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In poker it pays to know who you're up against. In this era of GTO study and high stakes crushers endlessly poring over algorithmic solvers, you might be forgiven for forgetting that you should play exploitative poker wherever you possibly can. Exploitative poker is simply taking advantage of weaknesses or patterns in your opponents' play which you can adjust to and play back against with certain strategic adjustments. Any exploit can be re-exploited by your opponent, if they notice the adjustments you are making, and most will not especially at the lower stakes. This is exactly why we should aim to play exploitatively rather than blindly following charts and sizings. Hence in the toughest games running, the best against the best tend to play quite close to "balanced” solutions for poker strategy, "GTO” or Game Theory Optimal solutions which attempt to protect all ranges being used so as to make them unexploitable by their excellent and perceptive opponents. It's worth noting at this point that at the highest stakes of all, exploitative play is still a thing. The exploits are simply better chosen, more disguised, and more carefully selected. Is it still worth studying GTO for the midstakes? Hell yeah . You just have to know you'll have good reason to constantly deviate from it. You'll also need to simplify your strategies to make them more executable in-game. In the lower stakes, and even in some softer bigger buy-ins, there are just countless opportunities to play exploitative. Let's look at some of the classic villains you'll encounter , and some good simple adjustments worth making against them, which lead us quite far from GTO or balanced play. The Passive Fish Anyone doing much open-limping preflop would automatically fall into this category. Superficially this beginner's strategy appears logical - invest the least to see the flop often. However these players haven't grasped the significance of aggressive play in poker - we can thin the field to the flop, demand our opponents make equity decisions and possibly mistakes, take initiative and take down the flop pre if we raise, but not if we limp. You want to raise versus these guys with a wide range especially in position, and try to get them heads-up to the flop . This is known as isolation raising. Postflop you can play straightforwardly aggressive versus them, but bear in mind that passives tend to fall into two broad categories : those who want to see a flop but then play "fit or fold” to the flop (meaning they either hit or give up frequently), and those who are just passive postflop too and don't have much of a fold button. Versus type A a simple adjustment is to fire every flop small and then evaluate turn (except the wettest boards perhaps), and versus type B the deviation from GTO is very major - we go big for value, thin for value (betting hands which would be marginal for value versus better opponents - even 3rd or 4th pair can be good for value versus very passive players), and we rarely bluff them except in very scary scenarios for their range. The Nit These guys are fewer on the ground than they used to be in poker, but they're around. They simply play way too tight. The default deviation versus these opponents is to pressure them with a much wider range preflop (BTN vs. Blinds for example), and to also put the pressure on postflop but bearing in mind that their continuing range on each street will be stronger than that of the average player. This will mean, for example, that we expect our flop bets with air to get through more often but we also expect our third barrels in a triple barrel bluff to probably work a good bit less often as they will have already folded so many mid-strength hands by the river. So in principle we should keep our bluffs active and aggro versus nits but to expect them to get to later streets (and even to flop) relatively strong. The Mediocre TAG Players who are basically competent but just uninspired middle-of-the-road regulars will tend to play reasonably well, and fairly tight-aggressive but they will make mistakes such as failing to raise flop with high enough frequencies OOP heads-up to the flop , and overfolding to pressure across multiple streets on certain runouts. This is straying into tougher territory but you will tend to find that they reveal their hand strength is capped on certain board runouts where they merely call down (especially on wetter flops) and you can pile pressure on here, especially with the right blocker combos of your own. These guys will often overfold to second barrels or judiciously chosen triple barrel bluffs. The Spewy LAG Not all loose aggressive players are good at poker . In fact, the loose aggressive mode is probably the hardest (and potentially the most profitable) to play in poker. It's also in vogue . The past few years, you've definitely seen an increase in players who don't have strong fundamentals but nevertheless play loose and aggro. These guys are admittedly more difficult to play against than passives or nits. Variance will be higher against them, but so will value if you muster a good set of adjustments. Of course, one of these is picking spots simply not to open into them, since you know they're 3betting wide, or alternatively, finding spots to 4bet or 5bet them light. Part of it is also being willing to look them up postflop with a weaker value hand than usual, if you've seen them continue their loose aggro tendencies postflop with some consistency. This is the subject of much of Chris' analysis in our weekly spins grinds, tailoring his plays to specific villain reads. Check out the latest Spins Highlights video for more on knowing your opponent! How do you play versus these opponents? Can you think of any I've missed? Drop into our brand new Discord to let us know! Good luck out there, and Season's Greetings! by Lucky Luke
