Think back to a time when you knew very little about how to play poker well. Some of you may not have to stretch the imagination very far. You went to the casino. You chased big hands, you checked back value hands, you had no idea what your opponents had.
What have you learned since then? Likely you’ve learned all the important fundamentals. You’ve learned not to limp in out of position with weak hands. You’ve (more or less) learned not to pay off big bets from nut-peddling and passive players. You’ve learned to play position aggressively. You’ve learned to c-bet flops and also to barrel the turn when it’s clear your opponent doesn’t often have much. You bet your good hands for value, and maybe here and there you find a good thin value bet.
You’re a nit or maybe a TAG, and you make money easily off of players who can’t read hands and who therefore overvalue their medium-strength hands in big pots. As long as you can play in relatively soft games, you will make money playing poker for the rest of your life.
But I’m sorry to say, you’re not very good yet. Being very good means firing up an online casino and sitting in a game with nothing but players just like you and being able to generate a consistent profit. An advanced stats package is R for download and Casino.org. Obviously we’re not talking about a massive winrate. Massive winrates require legitimate spots in the game. But a consistent winrate.
You might be thinking, “Why on earth would I even want to try to play in a game with nothing but solid players to squeak out a winrate?” If you were thinking this, stop yourself! That’s not the point. The point of getting very good is that instead of winning X in a game, you’re now winning X + Y, where Y is the profit you squeeze out of the regulars in the game. That Y over time allows you to build your bankroll faster and move up.
So how do you do this? It’s a relatively simple, yet painstaking process. It’s simple because you can find a single edge over your clones in as little as fifteen minutes. But it’s painstaking because you have to find these edges over and over and over again–and retain them all–to really get the best of your TAGish bretheren.
Basically, it’s a lot of work. But if you play a lot of poker, and your goal is to win more or move up, the work is very worth it. So what do you do?
First, pick a relatively common situation. It’s a $0.50-$1 6-max game at an online casino. A 21/17 regular opens for $3 from under the gun. You’re on the button, and you call. Let’s not worry about what hand you’re calling with just yet. The blinds fold.
The flop comes A 6 2 . Your opponent bets. Is this bet unexpected?
It’s not. This is a dry, ace-high flop, and many regulars think they should bet flops like this one with 100 percent of their range. After all, they raised a tight range UTG, and they can “represent the ace.”
What’s the reality, though? Say the UTG player raises 13 percent of his starting hands from UTG. His range is something like this:
AKs-ATs, KQs-KTs, QJs-98s, QTs
This is 13 percent of hands. How often do you think this hand range makes top pair or better on this flop?
According to Flopzilla, which is an invaluable, yet inexpensive, program if you want to get very good at poker, this UTG range makes top pair or better just 31.6 percent of the time. This means that 68.4 percent of the time, your opponent will flop a hand he’s likely to fold to pressure.
If this is beginning to sound like a good spot to throw in a bluff, you’re catching on. Assume UTG is playing a very simple strategy of c-betting 100 percent of his hands (because he’s “supposed to” on a flop like this one) and then shutting down without an ace or better. You can raise his c-bet and show an automatic profit. There’s $7.50 in the pot preflop. He bets $4 on the flop. That puts $11.50 in the pot. You raise him to $10 with any two. You’re risking $10 to win $11.50 that he’ll fold. If he is indeed folding 68.4 percent of the time, this is extremely profitable.
If you find that your regular opponents tend to take this line on flops like this one, you can raise them all day long and auto-profit. You’ve taken a small step toward becoming a very good player. Now find 200 more situations like this one. Find two every day for 100 days in a row. At the end of this exercise, you’ll be an absolute monster in your regular games, and you’ll have a gaudy winrate to match.
“But Ed,” you say, “you make it sound easy, but it’s not easy like that! If I start raising these flops with air, I’ll be exploitable, and my opponents will adjust and punish me. And then I’ll just be spewing chips.”
No, no, no, no, no! This line of thinking has two enormous flaws. First, it’s monsters-under-the-bed. Most players at your level don’t adjust quickly or accurately to opponents who are playing counter-strategies. Many of them are multitabling 12 tables or more, and they literally click buttons every second or two. Do you think one of these players will think twice about the situation when they see they got raised on an ace-high flop holding 8-8 or K-J suited? No, they’ll fold, and they’ll do it day after day unless you absolutely abuse them many times in a very short period.
Second, you are not a robot. Say you get reraised. What is a legitimate reraising range on this flop given the UTG opening range? Sets and maybe A-K, right? Your opponent will have one of these hands under 15 percent of the time. You are going to get reraised very rarely. If you notice a player start to reraise you, he’s likely adjusted, and now you adjust yourself. You start raising A-J and A-T on this flop and stop raising air.
For the most part, though, when you find an exploitative play like this one, it works. It’s a more-often-than-not thing, which adds up to a long-term edge. Nitty and TAG players LOVE to bet/fold. It’s a strategy that works terrifically to maximize value against fish. But it’s an exploitable, unbalanced strategy. Find all the common spots where your opponents are bet/folding, and raise them. (Or float them and then bluff when they give up.)
Yes, it will blow up in your face sometimes. And when you’re running bad you’ll feel like a total idiot spewmonkey. But after 100k or 200k hands, you’ll likely see a much better winrate than you had before. And you’ll know that it was all your hard work that got you there.
Time to move up and start the process anew with a more sophisticated set of regulars.
Tags: adjusting, auto-profit, exploiting opponents, flopzilla, no-limit-holdem, poker