An integral part of profitable poker is playing the player, and we do this by exploiting every player tendency.
What are a player’s tendencies? These are repeated patterns of action they tend to do in similar situations. Maybe it’s a habit, something they’ve learned is valuable, or something they don’t know they do. But as an observant player, you’ve picked up on them.
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Maybe Bob rarely 3bets. You might notice this tendency because over the 1,000 hands you’ve played with him, he’s only 3bet once and he held AA at showdown. Or, you’ve noticed his 3bet statistic is just at 1%. No matter how you spot a player’s tendencies, it’s valuable information because now you have a way to exploit them.
To exploit tendencies, you make plays that take advantage of them. Against Bob, you can easily fold with 99% of hands when he 3bets to a large size. However, if he makes a small 3bet to 6bb, you can call with a wide range because if you get lucky on the flop and hit a value hand (better than his overpair), you can win Bob’s entire stack.
Every tendency can be exploited in many ways.
All you need to do is answer this question for every opponent, “What do they tend to do, and how can I exploit it?”
Let’s discover 12 exploits over 6 tendencies with this Smart HUD panel:
Figure: Villain 4 has the following tendencies: (1) Folds vs Steals 56%, BB Folds vs SB Steal 48%, (2) Raise/Folds to 3bets 0% and (3) 3bets 4%.
From Villain 4’s HUD: (1) Folds vs Steals 56%, BB Folds vs SB Steal 48%. “What do they tend to do, and how can I exploit it?”
Player Tendency #1: He defends his blinds almost half of the time.
Exploit #1: Expect a call, so steal with post-flop playable hands. He’s not folding often enough to justify stealing the pot with hands like 92o. So, choose big card hands, suited and connected hands and pairs. You want a decent chance of flopping something playable.
Exploit #2: Cbet bluff almost all flops. Figure ### shows that Villain has a tendency to fold post-flop. He folds versus flop and turn cbets at 68% and 63% respectively, and he folds on the river 63% as well. He’s a great cbet bluffing target who gives up when he misses the board.
Exploit #3: Open-raise with larger value sizes. If your opponent will defend with the same range versus a 2.5bb open or a 3.5bb open, make it larger with your premium hands. If he’s calling regardless of size, you’re getting more theoretical value with larger bets. I say “theoretical” because the hand isn’t over yet, there’s still post-flop play, but your best hands have a great chance of winning unimproved and earning a lot of his chips.
Let’s consider the opposite tendency of #1 from a different player. For example, maybe Fold to Steal is 80%.
Player Tendency #2: He does not defend the blinds often.
Exploit #4: Steal his blinds as often as possible with anything playable. If he gives up quickly, you’ve got an easy blind steal.
From Villain 4’s HUD: (2) Raise/Folds to 3bets 0%. “What do they tend to do, and how can I exploit it?”
Player Tendency #3: He hates folding versus 3bets after raising (folding 0%).
Exploit #5: 3bet BIG for value. He’s not folding, so if you hold QQ+, go big with your 3bets and expect a call.
Exploit #6: Only 3bet bluff from IP so you can cbet steal when he misses the flop. Your positional advantage will help your bluff cbets succeed. Choose hands that block the strongest hands like AX and AK that block him having AA, KK and AK. He doesn’t fold to 3bets, and that’s probably related to how infrequently he Raises First In (11%). Expect him to check-fold on the flop if he doesn’t hold TP or an overpair.
Let’s consider the opposite tendency of #3 from a different player. For example, maybe Raise/Fold to 3bet is 80%.
Player Tendency #4: He’s quick to fold versus 3bets after raising (folding 60%+).
Exploit #7: 3bet bluff as often as possible. He’s folding a lot, so you’re 3bet bluffing a lot. It helps to be IP, and it really helps when he’s raising first in with a 20% range or greater. Notice this with a positional RFI popup like the Smart HUD has (not shown).
From Villain 4’s HUD: (3) 3bets 4%. “What do they tend to do, and how can I exploit it?”
Player Tendency #5: He’s an honest 3bettor.
Exploit #8: Raising frequently and fold versus larger 3bets.
Exploit #9: Call his 3bets with suited connectors and pairs if he has ~100bb’s behind and if it’s a small 3bet. The goal is cracking his big pocket pair, so we want speculative hands that can hit something great. He’s made it super cheap to see the flop (maybe 6bb 3bet) and with lots of chips behind to win (high implied odds on our call), it’s worth calling with hands that are behind JJ+ and AK right now, but can crack them on a great flop.
Let’s consider the opposite tendency of #5 from a different player. For example, maybe 3bet is 10%.
Player Tendency #6: He’s capable of 3bet bluffing (>6% 3bet).
Exploit #10: Expect a 3bet, so narrow your range to defend more frequently. You know you’re going to fold 76s or A8o versus his 3bet, so don’t open with those. A narrower open-raising range allows you to defend with calls or 4bets more frequently, thereby exploiting his 3bet bluffing tendency.
Exploit #11: Open-raise to a larger size to discourage him from making more costly 3bet bluffs. He’ll just call or fold instead when you make it 3.5-4.5bb’s.
Exploit #12: 4bet re-bluff him by open-raising only with value hands or hands you’re willing to 4bet re-bluff with. Constrict your open-raising range to only value 4betting hands and hands you’re willing to 4bet re-bluff with like suited Aces or mid-pairs. These can be 4bets to ~25bb’s or re-shoves, it’s up to you in the moment based on your opponent and your hand.
Every tendency can be exploited in many ways.
It’s your job to notice the tendencies and figure out how to exploit them. Use this question, “What do they tend to do, and how can I exploit it?”
Once you know how to exploit their tendencies, you MUST pull the trigger when the time is right.
If you know how to exploit Bob, but you never do it, you’re not actively using your knowledge to “play the player”. You won’t be earning the value nor the bluffed pots that you could be earning, thereby limiting your poker success.
Play with Purpose
Play your next 4 sessions the same way:
Just 1 table.
Start with the player on your left. On a piece of paper, write their name and 2 tendencies with 1 exploit per tendency.
Go to the next player on your left. Do the same, write 2 tendencies with 1 exploit each.
Proceed around the table until you’ve written 2 tendencies with 1 exploit each.
Pull the trigger on your written exploits at every opportunity. Tag each exploiting hand with an “Exploit” tag (Action ###) to review your exploits made.
Study with Purpose
Over your next 4 study sessions, choose one specific player each day to analyze. Preferably, choose players you often face.
Ask the question, “What do they tend to do, and how can I exploit it?”
In your poker journal, make a list of 10 or more exploits on each player you analyze. By the end of the 4 study sessions, you’ll have at least 40 exploits you know you can use against these players and anyone else with matching tendencies.
Use this list of exploits as your pre-session warm-ups to prepare yourself for maximal exploits!