It is no secret that live poker games are far softer than their online counterparts.
Most successful online players could switch to live poker and win at a solid rate from the get-go. The same can not be said for successful live players who hop online.
Yet the players with the highest live hourly win-rates — who truly crush live poker — are overwhelmingly live poker specialists. There are a bunch of reasons this is the case, but one stands out:
The extremely poor strategies used by many live players provide ample opportunities for exploitation.
In other words, crushing live poker requires identifying and attacking leaks commonly exhibited by live players. An in-depth understanding of game theory is helpful, but it often takes a back seat to exploitative tactics.
Below, we’ve outlined 8 exploitative tactics that will help you capitalize on the many leaks in your live poker opponent’s game.
Ryan Fee contributed to this article
8 exploitative tactics that crush live poker competition
#1. Play way tighter vs 4-bet
You will rarely see tight play advocated by this website, but there are many instances in live poker that require it. Facing 4-bet is one of them.
Live players tend to have poorly balanced pre-flop 3-betting and 4-betting ranges, weighted heavily towards value hands. This linear view of raising – where a player only open-raises with good hands, 3-bets with great hands, and 4-bets with premium hands – is very common and easily countered.
Hands that would be mandatory calls vs a 4-bet online can often times be folded in a live setting. JJ and TT can be exploitatively folded against a tight player, for example, as can strong suited broadways like AQs. These hands perform terribly against a range of AA, KK and AKs — a typical 4-betting range for a very tight live player.
You should generally avoid folding hands as strong as QQ and AK to a 4-bet, especially given the relatively good pot odds that the average 4-bet size provides. However, as much as it pains me to say it, there are times when QQ and AK should hit the muck against a 4-bet.
Against a 4-betting range that consists only of AA and KK, which is far from rare in live poker, continuing with QQ and AK is a big mistake.
I know it can hurt to fold hands like this before the flop, but remember that we are exploiting our opponents by making these folds. Your opponent is supposed to win your stack when they have AA and you have QQ. If you are able to correctly get away, their win-rate takes a notable hit.
Don’t go overboard and fold every strong hand to every 4-bet. Always pay attention to the players and action at the table, and adjust your strategy according to the tendencies of your opponents. Folding QQ to a player who you later find out has a wide 4-betting range would be a disaster, for example.
(Note: Access a wealth of poker information from our expert coaches in The Upswing Lab training course. Designed to be consumed in a linear path, you can learn the right way, from A-to-Z. Click here to learn more.)
#2. Expand your 3-betting range
There is another, more indirect way to exploit the tight 4-betting tendencies of live players: 3-bet more often.
If your opponent will only 4-bet KK+ and AKs, you can 3-bet with little risk of being forced out of the pot before the flop. This dynamic allows your 3-betting range to realize more equity, making it much more profitable.
The positive impact of this tactic is compounded by the way that many live players perceive 3-betting ranges. Pre-flop play is typically passive in casinos; many players are not accustomed to defending against wide 3-bet ranges and over-fold as a result.
The most effective way to expand your 3-betting range is by adding hands that would typically be at the top of your flatting range in a given spot. For instance, your 3-betting range from the button vs a cutoff raise might go from this:
Strong-but-not-amazing hands that you normally wouldn’t 3-bet because they can’t call a 4-bet — such as 99 and 87s — can be 3-bet without much fear. You will almost certainly reach at least the flop (unless the CO happens to have KK+).
This aggressive 3-betting strategy may also cause our opponent to tighten his opening range in future hands, which means more opportunities for us to open.
Like #1, it’s crucial you take relevant factors–like player tendencies and stack depth–into consideration before applying this advice. In lower-stakes live games, for example, recreational players will often buy in for the minimum; 3-betting a wide range of hands when there are lots of short-stacks that can shove behind you is not going to work out well.
(I threw that 3-betting range together quickly for the sake of demonstration — it’s nowhere near perfect. For more thorough advice on which hands to 3-bet, check out this article.)
#3. Use a small c-bet size on the flop
Another way we can exploit the tendencies of live players is by using a smaller c-bet sizing, especially in multi-way pots. This tactic has the benefit of exploiting a couple of common leaks simultaneously:
- Check-raising occurs relatively infrequently in live poker games
Because play usually errs on the passive side, our c-bets are less likely to being raised – much like the rationale behind 3-betting more to exploit low 4-betting frequencies in #2. This causes us to simultaneously realize more equity and deny our opponents’ hands equity.
- Using a small size on the flop allows us to barrel more effectively on later streets — something that live players will often over-fold to (especially on the river – more on this later)
A small flop c-bet keeps the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) at a size that allows us to barrel three streets for a size that will generate good fold equity. Some live poker players use a large flop c-bet sizing and find themselves in problematic betting situations on the turn and river.
In live poker, bet sizes in general are larger — pre-flop and post-flop — as the general player pool tends to over-call. This means that SPRs are much lower than at the equivalent stakes online. For example:
$1/$2 9-handed. $200 Effective Stacks
Hero is in MP with
Hero opens to $10. CO calls. BTN calls. sb folds. BB calls.
Turn (Pot: $111)
After starting the hand with $200 and c-betting ~80% of pot on the flop, we have $155 left in our stack — 1.4 pot-sized bets. This stack depth is a bit awkward.
We could bet small on the turn and set up a river shove — which won’t generate many turn folds — or over-bet shove on the turn — which risks missing out on value with our strong hands. Neither line is great for our range as a whole.
