Poker is a game of minimizing one’s own mistakes while capitalizing on the mistakes of others. The better the game, the more money there is to be made capitalizing on our opponent’s errors. Sometimes these mistakes will be small and unpredictable. In these cases, playing a balanced strategy based on theories of GTO play will be best. Playing in this way allows our opponents to beat themselves and protects us from players who can exploit imbalance in our strategy.
While a balanced GTO-informed strategy should protect us from almost any opponent, it is not a mistake-free strategy against some known or semi-known opponent strategies. Balanced GTO-informed strategy is designed to be most effective against other balanced GTO-informed strategies. This strategy assumes your opponents are playing well. When opponents are making massive and predictable mistakes, some decisions advocated by a GTO-informed strategy will be mistakes, plainly and simply. These mistakes aren’t just a matter of missed value either. Many times, these GTO-informed decisions are massively -EV and can decimate your winrate with enough frequency. Luckily for those that play live, low stakes poker, the vast majority of your opponents will be making massive and predictable mistakes. In this article, we will examine 10 of the most common mistakes made by many of our opponents and figure out how to avoid making a mistake of our own and instead exploit our opponent to the max.
1. Villain never 3-bets light
When your opponent never 3-bets light, the game of poker becomes a lot less stressful. When there is no possibility of being 3-bet light, we are able to open much wider, especially in position. Our opponents may realize we are very wide, but when they choose to combat us by calling wide instead of raising wide, they are passing up on an advantageous situation, raising with a range advantage, in favor of a disadvantageous situation, playing out of position postflop with a wide range. This is especially true when opponents limp often but never limp 3-bet light. This is important to keep in mind for our own strategy when we are sometimes limping preflop. When at a table where it makes sense to limp, we should have a limp 3-bet range that is balanced so that strong opponents can’t abuse our limps. At a table with many strong opponents, limping should be avoided, but it can be a good strategy when most opponents don’t adjust well to our limping range and make big postflop mistakes.
The other adjustment when opponents never 3-bet light is to adjust our 4-bet range and our 3-bet calling range. Our 4-bet range should be constructed based on whether our opponent ever folds to a 4-bet after 3-betting. If they don’t, we should never 4-bet light. If they do, we should only 4-bet with hands that have good blocking ability, likely suited aces and AK (technically a semibluff against villain’s range with good equity when called by the bottom of the range). Our 3-bet calling range will depend on villain’s postflop tendencies, but given the assumption that villain almost always c-bets after 3-betting, we should mostly call with hands that will reveal their value on the flop, AKA pairs. At certain stack depths, we can exploitatively fold most of our opening range, and when we are deeper, particularly in position, we can start calling more of our range hoping to crush the flop.
Mistakes to avoid: 4-betting light without good blockers (or at all), being too conservative with opens
2. Villain slowplays on a dangerous board
Some people will make checks/calls that baffle the thinking player. Many amateurs are protection obsessed, so this is not a mistake you should assume your opponents make. However, once you have noted this behavior, some adjustments are key. Mainly, your opponent is never really capped. The thinking player loves being polarized against a capped range. We can overbet a wide balanced range or used mixed exploitative bet sizings to destroy our opponents. However, we probably don’t want to overbet-jam the turn with KK or 8h6h on a JhTh7s flop and a 2c turn when our opponent holds JJ, TT, 77, JT, T7, and 89. This reality is indicative of why playing some of our very strong holdings passively can be helpful in a balanced strategy. Against these opponents, it’s best not to value bet too thinly and take advantage of our ability to draw cheaply. No one said these opponents don’t pay off on the river!
Mistakes to avoid: Value bet too thinly, semi-bluff too agressively
3. Villain bets an “ahead or behind” hand
Many players bet hands for no reason at all. Consider opening 99 and ending up OOP on a KJ5 rainbow board. We just aren’t getting much value from c-betting and won’t make too many better hands fold. Our best plan of attack is to bluff-catch, or c-bet on a later street. Against some opponents, we can just check-fold this flop and feel smart doing it. But alas, these types of hands get bet a lot. People like to win pots and take -EV lines to do so.
Against these players, our bluff-catchers change function. When the aggressor in a pot is not polarized, our bluff-catchers no longer have the same showdown value. On the same board against an opponent who is c-betting 99, JT suddenly becomes a much better hand to call than 77. Now, JT was always a better call since it improves more easily, but against a polarized range, 77 and JT have the same showdown value and we may not fold either on the flop against many opponents. Against these opponents, we should bluff-catch with our best bluff-catchers and semi-bluff extremely opportunistically. Against opponents who display this tendency on the river, we should call our best bluff-catchers and raise aggressively with our worse hands, especially with favorable blockers. We also may want to raise smaller with our value hands since there are more value targets.
Mistakes to avoid: Folding best bluff-catchers, calling worst bluff-catchers, value raising to large sizings, missing semibluffs/bluff-raising rivers
4. Villain doesn’t 3-bet premiums
If you are anything like me, you have bluffed into KK-JJ that flatted your preflop raise more than you are proud to admit. Our opponents missing these 3-bets is already saving us a ton of money. Still, once we see this behavior in our opponent, we will rarely have the range advantage we are accustomed to as the preflop-raiser. We won’t be able to take top-pair top-kicker for 3 streets of value as often and we might get punished when raising our opponent’s weird donk bets. Basically, we just have to include these hands in our opponent’s range. Against an unknown opponent, especially older opponents, we should tend to include some portion of overpairs in our opponent’s flatting range until we see otherwise.