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Every single decision you make at the poker tables boils down to risk and reward . It might not always seem that way, especially if you're clicking buttons , but the fundamentals behind every choice do come down to this. How much do we stand to lose by making this play, and how much do we stand to gain ? How often do we think each outcome will occur? There is a very simple bit of mathematics which is key to answering these common questions in game, which can be used either in calling spots or raising spots, especially with regard to bluffing opportunities. Alongside a basic understanding of poker odds and outcomes, and a good ability to put your opponents on an appropriate range , this is really all you will need in the way of maths to start understanding and beating the game, and we'll run over the details below. The Maths - Calling a Bet on the River Whenever you are committing chips into a pot in poker, there's some basic mathematics attending your actions. Let's give a simple example. You get to the river heads-up and the pot is $10 . Your opponent is first to act and bets $10 into the $10 pot , making it $20 in the middle . You have to choose between calling $10 , folding and of course raising . Let's assume that in this case we think our opponent is either bluffing or has a big hand, and that we have a mid-strength value hand. The question remains: should we call or fold ? Let's look first at the odds we are being laid by our opponent. When we call and lose , we are losing $10 , that's the amount we are risking . When we call and win , we are winning $20 , the potential reward . Therefore we are getting direct odds of 2 : 1 on the call . How often do we need to be correct to break even on our call ? It is quite simple to turn any ratio into a percentage , we simply divide the amount on the right-hand side (1) by the total of both sides in the ratio (2+1) , so the answer is (1 / (2 + 1)) = ⅓ or 33.33% . If we win more often than this, we are making profit and our call is +EV (positive in equity value ). We can see intuitively that this makes sense, since if we were to play this situation out thousands of times, and we lose $10 two thirds of the time and win $20 one third of the time, overall we will break even and neither lose nor win money. This is known as our break-even point . If we believe, therefore, that our opponent is bluffing more often than a third of the time, we can comfortably make the call in this spot. Even if we lose the pot 60% of the time, we will still be making profit in the long run, if we played this spot out numerous times. For clarity, let's consider a couple of different sizings. How often do we need our opponent to be bluffing for us to make profit on our bluff-catcher call if he's bluffing with a half-pot sizing of $5 ? In this case we are calling $5 to win $15 , and the direct odds are 3 : 1 . The equation becomes 1 / (3 + 1) = ¼ or 25% . Now we only need to be correct 25% of the time in order to break even on the call , so if we think he is bluffing more often than ¼ of the time, we can make the call . Bear in mind that as villains bet smaller, it is often less likely that they are bluffing , especially in the lower stakes. To some extent you must trust your instincts, and when a bet smells like a value play, it often is! If our opponent on the other hand over-pots it and bets $20 into the $10 pot, we will need to call $20 to potentially win $30 , so the direct odds become 2 : 3 . Now we must calculate our break-even point using the following maths: 2 / (3 + 2) = ⅖ or 40% . Now we must be confident our opponent is bluffing with a higher frequency in order for us to make the call . The Maths - Betting as a Bluff on the River Let's look at the same scenario in reverse, and imagine we are the villain who was betting full pot on this river . Let's further imagine that we have nothing, and we are simply bluffing to try to take down the pot. How often does a $10 bluff into a $10 pot need to work in order to break even ? Once again the maths is very simple. In this spot we are risking $10 for the chance to win $10 . There's no way to win any more than this, since we are bluffing and when called we will lose the pot . The direct odds are 1 : 1 . In this case the maths needed to get a break-even percentage are even simpler, it is simply 1 / (1 + 1) = ½ or 50% . If the bluff works half the