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Mailbag: Playing Like a Robot

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Dec 12, '13

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Thinking Poker MailbagQ: Remember years ago the training websites were saying we want to teach you to not become a “robot” and think about decisions. Wouldnt that be more of the exploitive strategy and now people almost want to play like a “robot” with game theory. Do you find that is happening now and it is interesting how the game evolves.

 Another question  is that is GTO better or worse for micro stakes players? I think playing exploitive would be a lot better moving up the stakes what’s your opinion on that?
A: Playing robotically and playing like a GTO-approximating poker super-computer aren’t necessarily the same thing. I’ve generally understood (and used) the admonition against “playing like a robot” as a warning against unthinking play, but unless you are a poker super-computer, it would probably require a lot of thought for you to come even close to approximating Game Theoretically Optimal play. Plenty of people, on the other hand, go on auto-pilot in extremely exploitable ways: betting every flop after they raise, folding any time they don’t have a piece of the board, calling just because they have top pair, etc. Whether you’re trying to play exploitively or not, playing well is going to require thinking deeply and situationally.
As for whether you should be trying to play exploitively, that depends on your skill level compared to that of your opponents. By definition, exploitive play requires you to recognize some mistake your opponents are making for you to exploit. When you’re playing with players better than you, that’s tough to do. Weaker players, who are generally but certainly not exclusively found in smaller stakes games, make more mistakes that can potentially be exploited.
A simple example would be a player who hates to fold when he has any piece of the board. If you play micro-stakes, I’m sure you’ve encountered a few of this type! Although you’d make money against this player employing balanced value betting and bluffing ranges, you wouldn’t make as much as you would with exploitive strategy. The most obvious exploitation would involve a lot of value betting, including with a lot of hands too weak to be part of a GTO range.
You’ll find that as you encounter tougher players, which will happen as you move up in stakes, it will be harder to spot such glaring leaks or formulate such obvious exploitive strategies. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done – there are plenty of good and even great players with exploitable tendencies – but they are harder to find and take advantage of. These players will also be more adept at recognizing and exploiting obvious imbalances in your game. You’ll end up playing a more balanced strategy against them as a result.
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Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer, and teacher. He is also an avid hiker and traveler and a passionate advocate for urban public education. You can find dozens of his poker strategy articles at www.thinkingpoker.net/articles and more information about group seminars and one-on-one coaching at www.thinkingpoker.net/coaching.

 
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