Swimming with the fishes

Swimming with the fishes

Friday, 1 November 2013

Ben Jackson on exploiting weakness.

In general, the majority of the poker population will play fairly similarly and have the same kind of tendencies against most of their opponents in all types of situations. But, after having played with certain players for a while, you should be starting to work out their general philosophies and possible leaks which are there for you to exploit.

The easiest type of fish to play against is the calling-station. These are the type of players who love to press the call button and seem to have broken the fold and raise button. A big mistake I see people making against these players is to try to outplay or bluff them in order to (I guess) boost their egos. This, from a money-making point of view, is very stupid and the total opposite of what you should be doing. They are called stations because they call you, so doing anything but value-betting them continuously is not very optimal. Stations are so easy to play against as they put you under no pressure (unless they have the nuts) and call you with a super-wide range, which then enables you to open up your value betting range and maximise profits.

An example of this is a hand I played in a $2/$4 game online. I am 250bb deep ($1k) and on the button with K-Q of spades. UTG (200bb deep) opens to $12 and the fish (150bb) flats on the cut-off. I decide to three-bet to $44 with the plan that UTG will fold and the fish will flat. This is exactly what happens and I now get into a nice pot in position with the fish.

There is now $106 in the pot and the flop comes Q-8-5 with two hearts. The fish checks and I value-bet $58 happily, expecting the fish to call with lots of different hands, such as any one pair, any gutshot and sometimes random ace- or king-highs.

The fish flats and the turn comes an offsuit six. There is now $222 in the pot. The fish, who has just under $500 remaining, checks. Whereas against a reg the six would be a super-safe card as it wouldn’t hit his range very often, it is more likely to give a fish more equity versus my range of hands. I am happy, though, that the fish will still just call me down with any one pair. If he check-raises, I guess I’ll just have to fold as he would never be bluffing or semi-bluffing, and never raising worse for value. I decide to bet $168, which, if flatted, would leave the fish $330, with approximately $560 in the pot.

He does flat and the river comes an off-suit two, and again he checks to me. This is a very good river card as the fish now misses a lot of the draws he might have been calling me with, and I only really lose to a random two-pair. Against a good reg I would be inclined to check back here as he would have a much stronger range and would be beating me some of the time, and if he were behind he would most likely fold as he wouldn’t be expecting to face a bluff unless there had been a lot of history between us. But because the fish has such a wide calling-range on all streets, including pre-flop, he can have anything from A-5 upwards. This makes it a must-value-bet as I will still get called by a lot of his hands. There will also be some weaker hands that he will now fold but I think the majority of the time, with so much in the pot and with what he has remaining, he will talk himself into calling me. I move all-in and the fish tanks for a while before calling me with 8-9o.

The fish’s presence in this pot changes the whole complexion of the hand from pre-flop up to the river. For example, if a reg were to open and flat, I would also be more inclined to flat, but because the station-fish has flatted, he is rarely going to fold to my three-bet. He will then always play badly post-flop, so bloating the pot with hand like K-Q is ideal because I have lots of hands crushed. A reg is rarely going to call a three-bet OOP with a hand that I have crushed. The fish’s wide pre-flop calling range allows me to exploit him post-flop and get lots of $ with one-pair hands that wouldn’t be possible versus a reg.

Then, of course, you have “the psycho-fish”. These players love to apply maximum pressure on their opponents when shown any weakness, without any thought or strategy behind what they do. They are a lot harder and more confusing to play against because they will play super-fast at all times with most of their holdings. This means that there is often some guess work involved, and that can be fairly high variance in some spots, but in the long term they will always lose large amounts, and when they run bad they will lose a lot more, and more quickly, than any other type of player.

Against these players you must have a plan. I see so many people calling flop and turn then sitting there on the river facing an all-in not knowing what to do. This to me is pretty silly because as soon as you face a flop bet you should know that a turn and river bet aren’t far behind. I tend to find that psycho-fish (as crazy as they are) don’t really like being shown aggression and will often shy away from big pots when they’re not the aggressor. The obvious way to combat the psycho-fish is to pile on the pressure when you don’t have it and act weak when you do so they pile the pressure on you.

An example is in a recent online £5/£10 game. I have a stack off 150bb ($1,500) and I’m UTG with pocket sevens. I raise to $30 and it’s folded to the fish in the small blind with 90bbs ($900). He calls and the big blind folds.
With $70 in the pot, the flop comes Q-7-6 rainbow and the fish checks. I decide to check back because A) I don’t feel he will be likely to indulge in any check-calling against me, and B) I am pretty sure that any show of weakness will inspire him to go mental on the turn and river. Against a reg I would simply go bet, bet, bet on all streets. That looks way more bluffy. To regs checking back the flop and going mental on the turn and river would reek of value.

The turn pairs the six and the fish bets the pot of $70. Because of the plan I formulated on the flop, I can only call to expect a large river bet on the river, whether he has a value hand or not. So I call and the river comes a jack. There is now $210 in the pot and the fish has $760 left. He decides to bet $185, leaving himself $475. Obviously I go all in and he snap-folds, which means he has total air and would have likely folded to my flop bet.

Thus, by understanding my opponent, I managed to exploit his tendencies, in this situation making myself an extra 25 big blinds.

Very good players will have fewer leaks and will balance their ranges well which means it will take more in-depth hands to work them out. But when playing against a fish, it shouldn’t take too long to figure out how they are exploitable as they are mainly just playing their cards, rather than thinking about whether they have exploitable tendencies or not.

Tags: Ben Jackson, strategy