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How To Destroy Your Opponent After Seeing Just One Showdown

by Dan B |  Published: Nov 07, 2018


The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course taught by Doug Polk, Ryan Fee, and other top poker pros. The Lab is updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos, and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player.

Great poker players are able to change game plans quickly—sometimes after just a single hand is shown down. Today I’ll teach you how these players make immediate adjustments. We’ll review hand examples, and then discuss counter strategies to apply the very next hand.

Let’s get started!

A player who likes to three-bet, and who likes ace-x hands a bit too much

Three-betting is a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal, especially from in position against open-raisers. However, it’s easy to over-bluff when you don’t realize how few value three-bets you can have in certain spots. Here’s an example hand with a player who probably three-bets too often:

PokerStars $0.25-$0.50. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $50.

Hero is in MP with JDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit

UTG folds. Hero raises to $1.11. CO folds. BU 3-bets to $3.55. 2 folds. Hero calls.

Flop ($7.85): 5Club Suit 5Diamond Suit 3Diamond Suit

Hero checks. BU bets 3$. Hero calls.

Turn ($17.50): 2Diamond Suit

Hero checks. BU bets 12$. Hero raises 43.35 and is all-in. BU calls.

River ($17.50): 9Heart Suit

BU shows AHeart Suit 4Heart Suit

Focus on the button’s hand, and ignore the post-flop action. How can we exploit this opponent?

Let’s start with what we know. We know that a balanced preflop three-betting range contains approximately 50 percent ‘value’ hands and 50 percent ‘bluffs’. Now, ‘value’ and ‘bluff’ are in quotes here because these two concepts don’t strictly apply preflop, when equities run closely together. For example, 6-5 suited has 39 percent equity against A-K.

Our opponent’s value three-bet range can thus be as wide as Q-Q+ and A-K, which makes up 2.5 percent of all possible starting hands. This means his bluffing range should also be around 2.5 percent to be un-exploitable. So, he needs about 34 bluffing combos.

If he three-bets A-4 offsuit, will he also three-bet A-5 offsuit, A-3 offsuit, A-2 offsuit, and suited aces? 3-betting these hands would mean having double the number of bluffs he needs to be un-exploitable—this imbalance is a huge leak. Yet, since he’s three-bet this hand, we can assume he is prone to three-bet all other low ace-x hands, and probably even more off-suit hands.

Now the fun starts! Let’s break down ways to exploit this opponent:

Widen our four-bet bluffing range. We would prefer hands not containing an ace, since we know that his bluffing range is A-x heavy, but even those will do fine since this guy is such a nutcase.

Choose a slightly smaller four-bet sizing. This gives better odds on our bluffs, since our opponent folds as often against the smaller sizing as he does against the larger one.

Widen our three-bet calling range—include A-x hands that dominate his bluffing hands. Even A-K is an reasonable call since we’ll have good implied odds when we both hit the ace.

A player who is nuts for thinking top pair is the nuts

It’s nice to hit a top pair. But not all top pairs are equal, and so the amount of money we should put in the pot with them varies from one situation to another. Here’s an example of what not to do with top pair.

888 $0.5-$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.

Hero is in the BB with KDiamond Suit 8Diamond Suit

3 folds. BU raises to $2.5. SB folds. Hero calls.

Flop ($5.5): KClub Suit 5Diamond Suit 3Heart Suit

Hero checks. BU bets 3$. Hero calls.

Turn ($11.50): 7Diamond Suit

Hero checks. BU bets 8$. Hero calls.

River ($27.50): 8Heart Suit

Hero checks. BU bets 19$. Hero calls.

BU shows KHeart Suit 9Spade Suit

Betting all three streets is an ambitious way to play a weak top pair, here. It’s pretty unlikely we will call a worse hand—maybe K-6 and K-4—and we will often call (or raise) with better. This super thin value bet by the button just doesn’t make much sense (unless they have reason to think we are a calling station).

Here are ways that we can exploit this player’s tendency to value bet too thinly:
Relentlessly attack their check-back range with over-bets for thinner-than-usual value, and add the appropriate amount of bluffs. We could also over-bluff in this case.

Delay value raises to a later street. This allows us to extract maximum value because it allows them to continue betting.

Call down slightly tighter than usual. This means our normal bluff-catching range will shrink, but also that the top part of our bluff-catching range will over-realize its equity.
Use smaller raise sizes. This works because we’ll be using a value-heavy range containing many thin value bets.

A player we love catching bluffs against

We all love to catch bluffs, but we should resist the impulse to bluff catch all the time. Here’s an example with an opponent who doesn’t quite understand this.

888 $0.5-$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.

Hero is on the BU with 9Heart Suit 8Heart Suit

UTG raises to $2.5, 2 folds. Hero calls. 2 folds.

Flop ($5.5): AClub Suit QHeart Suit 3Heart Suit

UTG bets $4. Hero calls

Turn ($13.50): 7Diamond Suit

UTG bets $9. Hero calls

River ($27.50): 5Spade Suit

UTG checks. Hero bets $23. UTG calls

UTG shows AHeart Suit QSpade Suit

In this case, A-Q is a clear value bet, so our opponent has obviously made a mistake. We can pretty safely assume this player is not comfortable betting for value and prefers to check-call once the pot gets large.

Here’s how to increase our EV against this bluff-catchy opponent:

Call down light against triple barrels when they are out of position (OOP). This adjustment works well against a range that’s heavily unbalanced toward bluffs.

Over-call against the turn continuation bet. This allows us to over-realize our equity when we bluff catch against his river betting range, and we’ll get to check back against his strong checking range.

Don’t bluff once he checks after barreling twice OOP. This would be playing right into his hands.

Tighten our value betting range and work in over-bets. Over-bets are handy in this spot because his range contains strong hands that will check-call a big bet, and will outnumber the possible nutted hands that he slow-plays (we don’t know if checks with A-A, Q-Q or 3-3 on the river).

Wrapping up

You should always pay close attention to your opponent’s tendencies, but also realize that even a single hand can be a good indicator of what those tendencies are. Follow the steps we’ve discussed today and I’m sure you’ll find making quick adjustments much easier. Good luck, grinders!

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