If we can’t find the sucker at the table, so the poker adage goes, it must be us. Assuming that this is indeed not true, and we’re not the table cash machine, then it’s quite possible that the opposition will comprise of players with a range of skill levels as well as varying styles. Of course, it’s not necessary for us to be the best of the bunch – the key is to make the most we can from the opponents we’re able to get the better of, while at the same time steering clear of the more dangerous players. It would be foolhardy to put so much work into exploiting the weaknesses of Mr. A and Miss B for juicy gains, only to be careless and allow ourselves to get involved with – and lose it all back to – Mr. C.
So, our mission is to identify those players with definable weaknesses who we feel we can take advantage of in some way. And an ideal victim is the player who tries too hard to be tight. Perhaps counter-intuitively, we’re looking for those who have studied the game enough to not only adopt bad habits, but also fine-tune them! Players making poor decisions and then repeating them after reinforcing their strategy is common in poker. The same goes for the vast majority of chess fans, who over the years continue to fall foul of the same misconceptions and misinterpretations. We’re looking to exploit those weaknesses to the full.
Overly tight players tend to make a habit of being way too cautious, even teaching themselves over time to show restraint, to not risk too many chips when better opportunities are anyway going to come along. They get used to erring on the side of caution in situations they consider too close to call (literally).
With this in mind, our task is to determine which player – or, indeed, players – have such a predictable approach. Ideally, we would like our target to be seated to our right so that we have a positional advantage over them. Remember that cautious players put too much emphasis not only on (the limitations of) their own cards, but also the (perceived) strength of their opponents’ holdings, too. This is how, by using a faulty mix of information, they weigh up their options to ultimately arrive at questionable – and therefore exploitable – decisions. It follows, then, that they also have a rather predictable range, making our task of evaluating their actions easier (both pre and post flop).
The trick is to use their specific risk-averse approach to manipulate their decision-making process. Knowing that they want to avoid potentially hazardous situations allows us to inject into their thought process the prospect of such a risky scenario actually materializing. We need to help them confirm their safety first policy. Note that these players are absolutely prepared to put all their chips into the pot and to make aggressive plays, but the circumstances have to be perfect for them to do so. This – and unbalancing them – will be discussed in another article. Here we are concerned with general bullying…
So, having singled out our target and acquainted ourselves with key predictable behaviors, we can bully away to our heart’s content! For example, after they limp we simply throw in a raise with any hand with which we can battle away should we need to. Pocket pairs, any ace, picture cards, and suited connectors is a decent range to use. If we pick up whatever chips are in the pot because we’re being ‘believed’, then it’s all good. If they call and we head for the Flop, the next stage is a matter of putting them under immediate pressure. Much of the time they will have missed the Flop, they’ll consequently check-fold, and our job is done. Rinse and repeat, and get away with that pattern as often as possible (without, of course, being conspicuous). Hopefully, it will not have gone unnoticed that Position is crucial to the success of such a strategy!
Taking it a step further, when our target opens, we can raise but, crucially, with a wider range than above. The logic behind this – given that this time we are faced with a taste of their aggression – is that these players are certainly not averse to putting in bets, and nor is their opening range necessarily very narrow. They like to be in the driving seat, too, remember. However, their ‘ability’ to fold if the heat gets too much means that, even if they started positively, they’re willing to put the brakes on and show that they appreciate when it’s time to step away from a fight in which they think they’re already behind. Note the psychological implications of our piling on the pressure – they’re aware that we’re aware of their tight table image, yet here we are powering the ball firmly back into their side of the court nevertheless. That in itself is going to sow the seeds of doubt in their mind and is often enough to elicit a prudent, safety first fold which, ironically, they’ll need to convince themselves is the correct play, thus reinforcing their exploitable strategy. Meanwhile, they also need to factor in that we’ll have a position on them for the rest of the hand. Weighing up these factors, it’s easy to see how a player already predisposed to overcaution, will be quite willing to keep their proverbial powder dry and concede the hand, cutting their losses.
While there’s never a guarantee that events will go so smoothly, this strategy is well worth putting some thought into, being an opportunity that tends to present itself quite often. Moreover, as we gain in experience it becomes easier to both recognize and target such players and subsequently set about exploiting them.