In the mind of the professional, there is a fluid default strategy, which transforms and adapts to the needs of every board texture, bet size and river card. However, the successful poker player does not rely solely on this superior understanding of the technical aspects of the game. It is also crucial to be highly vigilant as to how your opponents' games are different from this solid default approach. Every difference between an opponent's play and the strategy that the professional would use constitutes a weakness in that opponent's game. These weaknesses can be exploited over time, but first they must be categorized and the perpetrator labeled as a player likely to commit the same type of error in future. How to carry out this labeling process in the most efficient way is our focus for today.
We begin with an extremely vague description of our center point, which will serve as a sketch of a solid strategy in any form No Limit Holdem. The solid player who suffers from none of the imbalances that we will soon be discussing can be outlined as follows:
• The solid player attacks blinds enough, 3-bets a lot and with a mixture of stronger and weaker hands, and generally enters the pot for a raise and not a call, unless implied odds happen to be very favourable and fold equity plus hand strength is fairly low.
• The solid player continuation bets a lot on flops that favour his range. He does not get out of line by firing too many low equity hands on less favourable flops and check/calls the flop sometimes to balance any check/folds.
• The solid player folds to a balanced 3-bet around half of the time or slightly more. He 4-bet bluffs sometimes with hands he does not want to call and flats 3-bets with some hands that are strong and flexible, but not good enough to build a huge pot with pre-flop.
• The solid player defends his blinds enough to negate hyper-active stealing strategies from his opponents, but not so much that their value hands start to perform too well.
• The solid player will have some bluffing range on the turn and river on almost all run-outs against anyone who is not prone to calling down too wide. These bluffs will be suitable hands in terms of blockers and a lack of showdown value and will be balanced with value hands.
Now that we have a better idea of what solid play looks like, let's investigate the weaker players we might encounter and explore a colour coding system to separate them into boxes, depending on the types of mistake they are likely to commit. These mistakes are simply uncalled for deviations from the above strategy. The following colors can be reassigned to player types to suit the reader's tastes. This color coding system is simply my personal choice.
: Is the color of the unknown or solid Reg (Regular). This player is assumed to have no leaks other than those generally shared by the Reg population at the relevant stake. For example, 10NL Regs tend to fold their blinds too much, overreact to aggression or not react at all, c-bet too much, fold to c-bets too much and not bluff often enough on the turn or river. If you are playing 500NL Zoom, then these leaks will usually not exist in a yellow labeled opponent. There are no recommended adjustments here other than those the reader deems suitable for the game in question.
: Is the colour of the Semi-Nit. This is a player who is not too far from qualifying as a Reg, but is too tight to have much chance of success in all but the softest of games. A light-green opponent folds his blinds more often than he should; perhaps a good 60-70% of the time in the big blind vs. a small blind open. This player might be active enough in terms of aggression and can have a healthy steal frequency and might even c-bet too much. One thing that is certain is that this player type hates the call button and prefers to fold marginal hands in the face of aggression. In particular, this opponent hates calling 3-bets. As an effective exploitative adjustment, we should steal a wider range, 3-bet bluff more, c-bet wider, and apply more pressure, in general. If this opponent attacks in the later streets or raises one of our bets post-flop, we should look to fold more of our range than might be optimal against a well-rounded opponent.
: Is the colour of the Nit. This player is far more incompetent than the Semi-Nit and recklessly folds so many hands that he is eventually wiped out by the tax of poker – the blinds. This opponent grossly under-defends his blind and plays in a very fit or fold manner in most situations. Be very wary of the Nit's bets and especially of his raises. Post-flop there is often less scope for bluffing than against the Semi-Nit. If this opponent is in the pot to begin with, he will often have too strong of a hand to consider folding. If you had waited 600 hands to play a hand, would you be in the mood to make a big lay-down? We should relentlessly take blinds and small pots from this opponent and fold the vast majority of our range to his 3-bets, 4-bets and post-flop aggression. We will slowly bleed this opponent dry. His constant donation of chips in our direction is a luxury we should take full advantage of. We prefer this player to be on our left as he will underuse a positional advantage and provide us with a trickle of blinds when we find ourselves in the steal positions.
