That’s right, what are you waiting for?  Start outplaying your opponents!

When we hear this term used, the first thing that tends to come to mind is usually a fancy bluff to take a pot away from an opponent.  Not your run of the mill bluff, I’m talking the elaborate check-raise shove on the river or preflop 6-bet with air.  The truth of the matter though is that those types of plays are extremely rarely called for  and in cases of FPS (Fancy Play Syndrome), usually misguided or ill timed.

So what am I talking about then?  Good news, it’s much simpler than that.  The truth is we make money (EV) from our opponent’s mistakes.  We are profitable on a long term basis if we make fewer mistakes than they do, and smaller mistakes than they do.  The elaborately designed bluff and FPS lines you see top pros make are designed to create misreads and induce mistakes from other pros.  It’s necessary when playing against strong competition to have a little bit of this in the mix, to make yourself harder to read/play against, and because strong competition doesn’t make too many mistakes otherwise.

But the reality of your micro and low stakes games is that it’s just not necessary, and in these types of plays one can often end up shooting one’s self in the foot.   Remember what those lines are designed to do… induce mistakes in players who otherwise wouldn’t make many.  Well let’s be honest.  At the micro and low stakes games, the vast majority of your opponents don’t need the help… they already make plenty of mistakes.  The key to success at these levels is being able to identify the types of mistakes a villain is making, and understand how to adjust your strategy to exploit them once you do (and often the adjustments are much more of an ABC nature than you might suspect). 

So with that being said, here are some general tips for how to outplay your average Joe opponents:

1.  Play in position.  Acting last is a bigger advantage than some realize.  In a game of incomplete information, knowledge is power, and if our opponent has to act first we get to act with the benefit of having seen their action, while they must choose that action without knowing yet what we may do.  This helps us win more with our big hands (we can bet when they check, and raise when they bet… and no failed check-raises to prevent money from going into the pot), lose less with our worse hands, manipulate the pot size and opponents easier, take free cards when desired, etc. 

2.  Play better hands.  This one sort of has multiple layers.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking this means to wait for AK or big pairs, that’s not what I’m saying here.  If you’re playing 300 big blinds deep, a hand like 97s might be preferable to KK as it has good post flop playability and can make some strong “big pot” hands like straights and flushes, where KK will usually end up being 1 pair, not a hand strength that I want to play a 600bb pot with as anyone sane who wants to get that much in the middle will have 1 pair beat.   But the simple fact here is that many of our opponents simply play too many, too weak hands.  While 97s might be a nice, playable hand on deep stacks, J7o is not… it just has much worse post flop playability.  And yet villains will be turning over garbage like this and much worse all the time.  Just entering the pot with better starting hands on average gives you a big edge.  When the stacks are shallow, that means hands that tend to make strong 1 pairs, and when the stacks are deeper, speculation hands that have good post flop playability come into the mix.

3.  Value bet more.   Betting for value means that you think you WILL get called by worse hands.   The key thing to focus on here is what range of hands they are holding, and will they call with more worse hands than better ones.   While learning to do this well takes some time and experience, I see otherwise ok players miss value over and over again in some common spots.   Here’s an example:  A loose-passive player limps in and you raise in position with QQ, and they call.  The flop comes  J63, they check, you bet, and they call.  The turn is another 3.  They check, you bet, they call.  The river is a K and they check again.  This is a situation that calls for another value bet, and it’s not even close.  Yet I see players miss this last street of value routinely because they’re unnecessarily scared of the overcard to their Q’s that just hit.  Could this king have improved our opponent?  Sure, it’s possible they have KJ or K6.  But they’re more likely to have that J7o (or some other jack) and they are going to pay you off with it, that’s what loose-passive fish do.  Not betting this river spot leaves money on the table.

4. Don’t pay off.   Sure it sucks when you’re premium pair gets check-raised by a normally passive player.  It’s ok to fold here though, honestly.  When a passive player takes a strong aggressive post flop action, chances are really good they’ve got it, and your 1 pair hand is no good.  Now when the money is shallow, the stack to pot ratio is low (lots of money in the preflop pot relative to the remaining stacks), then our chips are going in and it’s fine.  But on deeper stacks in a single raised pot (so the SPR is high) when players want to put a lot of money in the pot quickly (with strong aggressive actions) you’re in bad shape more often than you think unless the opponent is always over-aggressive (in that case their aggressive actions carry less weight).  Remember the loose passive fish has been calling along all day trying to catch lightening in a bottle, trying to hit a big hand, and you’ve been clicking their ticket into value town all day with the first 3 points above.  Obviously though sometimes they get there.  That’s a fantastic thing that they do, it’s what keeps them putting in money bad over and over again, the thrill of sometimes getting there.  But it’s ok for us not to pay them off when they do … don’t worry, the other bad players will pay them off enough for us that they won’t even notice.

There’s more that could be added to this list of course, but this should be enough to refocus you on the task at hand.  So when I say start outplaying them, I mean it!  What are you waiting for?  Against weaker competition outplaying them is really as easy as A-B-C.