Picking Off the Pros: Tips vs. Tough Opponents
I've written a number of articles addressing home games and other similar settings with weak poker opponents. Many of the tactics I've suggested were quite simple and geared to take advantage of their poor play.
However, as you move up in stakes, and even at the lower stakes games sometimes, you will be up against better players — sometimes players who either make their living at poker or who fancy themselves as professional players. Against these guys and gals you need a different bag of tricks if you want to win. Here are two out of that bag.
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
Strong, aggressive players have usually learned to change their ranges depending on their position. Hence, raises from late position will often include many weaker hands, if not pure bluffs. Meanwhile, if you have cultivated a relatively tight and seemingly unimaginative image at the table, your best opponents will notice and will be more likely to take your aggression seriously.
You can exploit these two factors — their broader range and your image as a tight, seemingly unimaginative player — and resteal pots from them with your aggression. You float their late-position raise and then, depending on your position, reraise or check-raise their continuation bet on the flop. Here are two examples.
You are in a $1/$2 game on the button with , a hand you would normally discard. You have been folding nearly all of your starting hands. Tony, a regular who fancies himself a professional and who is known for being a winning loose-aggressive player, is seated conveniently two seats to your right. A couple of guys call the big blind and Tony raises to $15. You and the big blind also call.
The flop comes and the big blind checks. Tony bets $30. He might have a hand. Maybe he started with or . But his range could also include dozens of other hands that the flop would have missed. With the expanded range of hands resulting from his general style of play and his position, the odds of him missing are clearly on your side. (Poker is a game of probability, not certainty.) It folds to you and you raise to $75. Expect to take down the pot.
This play can work from early position as well. Imagine the same hand as above, only this time Tony is on the button and you are two to his right (in the hijack seat). The hand progresses similarly with a few players calling before you act. In this situation you also call with your lowly , and Tony raises to $15 on the button. This big blind calls as do you. The flop is once again . The big blind checks, you check and Tony bets $30. The big blind folds and you check-raise to $75 — with the same expected result.
Professional and semi-professional players generally have a low regard for other low stakes players. This creates a flaw in their game of which you can take advantage. They tend to underestimate you, the unknown low stakes opponent, and thus remain consistently aggressive in the face of your passivity. This is exploitable. Use poker jujitsu on them. Let the strength of their aggression get them into trouble. Let me give you an example of that.
You are in the 7 seat in a $2/$5 game, with a very strong player in the 5 seat. He raises to $15, and the player in between the two of you folds. You look down at . Don't reraise. With position, you just call. One of the blinds also calls and the flop comes .
The player in the blinds checks, and the preflop raiser bets $50. Don't raise with your overpair. Just call once more. The early position player folds. It's heads-up to the turn, and you each have fairly deep stacks of $500 or so. The turn pairs the deuce, making the board . Your opponent now bets $120. Again, don't raise, just call.
On the river, expect either a modest bet that you can call, or a check after which you can make a value bet or (depending on the river card) just check behind. Any way you slice it, you stand to win money off of your opponent who will usually be overplaying his hand, thinking you are weak or on a draw with all of that calling and not expecting you to hold a premium pair.
Being a strong player, he will tend not to give you credit for the hand you actually had since you played it so unconventionally. You will have used his strength against him, winning much more than if you played it in a straightforward way and reraised him from the get-go.
Both of these moves have some risks. You might have the misfortune of making them when your solid opponent actually runs into a great hand. You must also remember not to overuse them just because you can. If your image isn't one of being a tight and conventional player, or if you incorrectly assess your opponent as a loose-aggressive player when he's really a rock, then you could just be getting yourself into serious trouble.
But used selectively and timed correctly, these moves can allow you to make money from the toughest players in the game.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold'em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.