This is the first part of my Exploitative Poker Series. In each part I will show you how to take advantage of the tendencies of a specific player type (tight players, aggressive players and fish). That’s because if you really want to maximize your win-rate, you always have to identify the specific mistakes your opponents are making and exploit them as much as possible.
Against good opponents it’s important to play a balanced strategy to avoid being too predictable. If you give your hand strength away by making different bet sizes for strong and weak hands, smart players will notice it and play perfectly against you.
The good thing for micro- and small stakes players is that most of our opponents aren’t that smart.
It’s a general rule that the lower the stakes you play, the more mistakes people will be making. When you play against players who make a lot of mistakes, it’s important to forget about balance and take advantage of them as much as possible.
One good example is this: When playing against a fish you should make very big bets with your strong hands. You know you’re likely to get called by worse so you want to extract maximum value. Betting your hands that way would be extremely obvious to good players and they could exploit you like crazy. However it’s the most profitable strategy against this player type because they don’t recognize (or care about) your obvious bet sizing tell.
If you’re looking to move away from playing a standard TAG game like everybody else at your limits, then your goal should always be to make the most profitable play in every situation. That means identifying the mistakes your opponents are making and exploiting them as much as you can get away with.
Exploiting Tight Players
People often complain about how there’s no money to be made from playing against tight players. They’re not paying off your value bets and it’s hard to have them dominated because they play such a strong range.
While it’s true that the bulk of your profit generally comes from loose fish, tight players play a very non-optimal strategy that can be exploited quite easily: bet and raise them until they fold!
When a tight player raises, think about 3-betting him.
When you raise pre-flop and get called by a tight player, think about his range and whether it could be profitable to make him fold with multiple barrels.
Forget about value betting unless you have a big hand, you won’t get them to call with anything less than top pair. Instead steal as many pots as you can get away with and back off as soon as you face resistance.
How to Exploit Tight Players
Firing Multiple Barrels
The thing about tight players is that they’re usually willing to make one loose call on the flop. They might call your C-bet with middle pair or even A-high with a backdoor flush draw. Once you bet big on the turn or the river though they will usually fold anything that isn’t a very strong hand.
So the key to maximizing your profit against tight players is by thinking ahead in the hand and figuring out whether you can make them fold by the river. Getting called on the flop also grows the pot and increases the profit you make from the bets on later streets. When executed well, multi-street bluffs can be a very effective weapon in your arsenal.
Here is an example of how a hand might play out:
You raise AQ from EP and get called by a 16/14 player from the CO in a 6-max game. His calling range is very narrow and usually looks something like this: AJo+, ATs+, QJs+, 78s+, 22.
Now when a dry flop like J63 hits and you bet, your opponent will usually fold around half his hands on the flop. He will continue with any Jack, any 6 and pairs 77 – AA. He might also call with a 3 and pairs like 44 and 55. But he’s not calling with a hand like KQ or T9. If you go through all of the hands that called pre-flop and are now folding, you will see that it’s a pretty big part of his range.
Now think about the turn. If the turn is any card higher than a 6, you can fold out almost every hand from his remaining range with a big bet. Say the turn is a T, making the board J63T. Many tight players will fold anything but a pair of Jacks or better in this spot. He might have called on the flop with 88 or A6 but on the turn he’s folding them almost every time. And on any A, K or Q turn you might even make him fold a Jack which only leaves over-pairs or better in his range.
One important thing when thinking about bluffing multiple streets is the likelihood of your opponents folding. Pulling off big bluffs against players who won’t fold bottom pair is a huge error and will cost you a lot of money.
If you’re playing online you can identify the right opponents using the Went-To-Showdown (WTSD) stat. If an opponent has a WTSD of more than 28% over a large sample, then you should not try to run multi-street bluffs since you will get called too much. Most tight players have a WTSD of under 25% though which means you can usually make them fold a large percentage of their range by the river.
When playing live look for older players and players with a tight style in general. If you see somebody make a loose call, make a mental note not to bluff him and instead value bet a wider range against him.
Another important note: These plays can be quite tilting then they go wrong. When you run into the nuts a few times in a row you might start to doubt whether playing this aggressively is profitable at all.
Always remember what a big part variance plays in poker. If you’re bluffing the turn or river and your opponent has the only hand he would call with in that spot, it is still a profitable play and you just got unlucky. Whenever you’re unsure about a hand, just do your best and analyze it to find out whether you made a mistake or if it was variance.
