Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How to Study Your Poker Hands and Fix Your Leaks

How to Review Your Poker Hands and Find Your Leaks
Studying your hands (and those of your opponents) is by far the best way to get better at poker in my opinion. This is because it allows you to find your leaks and learn from your own mistakes.

And this ultimately means that you can actually change the actions that you make at the poker tables and finally get the long term winning results that you work so hard to achieve.

But here's the thing.

You can’t know what to change if you don’t analyze your hands to see what you did wrong (and right) in the first place!

Most people don't study their hands or try to find their leaks at all. And this is totally crazy if becoming a highly successful poker player is your goal.

In this article you are going to learn how to start reviewing your hands and plugging your leaks the right way.


Use a Poker Tracking Program if You Play Online


Now if you play online this is one of the main reasons why I recommend using a poker tracking program like PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager.

What these programs do is collect every hand that you play and then allow you to review them step by step whenever you want. These programs also provide you with tons of highly specific data and statistics on you and your opponents.

You can also use the HUD (heads up display) in order to put this information right beside your opponents at the poker tables.

But I have spent countless hours over the years simply studying my own poker hands and other players in these programs.

In fact I have developed every single strategy that I talk about here on my blog and in my books because of this.

The poker tracking program that I personally use is PokerTracker 4.

It is the most sophisticated and easy to use poker tracking program out there in my opinion. It allows you to study your opponents in depth and analyze every aspect of your own game.

It also includes extensive filters in order to help you find out exactly where your problem areas are. I am going to show you exactly how to use these in a moment as well.

Lastly, these programs are vital for an online player because they also allow you to keep track of your results and graph them too. This way you always know exactly where you stand. No more guesswork.

If you are at all serious about online poker, then I would recommend at least checking out the free trial.

It doesn't even matter if you plan to use the HUD or not.

Most people don't realize that the HUD is only the tip of the iceberg to what these programs actually can do to improve your poker game.


How to Review Your Poker Hands


One of the main reasons that I use PokerTracker is to review my poker hands. Now I don’t review every single session that I play. But I do review most of my losing ones. And the reason why is because I want to learn from my mistakes.

In poker: “We either win or we learn.”

Make this your motto too.

When I win, I know that I probably did a lot of things right. Most people tend to play well when the cards are falling their way.

However when I lose, I might have played some hands poorly. It is very possible that I just got unlucky and that is the reason that I lost. But I want to make sure. I need to be sure. And you should too.

Now before you can start reviewing your poker hands you need to make sure that you are downloading the hand histories from the poker site.

The hand histories are the raw text files that PokerTracker actually reads and generates all the information from. And this is also the data that it uses to allow you to play back your hands and analyze them in detail.

On most poker rooms there will be an option in the lobby to simply download your hand histories as you play. Make sure that this is enabled and that they are being stored in a place on your computer that you will remember.

After that go into PokerTracker and make sure that the hands are being imported into the program.

Pokertracker plug your leaks

Make sure that you select the Play Poker tab at the top and then double check the settings for the site that you play on below it.

Lastly, click Get Hands While Playing and all of your hands will be automatically collected by PokerTracker.

The next thing that you want to do is configure the settings so that you only get hands from your last session.

Pokertracker study your hands

Click on the View Stats tab this time and make sure that you set the date for today and for the stakes you are playing.

This will immediately bring up all of the hands that you played in the box below. Hit the won column to sort by biggest winning and biggest losing pots.

I usually spend far more time reviewing the hands that I lost rather than the hands that I won. The reason why is because I think that I am much more likely to have made mistakes in them.

In order to pull up the replayer window and start reviewing your hands simply right click on a hand and then select replay hand.

You can also use the shift button on your keyboard to select as many hands as you want and put them all in the replayer at once (recommended).


Now as I look at each hand step by step I am going to be asking myself the following 3 questions:
  • What is the player type?
  • What is my opponent’s range here?
  • What is the ideal play in this situation?

If I decide that I made optimal decisions at each stage of the hand then I will simply accept the result and move on to the next one.

However, if I feel like I made a 2nd or 3rd best decision (calling when I should be raising or folding etc.), then I can learn from this when I encounter a similar spot in the future.

Let's look at an example of this.