Mistakes to avoid: Assuming your opponent never has JJ+, AQ+ when flatting in any seat
5. Villain never semi-bluffs draws
If an opponent never semi-bluffs draws, then they basically always have a value hand when they bet/raise. Some opponents may semi-bluff draws as a c-bet, but never semi-bluff raise or check-raise. Whenever there is a situation where we can exclude semi-bluffs from our opponent’s range, we can fold our bluff-catchers and draw without worrying about reverse implied odds. We can also raise to exploitative sizings where we may be giving draws direct odds or odds draws would never call. While we sometimes want to bet these sizings even with draws present, their absence allows us to value-target much more exploitatively.
Mistakes to avoid: Folding draws for reverse implied odds considerations, calling with bluff-catchers, missing value (no excuses for missing value here)
6. Villain always semi-bluffs draws
When our opponents always semi-bluff draws, they will be over-bluffing on certain board textures. On these boards, we can raise a wider range of value hands, especially on blank turns when made hands increase significantly in equity. We can also aggressively semi-bluff our best draws and exploitatively fold worse draws. In position, we can even turn some of these worse draws into bluffs and shut our opponents out of the pot with most of their range (this can be dangerous against opponent’s who like to gamble). We can also bluff-catch confidently on the flop and turn. On the river, we should have evidence that our opponent is capable of 3-barreling before calling off all of our bluff-catchers, but doing so will often be correct when the board bricks out. We can also make exploitative folds when draws come in, although this is fairly common practice anyways, and sometimes still tricky business.
Also, take a second to note how much harder it is to take advantage of opponents who always semi-bluff vs never semi-bluff. This just shows how important and profitable semi-bluffing is on a whole. Still, a balanced strategy will not semi-bluff all draws on many boards and there is a good reason for this behavior.
Mistakes to avoid: Folding too many bluff-catchers, drawing with our worst draws, playing too passively, missing semi-bluff raises with our best draws
7. Villain never folds an overpair
This mistake can be extremely profitable or expensive depending on how you counter it. The main thing is, don’t try and bluff this player off their overpair. It doesn’t matter how scary the board is, just don’t do it. Instead, get sick value with anything that beats an overpair. For one, you can set-mine against opens and three-bets with shallower stacks. Against most players, you may want at least 10:1 Stack:Preflop call to set mine. Against players who never fold an overpair, you can get a little greedier (still, not too greedy since reverse implied odds are a thing and flopping a set is hard). Also, drawing cheaply against these players will be extremely profitable since our implied odds will be great.
Mistakes to avoid: Bluffing off your stack, underestimating implied odds
8. Villain overplays value hands relative to board strength
This is similar to mistake 3 except it occurs in more unique situations. For example, against these opponents, don’t call T9 on a 97652 board. Sure, you have top pair and great blockers, but when your opponent is betting 66 or AA for three streets, you should just never be bluff-catching. Depending on your opponent’s ability to fold, you should strongly consider bluff-raising with good blockers (see above hand), but often, you should be folding and taking solace in the fact that you will get insane value with the top of your range. Check-raising should be a common consideration with value hands since your opponent will be bet-calling or bet-folding part of their range that should be checking back.
Mistakes to avoid: Bluff-catching in most situations, missing value
9. Villain always c-bets
Ever heard that an unpaired hand only flops a pair ⅓ of the time? Well, it’s true. When your opponent always c-bets, it means they mostly have air, have plenty of middle pair, and have top-pair+ the minority of the time. Therefore, don’t fold too much, and let it rip with the semi-bluffs. Also, with these opponents, it’s important to keep paying attention to know when to fold our worst bluff-catchers. Against any flop c-bet, we should probably only be folding the bottom third of our range or less, but how about a turn bet or a river bet? Some opponents always give up on the turn, and some opponents never give up. Once you know how far your opponents are willing to take their zero-equity bluffs, you will know exactly how far to float/bluff-catch and when to let it go.
Mistakes to avoid: Folding hands with equity on the flop, bluff-catching the turn when villain is rarely bluffing, not semi-bluffing
10. Villain donk bets
A quick note to good players… yes, you can have a balanced profitable donk betting strategy. Now for the truth of it… almost no one you want to be playing with does. Most opponents donk bet with one type of hand or another. Some common choices are strong but vulnerable hands, weak and vulnerable hands, draws, air. I won’t get too in depth on the various counter strategies here, but once you see an opponent donking, pay attention to what they have. Very often the donk bet will turn their hand all but face up. Once you know what your opponent has, you win (that may mean you fold).
Mistakes to avoid: Assuming all donk bets are weak/strong, not paying attention or recognizing when an opponent has donk bet
We have covered many of the easily identifiable and highly exploitable mistakes our opponents are making in this article. However, there are plenty of other mistakes being made. It is important to take time to consider how you will observe and counter these mistakes. Also, the more nuance to the types of mistakes your opponents are making, the better you will be able to exploit those mistakes. Finally, make sure that your opponent’s aren’t adjusting to your exploits since most players will not be exploiting them the way you are and it is conceivable they could end up playing better against you than their default strategy. Sometimes, the exact opposite will happen as well, and that is something just as important to recognize.
Good luck at the tables, and tune back in next Thursday for an extended article from Zach!