After mastering the basic strategy, the next thing you want to focus on is becoming unexploitable. Mastering an unexploitable strategy is great for several reasons. First, if you feel like your opponent is getting the best of you, you can always revert to an unexploitable strategy where you’ll at least break even. Second, if you decide to play many tables at once (I can play eight at once), you’ll depend almost entirely on your unexploitable strategy.
Being unexploitable is just what it sounds like. Your opponents won’t be able to exploit you. You won’t be trying to exploit them either. You’ll make your money whenever they make mistakes, but you won’t make any mistakes yourself. If you’re playing against a good opponent, you’ll likely both lose to the rake, but most good opponents won’t play you again if they know it’s costing them money.
Some terms that you might not know in this article:
Unexploitable or Optimal: Both of these mean the same thing; these are balanced strategies that prevent your opponent from taking advan- tage of you.
Exploitive: This is the opposite of an unexploit- able strategy. Any strategy that is exploitive is also exploitable. An example of an exploitive strategy is raising more often if you know your opponent folds too often.
Crafting Unexploitable Strategies
Developing your own strategy for stopping a player who exploits you is as simple as varying the way you play your hands so that your opponent can never get an accurate read on your ranges. There are two good ways to do this.
Randomize your Strategy – This is the method that Dan Harrington originally recommends in Harrington on Hold’em. Decide on a mixed strategy for each hand. For example, with J9s on the button, I’m going to raise 75% of the time and call 25% of the time. To randomize, when it comes time to play J9s, look at a clock. If the second-hand is between the 9 and the 12, we’re going to call instead of raising. Create a strategy like this for every hand. A hand like 72o I will raise 10%, call 10%, and fold 80%, so I’ll raise if the second-hand is between :01 and :06, call if it’s between :07 and :013, and fold otherwise.
Merge Ranges – The best way I can describe merging ranges is sometimes locking your bedroom door when you’re NOT jerking it. You’ve just merged your door-locking range. Basic Unexploitable Strategies
Before the Flop - Raise your best hands, call with your average hands, fold your worst hands, and if you can’t tell if you should call or fold, raise!
After the Flop – Bet your good hands, check your bad hands, and occasionally check your great hands.
After the Turn – Bet your good hands, even if you checked them on the flop. Usually check your bad hands, even if you checked them on the flop. Occasionally check your great hands twice. If you bet the flop, check (show weakness) with both strong and weak hands, but continue to bet your extremely strong hands like a set or better. Bluff with draws.
On the River – Bet your great hands, check your average hands, and bluff with your worst hands.
This section is in stark contrast to previous one, dealing almost entirely with exploitive play. In this article I’m going to be looking at common situations in heads up poker and at factors that go into exploiting our opponents’ mistakes. This is the start of the intermediate section of the seminar. We’ll discuss the reasoning behind the strategy we outlined in our earlier articles, and I’ll leave it up to you to come up with rationales behind adjusting your play in certain spots. While many of these decisions may appear to be simple, we want to avoid getting into the habit of having much of our play be too automatic, and there are often considerations that arise that may indicate alternate lines to best exploit our opponents’ tendencies.
On The Button, Pre-Flop
We normally want to raise here with most hands, and what we’re looking to do is to look to put our opponents to the test with aggression and build pots where we’ll have the positional advantage later. Testing our opponent early with aggression is important because any time we make an aggressive move, it forces our opponent into reacting, and in doing so he may make a mistake we can take advantage of. So long as our plan for the rest of the hand is sound, we can raise whether he folds too often, calls too often, or 3-bets too often. It’s also important to raise when our opponent is willing to play big pots post flop out of position.
If our opponent 3-bets us often, we will back off on our raising, as we want to avoid raising and then folding too often. This way we can take advantage of him when we have strong hands by calling his 3-bet or re-raising. Typically, this means limping some of our middling hands like 97s while folding our weakest hands like J5o.
Should he be eager to attack our limps, we’ll look to limp more often, particularly when we can confidently call his raise, like with a hand like 87s. We typically do NOT want to limp a hand like AKs, because we are losing too much by not raising.
We also need to look at how often we’re seeing flops in position and the opportunities that present themselves on the flop instead of just taking the pot down with a raise pre-flop. The looser our opponents are post flop, the more flops we want to see with them, even if this means limping more. Conversely, the better an opponent plays post flop, the more we should look to take pots down when we can. We also want to use this rationale when out of position pre-flop, where the amount of pots that we’re prepared to play is going to depend on the nature of an opponents’ play later in the hand. We should fold more with stronger opponents and play more against weaker ones.