Example Review Hand - Doubling Barreling With an Overpair Against a Nit


NL10 - 6max

Hero raises in early position with AA

Nit Villain calls on the button


Flop:

459

Hero bets

Villains calls


Turn:

8

Hero bets again

Villain raises

Hero shoves all-in


This is the perfect example of a hand where I can immediately identify that I made a big mistake. And this is also a serious leak that needs to get fixed asap.

The reason why has everything to do with player types. The player type in this hand is a Nit.

As I have discussed many times on my blog and in my books, when a tight/passive opponent like this raises on the turn or the river after we double barrel, we are almost always going to be beat.

It doesn't matter that we have AA which is a strong over-pair to the board here.

The line that this particular player has taken here clearly indicates that he has two pair or better. And more likely than not on this board he actually has a set with hands like: 44, 55, 99 or 88.

This means that his range in this situation absolutely crushes our one pair hand and the ideal play was to fold. In fact it is not even close, folding is overwhelmingly the correct play here.

So by reviewing this hand I would be able to identify a major leak in my game and hopefully make a better decision next time this situation pops up.


Poker is Played in Real Time and Under Pressure


Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that I will actually make the right play next time in the heat of the moment. Poker after all is an easy game in theory, not so much in reality.

When the pressure is on and you might be tilted too, it can be difficult to always make the correct play, even when you know it is right.

So the point of this analysis is to keep reminding yourself of the mistakes that are costing you money. At some point you will get so sick and tired of losing that you will make the necessary adjustments.

For instance, it took me a long, long time to finally get it through my head to fold in this exact situation when I double barrel and get raised by a Nit.

This is despite the fact that I had seen the losses over and over again in PokerTracker!

One day I eventually got so sick of being shown the nuts in these spots every time that I just started folding. Now I do not have this leak in my game anymore and my results have improved because of it.

This is the only way to move forward. Most people just keep making the same bad calls, silly bluffs and missing value bets for years and years and never learn.

And this is a big part of the reason why they never end up getting the results that they want in this game.

This is why regular session review and studying key hands is so important. It forces you to take an impartial and honest look at all the poor decisions that you are making.

It forces self-accountability and change. And this is ultimately reflected in your results at the poker tables.


Finding and Plugging Your Leaks


Another incredibly valuable feature in PokerTracker is the ability to find exactly where your leaks are and then start plugging them.

More specifically what this means is that you can run filters over your entire database of hands and find the exact spots that are giving you the most trouble.

And even more importantly you can see the raw data in these situations for yourself.

Are you showing a profit or a loss? The numbers simply do not lie.


So for instance you can analyze situations where you:
  • 3Bet when out of position
  • Got all the money in preflop
  • Double barreled
  • Floated the flop and then bet the turn
  • Bluffed the river
And so on.

You can also drill down even further if you want by studying only one specific hand.

So for instance you could filter for AK all in preflop and see if you are winning or losing. The possibilities are endless and the data you get back is insanely useful.

In order to bring up the filter box in PokerTracker make sure that you are on the View Stats tab. Set it to All Dates this time. Lastly, click on More Filters… at the bottom.

Pokertracker use filters and plug your leaks

I spend most of my time setting filters under the Actions and Opportunities tab. This is where you can set up specific scenarios just like the ones that I just mentioned.

Study in Pokertracker

Now once again I am going to focus most of my attention on the situations where I am currently not winning (i.e. my results are negative).

For instance, if it shows that I am losing money when I double barrel on the turn like in the example hand before, then I have a problem.

Because a winning poker player should be showing a profit in this situation. So this is a leak in my game and something that I need to fix.

So I will filter for this exact situation and then stick a bunch of hands into the replayer and start analyzing them one by one.


Once again I want to know:
  • What is the player type?
  • What is my opponent’s range here?
  • What is the ideal play in this situation?

This will help me find out why I am losing money in this situation. Perhaps I am not respecting a Nit's range like we saw above. But it could be something else too, like I am trying to bluff the calling station recreational players too much.

I will often spend hours studying just one specific situation like this and reviewing dozens of hands. The patterns eventually emerge and I can finally understand why I am losing. From there I can start making the adjustments in how I play.

And in order to make sure that I actually made the right changes to my game I will review the data again in a month or so. This will hopefully tell me that I am now profitable in this situation.