time, we will break even on our play in the long run. Let's consider the bluff using different sizings. If we bluff half-pot, this would be $5 into a pot of $10 . Now we only need the bluff to work with the following frequency to at least break even: 1 / (2 + 1) = ⅓ or 33.33% . Since we are risking less, the bluff needs to work less often to break even or to turn a profit. Bearing in mind of course smaller bluffs are generally prone to work less often. If we bluff an over-pot sizing, say $20 into the $10 pot , now we must use different inputs. We are risking twice as much as we stand to gain if the bluff works. Now the maths equates to 2 / (1 + 2) = ⅔ or 66.66% , so we need the bluff to work two thirds of the time just to break even . Whether we are considering a call vs. a polarized range (either bluffing or a very strong hand) or a bluff versus an opponent, the basic maths is the same, since it boils down to risk evaluated against reward . How much are we risking , how much is the reward , and how often do we think we will win or lose in the spot? These are the fundamental questions, and the basic maths behind them is always the same: risk divided by (risk + reward) = our break-even point. Why on the River? We have used the examples above, situated on the river , for one very simple reason - no cards are left to come out on the board. This means that it is the final round of betting, and when we call or fold to that final bet, the hand is concluded. This means that we need only think about direct odds , the ratio we have given above which indicates the ratio between risk and reward . Look out for more PokerDeals Strategy Content coming soon, as we open our strategy section on PokerDeals.com ! You can also join us on Discord with this awesome invite link . See you there! by Lucky Luke
Negreanu flew a little under the radar this WSOP as Phil Hellmuth and Josh Arieh pulled ahead of him and Shaun Deeb in their battle for Player of the Year. Luckily we're here at PokerDeals to set that right! The truth is that Negreanu put in an incredible performance, both in terms of finishing positions, overall profit and sheer endurance. He entered just over half of all tournaments running at the Rio for WSOP this year, at 46 out of 88, and entered 10 out of 10 of the online events on offer. He also ran a package of action for buyers, and made them a pretty healthy return when he locked in $399k of profit overall with 18 cashes. His investors will be glad of a healthy 24% return on investment as documented here in Daniel's own Tweet. Negreanu had quite a wild ride at this year's World Series as he was still stuck for several hundred thousand USD when approaching his final two events, #84 and #85 , the PLO $50k High Roller and the NLHE $50k High Roller . He went on to put on two stunning performances over a mere three days to take third place in both events, thus sealing in over $1.1 million in winnings, as they paid out for $519k and $661k respectively. But wait, there's more. Not only did he come in third twice , he actually hit seven top ten finishes across his eighteen cashes! The unstoppable DNegs will surely be disappointed to come so close to his seventh bracelet and in two such prestigious events. Nonetheless the sheer reliability of his performance at this year's WSOP is testament to the clear fact that he's still one of the greatest tournament players in the world. by Lucky Luke Image courtesy of WSOP.com
Seasoned pro Josh Arieh pipped the legendary Phil Hellmuth at the post this year to take down the WSOP Player of the Year title. The two had been vying neck-and-neck for this title all series, and in the end it came down to just a few slender points. Daniel Negreanu and Shaun Deeb also came very close to winning the race this year but neither could catch up with these two. At the end of the series Hellmuth had one shot left to overtake Arieh - Event #88: the $5,000 8max event - but his elimination before the money meant that Arieh had done it! Arieh cashed in eleven events across the series, ranging from NL Hold'em to a variety of mixed games. The notable wins in the selection were clearly his first place victories in Event 39: The $1,500 PLO 8max , and in Event 66: the $10,000 PLO Hi-Lo Championship , which earned him $204k and $484k respectively, as well as two handsome WSOP bracelets (his third and fourth lifetime). Arieh also final tabled Event 84: the $50k High Roller PLO , finishing in 7th, and Event 60: the $50k Poker Players Championship , taking 6th, to add to his total roster lifetime of 19 WSOP final tables. Hailing from New York, Arieh's first taste of victory at the live felt must have come from his first runner-up finish, being denied the win by none other than Johnny Chan in a WSOP PLO event back in 2000. He's also had much bigger scores than those of 2021, his best being a clean $2,500,000 for his 3rd place finish in the 2004 WSOP Main Event . Still, this year must be something quite special to him, sweeping this seriously sought-after Player of the Year Award . Well played indeed, Mr. Arieh ! by Lucky Luke Image courtesy of WSOP.com