Now, let’s consider the same scenario with a smaller c-bet sizing of $15 (37% pot) on the flop. Even if the small size entices an additional caller, we will go to the turn playing for a pot of $71 and an SPR of 2.5:1. At this stack-depth, we have more flexibility over how we play our range and it allows us to spread our fold-equity more evenly across the turn and river.
The increased effectiveness of triple barrelling after a small flop c-bet is compounded by the way that ranges interact when a small sizing is used. When a small sizing is used, continue ranges are wider and therefore weaker on later streets. Conversely, if a large bet is made and called, the ranges of both players are narrower and stronger heading to later streets.
In other words, using a small size on the flop allows us to maximize fold equity on each street because we’re triple barreling into a weak range with a high SPR.
#4. Play aggressively from the blinds vs loose late position opens
Some live players open-raise far too loose of a range from later positions, which you can exploit by 3-betting, c-betting and barreling aggressively from the blinds.
Middling pocket-pairs that play better in low SPR situations can be 3-bet versus opens from later positions, along with the more obvious candidates: suited connectors and suited broadways.
Be prepared to c-bet on the flop when your 3-bets get called, particularly on boards that are good for your perceived range. Many live players take a ‘fit or fold’ approach — continuing only when they hit something — on the flop, especially in big pots/potential big pots.
Ace-high boards are particular profitable c-bet spots given the perception of your range, especially as weaker players will have inelastic call/fold ranges on this board. (By inelastic, I mean that if players don’t have an ace or a draw, they’ll fold to a bet regardless of the size.)
This pairs well with the small flop c-bet strategy discussed in #3; weak live players won’t defend against small bets at a high enough frequency, allowing you to generate a surprising amount of fold-equity in these 3-bet pots.
#5. Check-raise flops more frequently
Players who c-bet a lot with unbalanced ranges are a staple of live games.
Less experienced players are not concerned about the strength of their flop checking range, or how vulnerable their wide range of hands is to a raise. If they’ve connected with the board — even marginally — they will bet, even if it doesn’t really make sense to do so.
An aggressive check-raising strategy – with the intention of barrelling often on later streets – puts these players in an impossibly tough spot with most of their range. (Maybe they shouldn’t have bet.)
If you aren’t sure which hands to check-raise on which boards, check out Ryan Fee’s How to Check-Raise Like a High Stakes Juggernaut.
#6. Exploit weak flop-checking ranges
Because many inexperienced players fail to protect their flop checking range, you can effectively exploit such players by betting aggressively when they do elect to check the flop.
This doesn’t only apply to players who miss a c-bet — it applies to the players who check after the pre-flop raiser misses a c-bet too. For example:
$1/$2 Live. $200 Effective Stacks.
Hero is on the button with
MP raises to $10. HJ calls. Hero calls
MP checks. HJ checks. Hero…
In a single-raised pot like this, inexperienced live players in MP or HJ will often bet all of their Qx hands at 100% frequency. Some people just can’t help but bet top pair. By contrast, a stronger player that is concerned with range protection might check some weak Qx combos on the flop. We can exploit the former by betting and barreling at a high frequency in this spot — including with a hand like 2♠ 2♦.
#7. Be very cautious of strong bet-then-check ranges
After raising pre-flop and betting the flop, many live players will check — on the turn or river — hands that merit betting three streets for value.
Because of the combination of the swelled SPRs in live poker, many players will bet with a strong hand on the flop, but proceed with (often unnecessary) caution on the turn. Hands that are could easily extract three streets of value will often be misplayed by weaker players that elect to stop betting on either the turn or river. For example:
Live $2/$5. $600 Effective Stacks.
Hero is on the BTN with K♠ T♠
folds to btn. Hero raises to $15. SB 3-bets to $65. Hero calls.
Flop ($135) Q♦ 9♠ 4♣
SB bets $80. Hero calls.
Turn ($295) 7♣
You wouldn’t expect the SB to check a strong value hand like AQ here, but many live players would.
This is important to be aware of, as we shouldn’t be looking to exploit these turn/river checking ranges in the same way that we would a flop checking range.
#8. Over-fold to aggression on the river
Live poker players tend to under-bluff by a lot on the river, which can be countered by over-folding. This is even truer of raises on the river – the EV of calling in these spots is terrible in the majority of live games, even when the price is good.
Of course, this is not to say that you should just be folding your entire range on the river to a bet of any size. Make informed decisions based upon the tendencies you’ve observed for yourself and adjust your strategy to counter them.
Using these adjustments to crush live poker
The trickiest part of using these tactics is learning to identify the leaks that go along with them. Once you’ve honed this skill, you can implement these exploitative adjustments — or even come up with your own — to absolutely crush your live poker opponents.
Note: Ready to take your live win-rate to the next level? The Upswing Lab training course includes 90+ live pre-flop ranges, hours of live poker training videos, and sections for crucial live concepts–like multi-way pots. Click here or below to learn more.
Read more from Upswing Poker:
- Crush live poker even harder with these 8 Live Tips That Will Put More Cash In Your Pocket
- Donk-betting is fairly common at live tables, but Should YOU Ever Donk-Bet On The Flop?
- Learn to play correctly in bloated straddled pots with The Professional Approach to Straddled And Three-Blind Pots
- Go back to the top of this crush live poker article