Exploiting Your Strengths (by: I vi ii V7)

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You hear and read all the time about exploiting your opponents’ weaknesses, and you should be looking to do that at all times. However, something I have come to realize is that I am naturally better at certain things in poker and naturally worse at others. In a perfect world, I could exploit my opponents’ weaknesses in all situations. But let’s face it:

Most people are not great at every aspect of poker.

I don’t know, maybe you actually are. But for me, I had to admit to myself that most of my profit comes from very specific situations. So in conjunction with one of my October goals, I made a list of all my strengths and weaknesses and am really trying hard to make a conscious effort to get myself into situations that exploit my strengths. Just for an example, I am not very good at playing in 3-bet pots out of position. Regardless if it is “+EV” or not, why would I put myself in a situation where I set myself up to fail? Sure, I might be trading a +EV action for a 0EV action, but consider that there are many +EV situations in poker; you aren’t obligated to take every single one of them.

Just to give you an idea of what I came up with as some of my strengths and how I intend to exploit them:

Value betting: Pretty straight-forward. It’s something I’ve been working on over the months and I feel I am decent at it. This tells me I should see more flops and not try and play “flop police” every time I have position and am facing an MP open raise. I should look to play a “small ball” strategy and keep preflop pots smaller, thus setting up smaller c-bets. I should 3-bet a tighter range, especially when OOP.

Hand reading: I’ve developed this skill pretty well, IMO, and it really goes hand in hand with value betting. To exploit this, I can flat more hands in position against regs (lots of suited connectors, suited aces, KQ type hands, small pairs) and use position and board texture as a way to steal pots when I completely miss or don’t flop a set or only flop a draw but don’t improve on the turn. I should also be looking for spots to double barrel when I think people are weak. But mostly, I should be playing the bulk of my hands in position (LDO) because hand reading gets way easier in position.

An example of a weakness I will look to avoid:

Playing 3-bet pots without a pair against unknowns: I hate the feeling when they call my 3-bet, flop comes Qxx and they check call or flat call my standard 1/2 PSB. Hey man, I’m repping QQ+, wtf are you doing calling??? And I don’t know if they have AQ/KQ, an underpair that decided to float because I “obviously have AK”, AK that decided to float because AK is teh nutz, second pair, a set, a draw, etc etc. They are unknown, what’s their range for calling? Who knows! I suck in theses situations for a few reasons. One, I’m bloating the pot with nothing. Two, I can’t really assign them a logical range because they’re unknowns, so I pretty much have to give up the pot after putting in a decent amount. Three, I feel obligated to c-bet pretty much every flop when I 3-bet, for fear of giving my hand away as an obvious AK if I check. So IMO, I should be more willing to flat in position against unknown opens, call or fold OOP, where I can make better use of my strengths (remember…getting value and hand reading?) Yeah yeah….playing AK OOP w/o initiative sucks. So does value-towning yourself against unknowns and building a pot when you don’t know where you stand. Of course this is totally situationally dependent (stack sizes, who’s in the pot, etc etc etc). And I’m only talking about facing unknowns. Against players you have statz and reeedz on, it’s a whole different ball game. What I can do in the meantime is work on assigning a base range to an unknown based on factors like position, stack size, mutitabling or not, etc etc, or choose not to play AK OOP for a 3b vs an unknown.

So in conclusion…What I’m really trying to say is this:

1) There are many +EV situations in poker
2) You probably aren’t great at every single situation that comes up
3) You aren’t obligated to take every +EV situation that arises
4) If you aren’t good at playing a theoretically +EV situation, it might not actually be +EV for you, and 0EV is better than -EV.
5) In light of all this, always be working to improve and not just avoid situations you are weak in

For me, this makes sense. We play poker to take advantage of our opponents’ weaknesses. But how about putting ourselves in situations that take advantage of our own strengths? It seems to me that if I frequently get into spots I am familiar with and can maximize my profits in, and avoid situations I don’t know how to handle and will probably just be spewing, I will be way farther ahead, even if that means trading a theoretically +EV action (raising or calling) for a 0EV action (folding). And it’s certainly true that we should always be working on situations that we are weak at. I’m just pointing out that you can and should be deliberately putting yourself in situations that best take advantage of your strengths.

I’d like to reference this classic thread on avoiding difficult decisions, by Grunch. His context was a little different, but I think this concept of “avoiding difficult decisions” goes beyond betting patterns. Getting into situations you are less familiar with and are not taking advantage of your own strengths is getting you to make difficult decisions, IMO.

As an interesting aside, you should note too that in the same way a +EV move (raising with AK OOP) may not be +EV for you if you don’t know how to play that specific situation, a move might be technically –EV and at the same time +EV if you know you can outplay your opponent. What Poker Stove does is calculates hand EV. It doesn’t calculate the probability you will out play or get out played. Poker is a game of situations, not cards. Raising because “I have a good hand” is a narrow view of the game. Raising because “I have a good hand, and this guy is weak postflop, so I can probably win without a showdown” is getting yourself in the right direction.

Thoughts/comments can be PMed to I vi ii V7 on the 2+2 forums, or my email, jaronpaige@gmail.com

– I vi ii V7

SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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