On Sunday night the amazing Spanish poker player Leo Margets smashed her way past 1,902 other competitors to take down $1,500 buy-in No Limit Hold'em Event #83: The Closer , picking up a much-sought after WSOP bracelet as well as a sweet $376k score. This a lifetime best for Margets in terms of the size of the cash, narrowly surpassing her deep run in the WSOP Main in 2009, in which she finished 27th. She also came very close to a WSOP bracelet back in 2018, finishing 2nd in the $1k NL Hold'em Double Stack . Margets came into the heads up a big underdog as her opponent Alex Kulev held a 5.5-1 chip advantage, but a misread of her stack when very short gave her the beginning of a comeback as she flicked in 94 and got there against Kulev's A9 to hit a four to double up, thinking she had 2.5bbs when she actually had 7bb, according to what she told reporters afterwards. Kulev had led the final table and eliminated several players, whilst Margets had got rid of the UK's own legend of the game Chris Moorman , and she ultimately was to put a stop to Kulev's roll too. In the decisive hand which left Kulev on life support, the two players got it in on a 9 ♠ 5 ♦ 3 ♠ flop with Margets tabling Q ♠ 5 ♠ and Kulev showing up with A ♥ 9 ♦ . Margets spiked again on the turn, this time hitting the 5 ♣ and a meaningless T ♥ on the river left Margets with just 2bb in crumbs to sweep up to seal her victory. by Lucky Luke Image courtesy of WSOP.com
Spanish phenomenon Adrian Mateos has done it again at this year's WSOP, taking down the very prestigious Event #82, the $250,000 buy-in Super High Roller NL Hold'em event. The eye-watering entry kept the total runners at a modest 33, but they were of course amongst the very best players in the world. This makes Mateos' fourth WSOP bracelet, and he had to fight hard for it. Coming into the final day with over half the chips in play he did take a hit in chips against England's Ben Heath before consolidating against Heath and ultimately vanquishing him in Heads-up play. The deciding hand saw Mateos limp and Ben Heath raise to 1.4 million at 200k/400k with a 400k ante, and a flop of 7 ♣ 6 ♦ 5 ♠ fell, to which Heath checked and called a 1m bet from Mateos . The turn brought the Q ♥ and Heath once again check/called a 2.8m bet from Mateos to peel a 2 ♠ river. In the end after Heath checked the river once more, Mateos wasted no time in putting him to the ultimate question, putting in the remaining 5m in chips Heath had behind. Heath made a quick call on the river after only 15 seconds and flipped over 5 ♦ 3 ♦ for a baby pair, only to be shown the bad news when Mateos flipped over Q ♠ T ♣ for the win, and this very high stakes WSOP bracelet. Mateos is no stranger to success, having cashed for over $25 million in prizes across some huge events, and sitting in 1st place on Spain's all-time money list, as well as 22nd globally. Nonetheless this $3.2m score is his biggest cash, and this bracelet surely represents a very special victory for the player, of whom we'll surely be seeing much more to come at the live felt. by Lucky Luke Image courtesy of PokerGO.com
The bookie's favourite swept away the title and a life-shaking $8 million in prize money as he took down the world's best-loved poker tournament, the WSOP Main Event . Aldemir had been playing for nine days and surpassed 6,549 other players at the moment he took down the final pot against George Holmes and scooped the last of the 399 million chips in play. Surely the adrenalin of lifting such a huge win and such a prestigious event, along with the massive payday was enough of a boost to see him through the gruelling hours of final table play, in which 223 hands were played out over two days! Heading into the final day of play three-handed, Aldemir held 2/3rds of the chips in play at the start of the day. After three hours of intensely aggressive play, Holmes called off an 11bb shove from Jack Oliver with Q ♠ J ♠ , and turned a Jack to eliminate Jack Oliver , who held A ♣ 8 ♦ . Oliver took home $3 million for third place. Despite his recreational status in poker, Holmes put up a fearsome battle heads-up, even taking the lead at one point, before the crucial hand, in which Aldemir started with a small chip lead. On the final hand with blinds of 1.2m/2.4m, Holmes raised to 6 million with K ♣ Q ♠ and Aldemir called with T ♦ 7 ♦ . The flop came T ♥ 7 ♠ 2 ♥ , and saw Aldemir check/raise Holme's 6 million chip continuation bet, making it 19 million to go. Holmes called and the turn came the K ♠ . After a brief tank, Aldemir bet 36.5 million and Holmes called. The river was dealt, the 9 ♣ , and Aldemir opted to check. Holmes didn't take long to ship his stack in the middle for 133 million more, an overbet in fact. Aldemir did think his options over for a good three minutes, but in the end he found the call, and tabled two pairs to ship the pot and the WSOP Main Event. This young German is now catapulted to 31st in the all-time money list of poker tournament cashes, making him the 4th biggest casher amongst all German players. We're sure we haven't heard the last of this WSOP Main Event champion! by Lucky Luke Image courtesy of PokerGO.com
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