: Is the colour of the Short-Stacker. This opponent intentionally plays with less money in his stack in order to manipulate the stacks sizes and stack to pot ratio. This might be to his advantage as players used to playing with 100BB stacks often make stack-sized based mistakes. The short-stacker is far less likely to call and much more inclined to play a raise or fold game in many spots. We should be aware of stack sizes where this opponent can jam all-in and cause us headaches. It is prudent in such situations to keep sizing down wherever we have a bet/fold or raise/fold range as the frequency with which we are raised becomes much higher than with the normal Reg. We must be very careful to only tag opponents as short-stackersif we have deemed them competent, and who are making good use of the shorter stack. Many recreational players will unintentionally not reload their stack in a cash game and these must be treated in a completely different way. They are short due to lack of knowledge and are not harmonizing their stack-size with a specialized strategy.
: Is the colour of the Tight-Passive. This player is a more tame variety of the Semi-Nit. He may play a similar amount of hands, but is likely to do so in a placid way. Unlike the Semi-Nit, this opponent loves both the call and fold buttons and is terrified of any option that involves betting or raising. We should steal very wide against this player and expect to build up a lot of pots that we can win later on with aggression. This opponent is prone to calling the first street or two and then folding later in the hand. We should bluff frequently vs. this opponent, but be incredibly careful as soon he presses any button that does not start with an F or a C.
: Is the colour of the Loose-Passive Rec. Rec stands for recreational and is not to be confused with Reg. This is one of the most lucrative players to have at your table. He is obsessed with limping, calling raises and taking a peek at every flop that he possibly can. It is imperative that we isolate his limps, c-bet a lot of flops to capitalise on fold equity when he misses with some junk holding, and generally stick to a more value heavy betting range on the later streets. This opponent is likely to call a lot pre-flop and fold when the flop is unfavourable, but can be very sticky later on in a hand. Do not try to make this player fold any kind of semi-decent hand. Fold equity drops considerably from the turn onwards. We want this player to our right so that we can punish his passive play and trap his dead money in the pot.
: Is the colour of the Loose-Aggressive Rec. This is an opponent who throws money around with little regard for where it lands. He dislikes folding with a passion and is prone to betting and raising with very weak bluff-filled ranges. In fact, if this guy does start checking in a spot where we expect him to often bet, it can be indicative of him actually having a hand for once. The key here is patience and restraint. While it may be tempting to fight fire with fire, getting out of line against this player multiplies variance exponentially and is not the best long-term way to gain an edge. Simply wait for stronger hands and let this player do the betting and raising. Isolate and then trap this opponent and don't be too quick to raise him out of pots unless the board is wet and dangerous for your hand. 3-bet for value, c-bet for value, call for value, and be prepared to fold and wait for a better spot wherever calling or raising seems unclear.
: Is the colour of the Overly Aggressive Reg. This player is semi-competent like the Semi-Nit but veers in the opposite direction of being too eager to win pots. This opponent will go to highly aggressive lengths to apply pressure to his opponents. It is very important that we refrain from opening, c-betting or 3-betting any range that we cannot defend quite frequently to a raise from the Overly Aggressive Reg. Again, it can be a very valid strategy to do more checking and calling than we normally might. It is not sensible to raise strong hands post-flop vs. this player unless the board is wet. He is likely to do the betting for us and so we should ensure that there are some stronger hands in our checking and calling ranges. Pre-flop, we must be extremely careful not to steal his blind more than is defensible to a 3-bet. It is okay to fold around half of the time to a 3-bet, but if this number creeps up to 60 or 70%, then we are likely to get exploited by this player-type.
: Is the colour of the Good Reg. This is the only player who causes us to revert to the original solid game-plan. As this opponent is both balanced and capable of being unbalanced to exploit weaknesses, there is no inherent reason to step out of our solid foundational game unless we detect a weakness to attack. We keep our frequencies for value betting and bluffing balanced and make sure that we offer no strategic weaknesses of our own.
Fortunately, the Good Reg is a rare breed of opponent.
There is usually an opportunity to deviate from the solid game plan and be unbalanced in some way in order to exploit an opponent's weaknesses. We just need to be observant enough to detect which side of the colour wheel our unbalanced opponents fall into. Good exploitative play is all about first making this identification and then using the appropriate counter strategies to reap the maximum reward.