It is no secret that live poker games are far softer than online games.
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 who have the highest hourly win-rates in live games—those 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. Like in online games, an in-depth understanding of game theory is an asset, but balanced plays often take a back seat to exploitative tactics.
Note: The tactics in this article will also be very effective in soft, large field tournaments (live and online) and low stakes online cash games.
8 Exploitative Tactics That Crush Live Poker Competition
Below, we’ve outlined 8 exploitative tactics that will help you capitalize on the many leaks in your live poker opponent’s game.
#1. Play Way Tighter Versus 4-Bets
Live players tend to have poorly balanced preflop 3-bet and 4-bet 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 common and very easy to counter.
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 type this, 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. Take a look at the equity breakdown:
I know it can hurt to fold hands like this before the flop, but remember that you are exploiting your opponent 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 while yours gets a boost.
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. Imagine folding QQ to a player who you later find out has a wide 4-betting range. That would be a disaster, and you’d feel like a nitiot (a combination of nit and idiot that I just made up).
2. Expand your 3-betting range
There is another, less direct 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. Preflop play is typically passive in casinos; many players are not accustomed to playing 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 calling range in a given spot. For instance, your 3-betting range from the button vs a 3bb cutoff raise might go from this:
Strong-but-not-premium hands with which you don’t want to face a 4-bet (such as 99, QJs, and 87s) can be 3-bet without much fear. You will almost certainly reach at least the flop unless you opponent happens to have KK or AA.
This aggressive 3-betting strategy may also cause your opponent to tighten his raising range in future hands, which provides you with more opportunities to raise.
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.
Note: The adjusted 3-betting range in this section was built quickly for the sake of demonstration—it is nowhere near perfect. You could probably get away with 3-betting even more hands, like AJs-ATs, the suited broadways, and KQo/AJo. For thorough advice on which hands to 3-bet, check out this article.
3. Use a Small C-Bet Size on the Flop
Another way you can exploit the tendencies of live players is by using a smaller c-bet size, especially in multiway pots.
This tactic has the benefit of exploiting a couple of common leaks simultaneously:
1. Check-raising occurs relatively infrequently in live poker games.
Because play usually errs on the passive side, your 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.
2. You can barrel more effectively on later streets, against which live players will often over-fold.
A small flop c-bet keeps the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) at a size that allows you 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. For example:
$1/$2 9-handed. $200 Effective Stacks
Hero is dealt J♠ T♠ in middle position.
Hero raises to $10. Cutoff calls. Button calls. sb folds. BB calls.
Flop (Pot: $41) 9♠ 7♣ 2♦
BB checks. Hero bets $35. co folds. Button calls. bb folds.
Turn (Pot: $111) 4♠
After starting the hand with $200 and c-betting ~80% of pot on the flop, Hero has $155 left in his stack—that’s an SPR of 1.4. This stack depth is a bit awkward.
Hero could bet small on the turn and set up a river shove, but that won’t generate many turn folds. He could also overbet shove on the turn, but then he’d likely miss out on value when he has a strong hand. Neither line is great for Hero’s range as a whole.
Now, let’s imagine Hero used a smaller c-bet sizing of $15 (37% pot) on the flop. Even if the small size entices an additional caller, Hero will go to the turn playing for a pot of $71 and an SPR of 2.5:1. At this stack-depth, Hero has more manueverability with his range and it allows him to spread his 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 (and more likely to fold) on later streets. Conversely, if a large bet is made and called, the ranges of both players are 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 relatively weak range with a high SPR.
4. Play Aggressively from the Blinds vs Loose Late Position Raises
Some live players raise with far too loose of a range from the later positions. You can exploit them by 3-betting, c-betting and barreling aggressively from the blinds.
Middling pocket-pairs, which play better with a lower SPR, 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-bet gets called, particularly on boards that are good for your perceived range. Many live players take a ‘fit or fold’ approach on the flop, continuing only when they hit something, 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 such boards. (By inelastic, I mean that players will fold to a bet regardless of the size if they don’t have an ace or a draw.)
This pairs well with the small flop c-bet strategy discussed in #3; weak live players won’t call 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 on the Flop More Frequently
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. These frequent c-bettors are a staple of live poker games. If they’ve connected with the board, however 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, read How to Check-Raise Like a High Stakes Juggernaut.
6. Exploit Weak Checking Ranges on the Flop
Many inexperienced players fail to protect their flop checking range by including some strong hands in it. You can effectively exploit such players by betting aggressively when they do elect to check the flop.
This tactic doesn’t only work versus players who miss a c-bet. It works versus players who check after the preflop raiser misses a c-bet too. For example:
$1/$2 Live. $200 Effective Stacks.
Hero is dealt 2♠ 2♦ on the button
Middle Position (MP) raises to $10. Hijack (HJ) calls. Hero calls.
Flop ($33) Q♠ 5♦ 4♣
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 hands on the flop.
We can exploit the inexperienced player 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 preflop and betting the flop, many live players will check—on the turn or river—hands that merit betting three streets for value. In other words, they proceed with unnessary caution when holding a strong hand.
Live $2/$5. $600 Effective Stacks.
Hero is dealt K♠ T♠ on the button
Hero raises to $15. SB 3-bets to $65. Hero calls.
Flop ($135): Q♦ 9♠ 4♣
SB bets $80. Hero calls.
Turn ($295): 7♣
SB checks. Hero…
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 you shouldn’t be looking to exploit these turn/river checking ranges in the same way that you would a flop checking range. Otherwise, you may find yourself getting snap-called by a surprisingly strong hand.
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 versus any river aggression is terrible in the majority of live games, even when the pot odds are 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 your leak-finder, you can implement these exploitative adjustments, or maybe even come up with your own, to absolutely crush your live poker opponents.
If you want to see some hand examples in which tactics like these are used, read How to Destroy Your Opponent After Seeing One Showdown.
I’ll leave you with a quick video from Doug on this topic, in which he shared one of his favorite live poker exploits.
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