make sure you continuation bet all uncoordinated dry flops (such as K-2-6 rainbow) and fire again on the turn a lot of the time if called. Because of his passivity preflop you know his flop calling range is likely to consist of top pair/ weak kicker or middle pair-type hands. Both of these are probably going to fold by the river if you crank up the pressure.

4. Aimless aggression

What is the leak?

Players are constantly being told that aggression is the key to winning in cash games. Yet  many players use aggression in spots where playing passively is clearly the better option.

Why is it a leak?

Knowing the importance of aggression is pointless if you are applying it in the wrong  situations. Let’s see if you’ve ever played a hand this way: the button raises and you call from the big blind with J-T. The flop is J-6-8 rainbow. You check, he makes a c-bet and you check-raise. Sound familiar?

If this is how you often play your mid-strength hands then you are making a big mistake. In theory, raising top pair is a sound move, but in practice you are just leaving yourself open to being exploited by a tricky opponent.

How to fix it

Let’s analyse the consequences of our flop check-raise. First, our opponent can just fold his air hands and we pick up a small pot. That’s fine, but calling would be better because they may either decide to bluff a later street when a scare card comes or try to use brute force to take the pot down.

The second alternative is when our opponent just calls. Now we have only a broad idea of our opponent’s range: it could include overpairs, all Jacks, straight draws, total floats and monsters, whereas we have hugely over-represented our own hand.

On the vast majority of turns that don’t improve our hand we are going to be unsure whether to bet again, escalating the pot size tremendously, or check, giving up the marginal strength of our own hand.

Finally, we could be reraised right away on the flop. Do we really want to jam 100 big blinds with top pair/weak kicker on this kind of dry board? When an innocuous check-raise is broken down like this, it becomes clear that unfocused flop aggression can quickly escalate into big problems later in the hand. In this, and hundreds of similar situations, playing passively and just check-calling is by far the superior option.

Aggression is great but there must be a reason for it. If you start reraising just because you don’t know what else to do, that’s a problem. Save the aggression for spots where your hand is either a monster, a good semi-bluff or total air.

5. Ignoring how position affects preflop ranges

What is the leak?

Hand ranges change all the time according to what position a player has at the table. Many weaker cash players ignore this and get stacked unnecessarily.

Why is it a leak?

When you play against aggressive players online it’s very common to get all the chips in preflop. It’s always player-dependent to some extent, but in late position (such as on the button versus the blinds or vice versa) you can jam all-in preflop pretty light and expect it to be +EV.

My typical value range would be 9-9+, A-Q and A-K. This is because there are fewer people to go through and a greater likelihood that people are stealing or three-betting light, thus  allowing you to capitalise by four-betting or shoving lighter in return.

If you jam with J-J in these situations and run into a bigger pair you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve just been unfortunate to run into the top of your opponent’s range. A major error that players constantly make is failing to adjust these ‘standard’ all-in ranges when the seat positions are altered.

How to fix it

Say you hold the same hand, pocket Jacks, but this time you are in the cutoff and a player has raised under the gun. Three-betting with the intention of getting all-in would now be a major mistake, unless there is a hyper-aggressive dynamic between the two players. You are  showing so much strength (but actually over-representing your hand) that he will likely fold all smaller pairs (or set-mine), while four-betting hands that beat you and A-K.

Being four-bet here puts you in a terrible situation, since folding means you have wasted the value of a strong hand like J-J (that you could have played a smaller pot with postflop if you’d just called), while jamming over the top isn’t good either as you are crushed by his value range because of the relative positions.

Until the positions move onto cutoff versus button you should have a supremely tight all-in preflop range, perhaps only A-A, K-K and A-K against certain opponents. If you continue your usual preflop aggression you’ll constantly be running into overpairs or hoping for a race at best.

It’s easy just to chalk these hands up as coolers, but in reality many of these situations are completely avoidable. While it may feel too tight to just call a raise with A-Q or J-J, it’s often going to be the play that allows you to make the most value from your hand and lose the least when your opponent does have you crushed.

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