This strategy article comes from Peter Clarke (aka “Carroters”). Peter is the Lead 6-max Cash instructor of the training site Grinderschool.com which focuses on providing affordable training targeted at small stakes and microstakes games. With years of experience, Carroters has seen success in cash games, SNGs and MTTs. He has been coaching players with good success for four years playing anywhere from 2NL to 100NL. For information on rates and packages you can visit his coaching website at www.carrotcorner.com or feel free to send Peter an email to email@example.com.
Poker thought processes have been evolving exponentially over the last few years. In 2008, we’d simply put our villain on a range; estimate how he was likely to play this range, and then devise the best line to maximize our EV (expected value) against this. Whoever was most skilled in making these estimations would succeed.
Nowadays we’re concerned with far more than this. In order to stay ahead of the curve, we’re thinking about the entirety of our own range and how we should play this body of hands, not just our specific hole cards in isolation. We’re encouraged to find out what a balanced strategy would look like in a given situation – one that protects us from being exploited and makes villain indifferent to making certain adjustments against us. After all, we often have no idea which adjustments he’s likely to make, so why guess? Then we’re told that we can make exploitative adjustments ourselves when we have enough information, but when does this apply? The answer is: far more often than you’d think.
We should start off by acknowledging that it’s only correct to play in a balanced/defensive manner when we have no reason to believe there is a more profitable way of playing. EV is still the holy grail of poker in 2014, it’s just the approaches to maximizing it that have changed. Being strategically sound in theory can never trump an approach that yields higher expectation in the long term, no matter how neat our range charts become.
There are three levels of specificity when it comes to information that can and should cause us to deviate from our balanced approach. What we’re about to see is that, combined, they in fact cover almost all poker situations!
1. Villain Specific Adjustments
These adjustments are the cream of exploitation. If I know that you call 85% of the time you face a 3-bet and fold rarely post-flop, and are unwilling to adjust this approach, I should 3-bet you exclusively for value. I shouldn’t care that my range is unbalanced or that I’m under bluffing the situation as having a fairly wide, but linear and strong range will yield the highest expectation vs your mass of non-folding junk. The fact that I never 3-bet a hand like 56s that’s not doing well vs you in this climate of minimal fold equity is irrelevant. If I did, my EV would simply be lower. This is an example of adjusting to an individual’s game using precise information about one villain. It’s the most effective type of exploitative adjustment due to its accuracy and small margin for error, but it’s not the only one.
2. Player Type Adjustments
I don’t know how wide villain X calls down on the river. The reason I don’t know this is that I only have 14 hands on him where he’s running 50/12 (vpip/pfr) and has less than a full buy in for the cash game he’s playing.
But how about we focus on what I do know. I know villain X is a weaker player who likes to call a lot before the flop. Therefore, it’s far more likely that villain X will call the river much wider than the average opponent/regular in my games. As a result, my strategy should absolutely not be a balanced defensive one that makes villain indifferent to bluff catching the river. Rather, it should be an exploitative value based strategy where we maximize EV by rendering villains light call downs very unprofitable.
Note this adjustment is not as accurate as the previous one. We don’t know for a fact that this player calls the river too wide, but we do know that perhaps 80-90% of villains with his stats and characteristics do exactly this. Making a correct adjustment that yields much higher EV 80-90% of the time is far better than playing defensively and avoiding making a mistake 10-20% of the time. You usually can’t have 100% equity in a poker hand, but that’s okay. You also usually can’t have 100% accuracy in your exploitative strategies, but that’s okay in just the same way. If you aren’t typing players early on and making adjustments vs their type, then you’re missing out on a lot of money.
3. Population Adjustments
I know the guy to my right is a regular. He has a full stack, is playing 8 tables, and is opening to 2.5x the bb on the cut-off. I have no idea how often he triple barrels the river as a bluff on certain run outs. Should I play defensively and call the exact amount of hands that would make him indifferent to bluffing? No way! To do so would be to ignore crucial information that I can use to take what will be, on average, a more +EV strategy.
Let’s say I play 25NL on pokerstars and that I’m familiar with how these games play in general. This means that I have population reads! I know how the average regular handles this situation and my population read tells me that 75-80% of villains rarely triple barrel bluff the river on this kind of run out. I therefore know that 75-80% of the time my balanced strategy will be inferior to a strategy of over-folding the river. Therefore I should move away from it and start folding those bluff catchers.
We can find population reads by simple database review or even just through general feel and experience. To not use them, is to make a worse decision the majority of the time solely for the sake of balance.
Balance is not EV. It’s just one possible route to maximizing EV and is in fact, almost always negated by information of some sort.
Know what a balanced strategy looks like and be aware of your own range, but know how to deviate from this in almost every poker situation.