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Exploiting Extremely Loose-Passive Games

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Aug 14, 2019

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Games full of calling stations are very profitable, but extremely frustrating. Your hourly win-rate should be very high, but you’ll take some horrible beats along the way.

Pots are often huge because so many people chase foolishly. There are few raises, hardly any three-bets, and there may never be a four-bet. Most hands go to showdown, and several players may still be involved.

Why Do Calling Stations Play So Badly?

Many people ask that question, but can’t accept my “irrational” answer: Their style satisfies calling stations’ emotional needs. They care much less about winning than about having fun and relating comfortably to other players.

Make Two Adjustments

To get the best results and preserve your own equilibrium, adjust both your strategy, and your attitude. My recommendations relate primarily to low-limit games, but some also apply to small no-limit games.

Attitude Adjustments

Accept that bad beats are inevitable. Many players can’t accept that fact. They complain bitterly about “idiots” and ignore the obvious fact that calling stations’ stupid mistakes greatly increase their EV. If you adjust well, their mistakes will certainly increase your long-term profits.

If you can’t accept that reality, avoid these games. You’ll be miserable, and your misery may put you on tilt and cost you more than you can afford to lose.

Suppress your natural desire to criticize “those idiots.” After your aces get cracked by a two-outer, you may want to tell the winner how stupid he is. Don’t do it!

Calling stations crave pleasant relationships and take criticisms personally. They don’t mind losing money, but regard criticisms as personal rejections. They may then play better or quit, and you shouldn’t want them to do either one.

Strategic Adjustments

The strategic advice you’ve read is mainly counter-productive. Most poker authorities teach you how good players beat other good players. But calling stations are terrible players, and you must adjust to that fact. Instead of unthinkingly applying irrelevant principles, accept and adjust to reality.

Big cards and big pairs will lose much more often than usual. For example, pocket aces will win about 80 percent of the time heads up, but only about 30 percent of the pots against nine opponents. Of course, the pots will be much larger, but you’ll get frustrated much more often. A common complaint begins, “I had pocket aces, but an idiot …”

Drawing hands should be played MUCH more frequently. You’ve often read, “Don’t play small pairs and small suited connectors in early position.” That’s good advice for most games, but not extremely loose-passive ones. In these games you’ll rarely get raised, and you’ll get enough pot and implied odds to make them profitable.

Play more hands than you would against better players. It just expands the previous point. If you’re too tight, you’ll miss profitable opportunities. Since many players will limp, and raises are rare, you’ll get the odds to see the flop profitably with hands you should normally fold.

You have to show down the best hand to win. Most hands will go to showdown.

You usually need a better hand to win. It’s very simple math. The more opponents you face, the better hand you need to win. Many more straights, flushes, and full houses will be made. You won’t win very often with a pair of aces, or aces up, and even a set of aces will occasionally get beaten.

Don’t automatically raise with A-K or A-Q. They’re probably the hands that are misplayed most often.

Much of their value comes from fold equity, and you don’t have much of it.

You’ll miss most flops. If you raised preflop, you may be tempted to continuation bet, a nearly hopeless move against a large field. If you don’t raise, it’s easy to check.
When you hit the flop, you’ll usually make just top pair, big kicker, an extremely vulnerable hand against a large field.

Because your raise made the pot quite large, chasing, which is the calling stations’ biggest mistake, becomes correct or almost correct. For example, if eight players call your raise, the pot is eighteen small bets (minus the drop). They have the pot and implied odds to call with extremely weak hands, even pocket deuces.

If you raise and hit the flop, most calling stations will, “check to the raiser.” Because the pot is so large, your small bet won’t force out many players. If you don’t raise and hit the flop, someone may bet into you, letting you raise. Since the pot is much smaller, and players behind you would have to cold-call two bets, you’ll often force out some or all of them, greatly increasing your equity. Even if nobody bets, your bet may force out some players because the pot is smaller.

Play draws very aggressively on the flop. With a flush or open-ended straight draw, generally bet, raise, or check-raise. You will usually get enough callers to make those moves +EV.

If you have position, you’ll often get a free turn card. You may even get one if you check-raise out of position because they’re afraid you’ll check-raise again. If you make your hand, your raise increases your chances of being called. Because calling stations don’t play draws aggressively, they will doubt you had a draw and pay you off.

Minimize bluffing. Somebody will almost always call you.

Minimize “moves.” Calling stations are so oblivious that fancy plays go right over their heads.

Minimize check-raises. If you check, everybody may check behind you. You have to bet your own cards because calling stations won’t bet them for you.

Don’t slow-play most good hands. Slow-playing runs the same risks as trying check-raises. If you’ve got a good hand, bet or raise with it. Otherwise, you’ll lose money on this round and increase the odds that someone will draw out. Of course, you should sometimes slow-play a monster like quads.

Don’t automatically three-bet with pocket aces. You may have reluctantly accepted my earlier recommendations, but this one seems heretical. Shouldn’t you always three-bet with pocket aces?

No, you should occasionally just call. More generally, you shouldn’t always do anything. Poker’s most important strategic principle is: The correct decision depends on the situation.

Don’t three-bet with aces if you’ll make the pot too large. When a friend heard that, he said, “You’re crazy. When I’ve got aces, I want the biggest possible pot.” But he whined bitterly when his aces got cracked because he didn’t realize that the “the idiot” who called on the flop made the right decision.

Here’s the hand that enraged him. He was the big blind, two players limped, someone raised, and the small blind called. He three-bet and everyone called, making the pot fifteen small bets (minus the drop).

He bet the flop, one player called, and someone with pocket fours overcalled. The turn was a four, and he raised. My friend called the raise and the river bet. He whined about the “idiot” and angrily disagreed when I said his three-bet was a mistake.

The Bottom Line

If you don’t adjust your attitude and strategy, you’ll be severely frustrated. If you make the right adjustments, these frustrating games will become gold mines. ♠

Alan SchoonmakerDr. Al” (alan_schoonmaker@yahoo.com) coaches only on psychology issues. For information about seminars and webinars, go to propokerseminars.com. He is David Sklansky’s co-author of DUCY? and the sole author of four poker psychology books. Please visit my website, Dr-Al-Schoonmaker.net. You can check out many articles, blogs, videos, and books. Please visit my website, AlanSchoonmaker.com and get a free book. Visit www.alanschoonmaker.com for access to his 14 books, 200+ articles, videos and podcasts.