Attacking Weak Bets
There’s a misconception that tight players never bluff. It’s true that tight players usually won’t pull off large multi-street bluffs, but they are definitely capable of betting weak hands in specific situations.
When you think about it, TAG (tight aggressive) players are actually tight players by definition. Tight doesn’t mean passive though and these players still bluff quite often when the pot is small and their opponents are likely to fold.
They take frequent stabs at small pots and usually give up once they get called or raised.
The counter-strategy should be fairly simple to understand: whenever you suspect a tight player to make a standard bluff with a weak range, you should think about attacking him.
There are 3 good examples for this situation:
1. Opponent is trying to steal the blinds
Most players know by now that it’s incredibly profitable to attack the blinds with a wide range from late position. Only nits or players who aren’t aware of the power of blind stealing won’t raise a hand like J9s when it’s folded to them on the button.
Many otherwise tight players will open 30% or more of their range on the button. This of course includes many weak hands that are vulnerable to aggression.
When you identify an opponent who is stealing the blinds with a wide range and you think there is a good chance he will fold, you can re-raise quite often with less than premium hands. Even if you suspect they might call you, you can often fire multiple barrels post-flop and make them fold.
2. Opponent is isolating limpers
This is pretty much the same situation as when a player is stealing the blinds. Many players know that isolating limpers is profitable with a wide range of cards, so you can exploit them by 3-betting. And when they call your 3-bet, you can often take down the pot after the flop.
A couple of notes about re-raising with weak hands before the flop: Many players are aware of what you’re up to when you’re 3-betting light pre-flop. When thinking about making this play, you should be wary about aggressive players behind you who might re-bluff by 4-betting.
You should also pay attention to which type of opponent you’re thinking about attacking. The ideal opponent for a light 3-bet would be one that has a high chance of folding to 3-bets and a low chance of 4-betting. Less ideal but also good would be an opponent that is likely to either fold to your 3-bet or call and then fold to a C-bet on the flop.
3. Opponent is C-betting the flop
Another scenario where tight players might bluff is when they raise pre-flop and then follow it up with a bet on the flop. This is often a hand that missed and could be as weak as Q- or J-high.
Knowing your opponent is betting a range that includes weak hands opens him to getting exploited.
If you’re in position you can often just call his C-bet and then see what he does on the turn. If he checks you can usually take down the pot by betting. It’s always good to have some backup equity in that spot so if you have a backdoor flush or straight draw it makes floating the flop a lot more attractive.
When you’re out of position it’s very hard to float your opponent because you have to act before him on every street. That’s why the better play when out of position is to attack him on the flop. You can either just lead out (donk-bet) or check-raise his C-bet when a good flop hits.
Good flops to raise are very coordinated flops or very dry ones that don’t hit a typical opening range of a tight player.
A great flop to raise would be 789 with two hearts. If you check/raise a flop like this it looks a lot like a very strong hand or combo-draw. Many players might even fold an over-pair if they face a lot of aggression on a flop like that. If they have JJ in that spot they are in terrible shape against hands like 88 or JT. Even a draw like AK of hearts is a favorite against their hand. That is exactly the range you are representing by raising this flop and you will get a lot of credit from tight opponents.
Another good flop would be 268 with no flush draw. A C-bet from a tight player is often just a hand with high cards that missed. When you check-raise he is only continuing with top pair or better. If you get called on the flop you can usually bet again on the turn if a card lower than a J hits and expect him to fold almost his entire range.
Bad flops to raise or those with high cards. They hit a large part of a tight player’s opening range and you are much more likely to get called. The A is a particularly bad card to bluff at. Not many players are capable of folding an A after they hit it on the flop and even though you are representing a set with your raise, you will get called more often than not. Save those flops for the times you actually do hit a monster and then value bet it as hard as you can.
Bluff-raising post-flop is still relatively uncommon at lower stakes. If you learn how to add plays like this too your repertoire it can give you a significant advantage over your opponents.
Maximizing your win-rate against tight players forces you to gamble and play an aggressive style. There’s no way around it, if you’re not prepared to risk some chips you will never be able to truly exploit tight players. It can also be quite stressful to consistently make large bets with weak hands, and when it goes wrong it has the potential to make you feel like an idiot.
When you’re thinking logically about it, playing aggressively is obviously the right adjustment when playing tight players. It might take time and practice but when you learn how to plan ahead in a hand and take it down on a later street, you are on your way to developing exactly the kind of mindset that you need to truly crush this game – to think clearly and logically and not be afraid to risk chips when you have a read on your opponent.