This in a nutshell is how you make progress at the poker tables. This is also something that I know at least 95% of my opponents at the micros don't do.

And this is ultimately why I crush the games and most of them struggle to even breakeven.


You Can't Always Win in Poker


One more important point to note here though is that some situations in poker just won’t be profitable no matter what you do. Playing from the blinds is the most classic example.

You aren’t going to win from the blinds in poker no matter how good you are, even if your name is Negreanu or Ivey.

Due to the basic structure of the game (having to put money into the pot every time with a completely random hand AND having to play it out of position), the blinds are simply un-winnable positions at the poker table.

However, poker is still very much a game of inches and so losing less can have a large positive impact on your overall win-rate.

So you should still look to improve your play from the blinds even though there is no way to actually turn a profit from these positions in the long run.

The bottom line is that if you really want to find out what is holding you back at the poker tables, then studying your hands and finding your leaks in Pokertracker is the absolute best way to do it.

Analyzing key situations like this has literally been ground zero in my development into a winning poker player over the years.

This is because it allows you to go straight to the source and find the exact problems that are holding YOU back at the poker tables.

Something that I also recommend doing is reviewing how some of the best regulars play in these situations as well. The great thing about these tracking programs is that you collect tons of hands on them as well.

The best regulars in your games are winning big for a reason. Study what they do!

Don’t leave your success in poker to chance. Put in the work away from the tables in PokerTracker just like I explained above, and you will start seeing better results.


Final Thoughts


I hope this article was useful for some of you guys out there who want to know how to study poker and start plugging your leaks.

As you can see, it really isn't that difficult to do in a program like Pokertracker. Many people mistakenly think that these programs are only good for the HUD, (i.e. getting all those stats on your screen as you play).

Nothing could actually be further from the truth.

The main purpose of these programs is to study your game, find you leaks and improve. I also regularly study my opponents and then create the best strategies to beat them.

Start doing these two things more often and you will watch your results start to steadily improve.

By the way, the entire article above was taken from a sample chapter in my brand new book: The Micro Stakes Playbook.

If you would like to learn dozens of other strategies just like this that the pros use to crush today's low limit games, then make sure you go pick up your copy today.

Let me know in the comments below how you study your poker hands and find you leaks. Do you have any other tips?

How to Study Your Poker Hands and Find Your Leaks

7 comments:

  1. great article as always, Nathan!

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  2. Very nice as usual, but there are some situations where, in my opinion, you make a mistake but ... you can hardly do otherwise. Example, 6 max 100BB stack. Villan loose/passive from UTG mini opens 2BB, BTN (fish) calls, HERO with QQ on the BB raises 8BB, Villan calls BTN fold, pot 19BB. Flop 2d 4d Th, hero bets pot, villan call, pot 57BB. Turn 7s, hero bets pot (57BB), villan raise all in 73BB. Pot 187 BB, 16BB to call (8,5%), could you ever fold? Yes villan is very likely to have a set - as he actually did (44) and so you are crushed - but you still have a 4% at the river and he might not have that damned set! What about 98d? Flush and open-ended straight draw? What about ATs? Or A3s, A5s. Fishes love draws especially flush draw.s Yes hero could have been more cautious and bet half pot leaving space for a fold, but why? A player like that would have played the same way with Ax and never ever fold with a pair or a flush draw. A or K on the board or another spades (1 hand out of 3 per stage on average) and you must freeze, out of position! What do you think?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks regarding the article Andrea, glad you liked it. Without information on the villain it isn't possible to comment on this hand. Because for instance, if it was a reg I would never be betting pot postflop which not only changes the math entirely but also the range that he will show up with. It would be a much better idea to post this hand on my forum where you can give exact reads, stack sizes, suits and so on.

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  3. I made a mess with suits. Not spades, sorry, diamonds

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  4. Another great article as usual. I do many of the things you mentioned ... I just wonder why I never made it haha:) Talking of leaks, what do you think of Leak Buster? I only tried the trial version so I cant see a load of my resulting leaks (even if I got an overall A+ lol).

    I am not sure if I am allowed to mention software, if you delete the post I will obviously understand.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Anton. I have never used it so I can't comment.

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