Exploiting Opponents' Weaknesses
A poker essay by Jonny Vincent
A great deal is made of a skill called 'game selection' - being able to select the right game for your level of ability, for your style of play and for the quality of opponents in that game. Whilst game selection is an extremely important part of being a successful poker player, for many, it's simply not an option. They may only play in a local home game, or they may play in a small casino where there is only one game spread at their preferred limit - they simply don't have the option to move in and out of games at will.
This is a problem but it can be overcome. It can be overcome by realising that, no matter the quality of your opponents, each and every poker player has weaknesses. No one is, or will ever be, weakness-free - not even World Class Players (WCP's). Game theory shows only a small profit against a very select group of poor opponents, so there is a great deal more to be made in discovering what your opponent/s weaknesses are, and exploiting them to your advantage.
This may sound difficult, but you may be surprised at how easy it is. It all boils down to this: people either bet too much, call too much, or fold too much. It's your job to work out which one of these your opponent/s are guilty of, and take advantage of their mistakes.
Many people believe that a game full of 'rocks' (people who play very few hands and are, by nature, extremely tight players) cannot be beaten. This is simply wrong. Rocks fold far too many hands. They give up +EV (expected value) for a decrease in variance. This is a clear mistake on their part. If sitting in a game where only 15-25% are seeing the flop every hand, you can make a killing by developing your skills in short-handed play - and by developing solid, aggressive blind-stealing skills.
Many people believe that a game full of 'maniacs' (people who play, as the name suggests, like maniacs and are extremely loose players) cannot be beaten. This is also simply wrong. Maniacs play far too many hands and, most importantly, they play their hands almost always incorrectly. They are making mistakes left, right and centre. If sitting in a game where four or more players are capping the betting before the flop, simply wait for premium hands and get in there and bet with them - you will get paid off when you get big hands. Don't get trapped in there with marginal hands or you will be forced to fold - and give up all those preflop bets - when the flop doesn't hit you. Axs (an Ace with any other suited card) becomes valuable in this game, for the flush potential - in addition, the lone Ace often will be enough as people are playing with such garbage). Remember, the maniacs can't always have good cards - mostly they are betting with garbage - so when you get a hand, don't be afraid to bet it and make them pay.
Many people believe that a game full of 'calling stations' (people who never bet/raise but merely call often) cannot be beaten. This is wrong and, as you will find as you progress, this game is the easiest game to play. If you do have game selection opportunities, this should be the game you are looking for. If people are going to call you all the time, you should never bluff or semi-bluff. Bet only for value. And don't be afraid to lay down your hand if a calling station bets back at you - chances are they have a monster. You can play marginal hands in this game - but try and play them from late position - this way, you can control the betting and get more money in the pot when you want it. The important thing to consider in this game, is that you often need a strong hand at the showdown - so you need to be patient and don't try too many angles/moves - simply let them pay you off when you hit. Be sure to make them pay you off when you hit. Don't slowplay too often - just make them pay. It's that simple.
Many people believe that a game full of tight, aggressive, solid players cannot be beaten. They are usually RIGHT. Sorry, I don't have a great deal of advice for you in regards to playing this type of game - apart from GET OUTTA THERE! You can stay and try and mix it up with the tight, aggressive players but your variance will be huge and it will be very hard to overcome the rake.
Many of you will have watched the movie 'Rounders'. At one stage, Mike says, "When you sit down at a table and can't work out who the fish are, YOU are the fish!" What he means is: If you sit down at a table and can't work out the styles and quality of your opponents, then odds are they will be able to easily work you out, and the odds are stacked against you. You absolutely must be able to determine the playing styles and quality of your opponents. After that, you can determine what strategies or adjustments to your play you need to make to beat them.
In summary, no poker player is complete. Not one. Every poker player has weaknesses. True, some have a great deal more than others, but each one has weaknesses. You need to be able to figure out what they are, and exploit them to your advantage. Once again, these skills come with practice so get out there and start thinking about what I've said - before you know it, you will be saying to yourself: "John's a loose, passive player who calls far too much on 4th and 5th street - Mary's a loose, aggressive player who bets far too much with mediocre hands - Phil's a weak, tight player who folds far too many hands - Peter's a solid, tight, aggressive player, be wary of him." When you can think about your opponents in these terms, you are on your way to being one of the better, if not best, players on the table.
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