How do we adjust if villain starts to realize that we are adjusting our play to exploit their frequencies?
After all, thinking players are going to notice us amping up the aggression. Even less experienced players will start to notice us 3-betting them and putting maximum pressure on them, and will have a tendency to play back at us.
In this week’s episode, James “SplitSuit” Sweeney discusses the ways we can adjust to our opponents’ adjustments, and stay one step ahead of the competition with exploitative poker.
How they Fight Back
SplitSuit looks at this topic through a common lens: We are 3-betting too frequently. This is a common adjustment hero will make to exploit tight, passive play that’s common at low stakes.
SplitSuit says there are three major ways villain will adjust to this move:
1. They will open raise less often (ostensibly to avoid our 3-bet). This creates a situation in which their range becomes stronger when we 3-bet them.
2. They call our 3-bet more often.
3. They 4-bet more often pre-flop.
Of course, there will be weaker players out there that don’t make these adjustments, but that’s not what we’re worried about. Players that adjust to our play are thinking players that we have to have a plan to deal with.
They Open Raise Less
SplitSuit says that when another player adjust to your frequent 3-bets by open raising less, you have received some valuable feedback that your strategy is working.
Getting this feedback means you’ve largely removed the player from the table, and marginalized any strategies they can hope to deploy against your aggression. This is one of the signs you are becoming table captain.
This is most likely to happen with players on the weaker end of the spectrum, who might be fine playing aggressively themselves, but hate dealing with aggression targeted at them. We assume the player is also toward the looser side because they have the room to tighten up versus you. A nitty player is already open raising with such rarity, there’s not as much room to make an adjustment.
Many players ask us how to fight aggressive players, and this is the reason we often advocate fighting fire with fire. Just because a player is aggressive doesn’t mean they feel comfortable dealing with aggression. You will often find your 3-bets cause them to curl up their tails and play more timidly versus you.
It’s important to realize that you don’t want to be the player that open raises less vs. someone else who is 3-betting you light. Don’t be the one who gets neutralized in this way.
They Call More Often
A player that 4-bets our 3-bet is not nearly as vulnerable as the player who starts calling us more frequently. That’s because by the time they 4-bet, our decision is usually simply to fold or shove. By the time they’ve 4-bet, they’ve usually made up their mind as to if they want to play for stacks.
Assuming we’re not talking about super-deep or super-shallow stacks, in a 3-bet pot, if we 3-bet and they call, often times it’s going to be between a 3-6 SPR pot. This can find us (and them) in trickier, more awkward spots.
Should we then adjust by 3-betting only the nuts? SplitSuit says no and encourages you to think a step ahead. If they are calling 3-bets more often, what are they calling with? This is where hand reading comes in. You can clearly see that they’re going to continue to 4-bet with the best of their range and are capped. But more importantly, they’re probably just extending the floor of their normal 3-bet calling range, adding in worse Ace-X hands, worse broadway combos, and worse pocket pairs. They’re calling with a lot more marginal hands.
Sure, they might flat us sometimes with monsters to trap us, but for the most part, they’re calling with worse hands and missing all the time. Don’t panic just because they don’t fold as often pre-flop. If you can outplay them post-flop, they are going to be in a weaker position overall to fight back vs. your superior skills.
Remember that weaker players often view aggression through the lens of ego. They are going to want to play back at your heightened aggression to save face. We don’t have to tell you how wrong this is strategically, and how easily you can exploit it.
As long as villain is going to be folding more often along the way, don’t freak if your 3-betting hands lack value pre-flop. Yes, if you’re headed to showdown, you’re going to need to show up with something. But the point is that if your opponent is calling too wide and still folding to your barrels more often than not, showdown will be rare.
They Re-Raise You
Good players are going fight back not just by calling more 3-bets, but by 4-betting you more often as well.
SplitSuit says this becomes a very simple math decision, simply because there usually isn’t much room for decision-making left. You’re likely going to fold or 5-bet shove.
He encourages you to do the off-table work with our free fold equity calculator and super simple EV calculator. Work out a reasonable 4-bet range for villain and you’ll see the simple push/fold math reveal itself. You can memorize this range off-table and pull it out in the relatively rare occasions you find yourself contemplating shoving over a 4-bet.
Use these tools to run various scenarios with different equities and different ranges, and you will start to get a solid feel for what hands you should be shoving with, and which you should be folding. Plug in different dynamics for your opponent and get nerdy with it. Do the work once and it will sink into your brain forever.
Think about the range they 4-bet, and think about the density of the range. Is it full of hands that will call your shove, giving you little fold equity? Or will they melt and go away when you 5-bet shove, trying and failing to outplay you with weaker hands?
Remember, part of the difficulty here, especially in live games, is that we’re usually dealing with a small sample size. You’re often going to have to pick a default 5-bet shove range because you simply don’t know what villain typically does in this spot which doesn’t exactly come up every orbit.
Be prepared to make mistakes and lose a couple buyins while you’re trying out the 5-bet shove counter-move. When villain shows up with aces, it doesn’t mean you need to abandon the move. Just put the situation under the microscope, and make sure your reasoning is sound.
If we’re exploiting our opponent, and they are competent, they will be playing back at us at some point. But do we need to make our 3-bet range nutted to counter? The clear answer is no. We simply should better understand how our opponent is likely to react, and then understand how we will play in those scenarios. Exploitative poker is not without its risks, but deployed effectively, it is full of profitable situations. Be prepared to lose a buy-in here and there. But if your math and thinking are sound, and the frequencies you observe from your opponents are pegged accurately, this is a methodology that winning players consistently can deploy to the benefit of their win rates.