On The Flop
This type of exploitive thinking carries over to the flop as well, and we always need to look at both the extent and the likelihood of particular mistakes our opponent can be expected to make. If our opponent makes more than one mistake, we should take advantage of the most profitable one. If, for instance, our opponent will check-fold a lot on the flop, but bluff very often on further streets, both involve mistakes and we can choose to exploit whichever one presents the most advantage to us.
Out of Position
When out of position on the flop, we’ll look to lead out when our opponent folds too often to these lead bets and stop doing this if we tend to get raised often. Of course, if our opponent religiously raises our donk bets, we can donk out with all of our strong hands, get raised, and continue on in the hand.
If we have the lead on the flop, we may choose to c-bet, but since we’re out of position, we want to make sure that we’re not just firing these bets off without proper thought. There are certainly boards where we want to do this more often, and we should particularly be keen to bet if we’ve made a hand, but always consider the situation. If we know that our opponent will almost always lead if checked to, that may often be the better choice, especially if we can count on him to put money on further streets as well.
We may also wish to consider check-raising, either with a made hand or as a bluff. The more likely our opponent is to fold to a check-raise, the more we want to use it. This can represent a significant advantage over just taking the pot down with a lead bet, as the opponent has committed more money. Conversely, our bluffs cost us more when they fail. If our opponent needs a
good hand to call a check-raise, but he bets often enough on the flop where it doesn’t mean he has a good hand, then a check-raise bluff is golden for taking our opponents off pots.
The less our opponents are folding to our out of position aggression, the better hands we’re going to need to do this with. This doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily be folding more, but we’ll be forced into being less aggressive here. When we do have something good, we need to be careful not to tip our hand too much and cause our opponents to fold. In the end, it’s usually the case that the weaker our opponents are, the more aggressive we can be with them out of position, and the more aggressive they are, the more careful we have to be, even with our good hands. In Position
In position, it’s pretty standard to look to take down a lot of pots, however the looser our opponents are, where we have less fold equity to play with, the less we’ll be able to bluff. With these players we may be faced with a decision between letting them call our bets or letting them do the betting for us if they are too aggressive, and it will come down to which strategy will make us the most money. Given that we have position here, we can use it to exercise pot control and make them pay for not folding enough.
In heads up, most of our bluffs are actually semi- bluffs, as it’s not usually the case that we don’t have any meaningful outs to draw to. In all cases though it’s our fold equity plus our showdown equity that must be considered. The higher our draw equity, the less fold equity we need to make a bluff profitable. As is the case with all bluffs, it requires aggression on our part, so we always want to take into consideration not only the required tightness of our opponent, but how he reacts to aggression as well, as we want to avoid being check-raised off our semi-bluff.
Bluffing is simple – bluff when your opponent is likely to fold. A bluff can also be deferred to future streets, as is the case with the float, and this is a particularly useful tactic against players who like to bluff a lot themselves. This is particularly useful if you have a good draw and can either bluff when you miss on the next street or hit your hand and bet for value. What you want to look for when deciding whether or not to float is a player firing off one barrel and then giving up.
When our opponent folds too often on a late street, like on the river, we can bluff the flop and the turn in order to build a large pot for our river bluff.
Another important element in bluffing is its effect upon the overall flow of the game. It makes our opponents more likely to call our value bets. Our bluffs don’t necessarily need to be +EV by themselves, and they can be used as a “loss leader” when the small amount lost in a bluff can be made up for when we value bet our hands and win a large pot. This all depends on the opponent, how he responds to our bluffs, and whether or not he’s the type of player who has to make hero calls and play sheriff.
Optimal vs. Exploitive
Optimal play is a great way to shift gears and create confusion in our opponent. If our opponent attempts to exploit us while we play optimally, we will win money. Typically, we want to play exploitive strategies when we start fine-tuning our HUD. Exploitive strategies make us more money. For this reason, becoming unexploitable is more of a skill than it is a strategy. The real strategy is in knowing when to choose optimal play instead of exploitive play.
When To Switch To Optimal Play
The best time to switch to optimal play is when your opponent has caught on to your exploitive strategies and is changing his play to exploit you. Switching at this time ensures that your opponent is making a mistake. However, before jumping on the optimal bandwagon, be certain that your opponent is changing his play correctly to exploit you.
For instance, if our opponent folds too much, then we’re going to bluff more often in order to exploit this mistake. The second that our opponent catches on and starts calling lightly, we stop bluffing often and revert to an optimal strategy. Then, if our opponent keeps calling lightly, he’ll still be making a mistake, because we’ll have anticipated his adjustment.