Exploiting your opponents’ leaks is how you really take your win-rate to the next level.
This article is written so you don’t need to understand poker game theory to use these specific tactics to crush your opposition. That said, having a solid understanding of game theory will help you identify these leaks and exploit them as efficiently as possible.
Let’s get started with Leak 1.
Leak 1: Limping with a lot of hands preflop
Open-limping is the most common leak that you will encounter when playing live or at the smallest stakes online.
How to exploit limpers
You can take advantage of these players by raising over their limp with a pretty wide range. The goal is to isolate yourself with them so you play postflop in a heads-up pot, which is why this play is known as iso-raising.
For example, if your opponent is limping a lot of hands and regularly calling raises (a very frequent occurrence in live settings) then you can go ahead and raise them with a very wide range. That range can be anywhere from 40% to 100% of hands, depending on your position (the closer you are to the button, the more you can raise), how aggressively you’ll get 3-bet by the players behind, and how confident you are in your postflop skills (the more confident you are, the more you can raise).
With regards to sizing, you should generally raise to 4bb (+1bb for each extra limper) when you have position over them and 5bb (+1bb for each extra limper) when you are out of position against them.
Leak 2: Raising with too many hands preflop
This second leak loses even more money than the first one.
Raising with too many hands preflop is a sure-fire way to lose at a high rate, regardless of how skillful you are postflop. It’s worse than limping because the leak-ridden player is building exponentially bigger pots (compared to just limping) with far too weak of a range.
How to exploit raise-happy players
The main way you exploit this leak is by widening your 3-betting range. You can expand your cold-calling range too, but since 3-betting is the most effective way to beat these guys, we’ll focus on that.
There are two ways in which you can build your expanded 3-betting range:
- Merged: An equity-driven range that typically includes strong hands and medium-strength hands.
- Polarized: A more balanced range that includes strong hands and weaker hands, which function as bluffs/semi-bluffs.
The way you decide which 3-betting strategy to use is by observing how often your opponent folds to 3-bets.
If he seems to fold often (more than half the time), you can exploit him with a polarized 3-betting strategy. This entails 3-betting with hands that don’t seem strong enough to call with, but still have good playability with flush and straight potential. Such hands are small suited connectors (like 76s,65s,54s,43s), small suited one-gappers (like 86s,75s,64s) and suited Ax and Kx hands (A2s-A6s and K2s – K9s).
If he’s the type of player that will call a lot of 3-bets, you can exploit him with a merged 3-betting strategy. Simply widen your value range to include more marginally-strong hands like AJ, ATs, A9s, KQ, KJs. You can actually 3-bet with even weaker kickers depending on the severity of his leak. For example, if you’ve seen him call a 3-bet with K8o, then you can widen your value range to include KJo and KTs.
Leak 3: 3-betting too few hands preflop
This leak is extremely common among live players (at most levels) and micro-stakes players online. These guys tend to have a value-only range made of JJ+, AQ+ when they re-raise preflop. This approach is sub-optimal due to the fact that it is easy to spot and very exploitable.
How to exploit tight 3-bettors
There are two main ways to exploit this type of opponent.
1. Tighten your 3-bet calling range to include only medium pocket pairs up to QQ and AQs+.
All of the other broadway hands (KQ, KJ, etc.) are too weak to call when your opponent’s 3-betting range is so tight. Against such a strong range, premium hands like QQ and AK drop in equity and are no longer value 4-bets.
2. Tighten your preflop 4-betting range to include only KK and AA.
You should typically include some bluffs in your 4-betting range, but you should stick to just KK+ when your opponent’s range is so strong that he won’t fold many (or any) hands.
Leak 4: C-betting too much out of position on the flop
When the preflop raiser gets cold-called by a player who is in position, he should check on the flop with most of his range. This is the best strategy because the preflop caller usually has a stronger range.
This might seem counter-intuitive at first since the preflop raiser will have many strong hands that the caller can’t have (AA, AK, etc.). But the raiser will usually also have a lot of broadways and suited Ax hands that will miss on most flops, and the caller won’t have such hands as frequently.
Many players don’t know this, so they tend to c-bet at a high frequency on the flop out of position as the preflop raiser.
How to exploit players who c-bet out of position too often
There are a couple of ways to extract chips from these guys.
1. Raise versus the c-bet at a much higher frequency than normal
This is the best way to counter an overly-aggressive c-bet strategy (that is also not going to 3-bet with a balanced range). We will raise with almost all of the hands that we want to continue in the hand with. This way we will make him fold his air hands that still had a bunch of equity, force him to put more money in the pot with the draws, put a lot of pressure on most of his value range as he won’t be really happy to see a raise when he holds anything other than a set and get to realize all of our hand’s equity by being able to see the river for free.
2. When they check, bet with most of your range
Since these players tend to bet with almost all their value range, you will have both a nut advantage and a range advantage versus their checking range. You can take advantage of this leak by using a high frequency, large bet size strategy, which puts their stupidly weak range in a very tough spot.
Leak 5: Underbluffing when they triple barrel
Betting with a balanced range on the river, in theory, allows you to extract maximum value with your value hands by denying your opponent the option of exploitatively folding his bluff-catchers. But the vast majority of poker players are straight-up wimps when it comes to bluffing on the river.
How to exploit under-bluffers
There are two ways to exploit a player that is not triple barrel bluffing enough.
1. Fold all of your pure bluff-catchers against his triple barrels
When your opponent doesn’t have enough air hands in his betting range on the river, you have no reason to call with pure bluff-catchers because you will be losing money with them.
2. Call all your bluff-catchers against his double barrels
This adjustment might come as a surprise, but it’s very logical when you look a little deeper. Since your opponent will rarely try to bluff you on the river, you should call on the turn with all of your bluff-catchers because your opponent will allow you to win the pot against hands that would be bluffed by a more aggressive opponent.
As I said in the intro, you don’t need a solid theoretical foundation to understand and apply these exploits, but it certainly helps to have it in order to find and apply more advanced exploits.
I would advise you to read each subsection again and really try to understand the reasoning behind each exploit. Understanding them fully will help you identify spots to adjust against the specific opponents in your games.