Poker is a game of people versus people. Your opponent in this hand might be Larry, in the next hand Terry. We must play differently based on our opponent in order to win the most pots and the most money. We’re not playing poker just for fun or to pass the time after all; we want to be the best we can be and beat our opponents.
A lot of beginners just make decisions based on their hole cards and the board. A huge step in progressing your skills is considering another key factor: Your opponent. If you can understand their tendencies, you can use specific plays that exploit them in order to earn more pots and value out of them.
Let’s look at two extreme players:
Loose Larry loves to see the flop so he calls with about 70% of hands. Loose Larry also loves hitting big hands like 2 pair, straights and flushes. So, if he hits any kind of pair or draw on the flop, he won’t fold before the river.
Tight Terry is a patient player who’s fine folding preflop without a quality hand. He prefers playing in position as the preflop raiser and rarely defends the blinds. He’s also quick to fold post-flop when he doesn’t see good potential for winning the hand either at showdown or through stealing.
With Larry’s and Terry’s tendencies, who should we plan to make these exploitative plays against?
- Blind stealing with a wide range? >>> Tight Terry
- Large size iso-raising (raising over fishy limpers) with our best hands? >>> Loose Larry
- Bluffing the flop? >>> Tight Terry
- Value betting huge on draw-heavy flops and turns? >>> Loose Larry
By making plays that exploit their specific tendencies, we are using all the information and strategies at our disposal and truly playing poker.
Pay Attention to Spot Tendencies
Paying attention and watching the action is key in spotting tendencies. You’re going to notice things like Loose Larry doing a lot of limping and calling and rivering gut shots. Whereas Tight Terry never limps, rarely calls and seems to love open-raising, iso-raising and cbetting.
When you see a showdown, replay the action of the hand in your mind to learn their tendencies. When you see that Loose Larry overpaid on the flop and turn with a weak gutshot draw, and then he gets there on the river and shoves into his opponent, you just learned so much about Larry that you can use against him in future hands.
And at showdown with Tight Terry, you see that he triple-barreled 3/4-pot each time with top 2p AK on the AK792 board. But in a different hand, when he flopped TPWK, he bet 1/2-pot on the flop, checked the turn, then bet the river for 1/2-pot. Valuable bet sizing tendencies to know, wouldn’t you agree?
Use a HUD to Learn Tendencies
Online players need to pay attention, watch the action and analyze showdowns just like live players do. But we have an additional tool to help us spot tendencies: our HUD (heads-up display). A HUD is like a friend whispering information to you in a live game. “See Larry over there, that dude is the biggest calling station in the joint. See Terry over there, he’s super quick to fold.”
If we consider the tendencies just mentioned above, Loose Larry might show these statistics: 55% Limp, 76% Call PF 2bet and 23% Fold to Flop Cbet.
And Tight Terry might show these statistics: 0% Limp, 6% Call PF 2bet, 33% RFI and 65% Cbet Flop.
If you don’t already know how to use your HUD to learn their Tendencies so you can exploit better, start working on this aspect of your game right now. It’s going to open up a world of exploiting possibilities.
Easy Exploits for Common Tendencies
I’m going to give you 3 quick-to-spot preflop and post-flop tendencies with easy-to-use exploits. Over your next few sessions, practice spotting these tendencies and using the exploits at every opportunity. And because you’re paying attention even when not involved, put yourself in the other player’s shoes and decide which exploits you would use in the hand. Game planning like this will strengthen your poker mind and make it so you’re more capable of spotting the tendencies and pulling the trigger on exploits when you are involved.
Tendency: He defends his blinds almost half of the time.
- Exploit: Expect a call and a flop, so steal with post-flop playable hands. This same exploit can be used against limpers who hate folding to a raise.
Tendency: He hates folding versus 3bets after raising (Raise/Fold to 3bet = 0%).
- Exploit: Don’t 3bet bluff; instead, 3bet bigger for value.
Tendency: He’s an honest 3bettor (rarely 3bets, maybe 2%).
- Exploit: 4bet huge with AA, fold with most other hands unless the price is right to call to crack his huge holding.
Tendency: He’s a flop honest cbettor (cbets only TP+ and nut draws, Cbet ~30%)
- Exploit: Raise for value only, no bluff raising. Also, quickly fold your air hands.
Tendency: He loves to double-barrel cbet.
- Exploit: Expect the turn cbet before you call the flop. This means you can exit weaker pairs on the flop easily, or call with your strongest hands in order to check-raise the turn.
Tendency: He donk bets 1-2bb all the time with marginal hands and draws (blocking bets).
- Exploit: Bluff raise him if you’ve seen him donk/fold before. And raise big for value if he can’t fold his draws or pairs.
Enjoy exploiting their tendencies!