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StrategyFixed Limit

Optimal Mode of Play


In this Article
  • What is the optimal mode of play and how do I find it?
  • What are the typical characteristics of the optimal mode?
  • What are the effects of playability?

The majority of poker encounters are concerned with winning the maximum amount from bad players. The goal might also be to exploit the weaknesses of such an opponent as much as possible. But what if the opponent is an excellent player? Many tricks that are effective against weak players are counterproductive in that situation. Thus, against a good player it's less about exploiting his weaknesses – he hardly has any – rather, it's about playing in such a manner that we don't give him a toehold.

Part I: Playing against tough opponents - The theory

Jack is loose-passive. He calls the flop with almost every hand – regardless of whether he's hit anything or not. On the turn, though, he becomes tight and folds a lot.

So with Jack, we'll bet the turn again after making a flop bet, and he'll often fold. If he raises the turn, we know that he has a strong hand and can usually make good laydowns after that.

Joe is an acquaintance of Jack and a tough player. He watches our game against Jack and when Jack no longer wants to play, Joe jumps right in for him. We assume, incorrectly, that Joe plays the same as Jack. Joe is a tough player, though. He uses our tendency to bet the turn after betting the flop by playing call flop, raise turn without mercy. On the turn he often raises as a semi-bluff, so that what were good laydowns are now fatal mistakes.

To sum it up: Joe is extremely good at identifying our weaknesses and exploits them optimally. Whereas our mode of play is highly profitable against fish like Jack, it turns out to be very costly against Joe.

We will later see that there are modes of play that are nearly free of weaknesses, which is why even very good players cannot exploit them. If you strictly adhere to these “optimal” modes, though, you will not win the maximum amount against fish. However, they are theoretically at least break-even against *any* opponent, but, as no one's play is completely flawless, usually at least slightly +EV against any opponent.
Against Jack
+ 3 BB/100
+ 2 BB/100
Against Joe
- 3 BB/100
+ 0,5 BB/100
Definition "Optimal Mode of Play"
An optimal mode of play is colloquial for a mode of play without weaknesses. Even the best poker player in the world, one who knows exactly how we play each hand and knows our ranges exactly, cannot gain an edge against an opponent playing optimally.

The optimal mode is purely defensive. We are not looking for weaknesses in the opponent that we might exploit, rather we assume that our opponent is a perfect player, and that any deviation from the optimal mode will be punished by him.

If you play strictly optimally, then the reads and stats about our opponent no longer matter. We play the same against every opponent and are at least break even against every opponent. In fact, we are a little plus since no opponent plays entirely free of mistakes.

It is clear, however, that we won't make the maximum. To do that – as in the example against Jack above – we would have to deviate from the optimal mode to exploit particular weaknesses in our opponent.


Optimal Mode
Maximum Mode
Avoids own weaknesses
Exploits weaknesses of others
Exploits weaknesses of others
Based on reads and stats
EV greater than or equal to 0 against all opponents
Vulnerable to good players
+EV against fish
Max +EV against fish
Interesting Fact

The maximum mode is based on the weaknesses of the opposition. The fewer weaknesses the opponent has, the more the maximum mode will approximate the optimal mode.

The two modes will be identical against an perfect opponent, that is, one without any weaknesses at all.
Of course, we try to get the maximum out of all opponents. Against fish, the optimal mode would be +EV but we would give up a lot of value.


Against good players, though, the optimal mode is often very close to the maximum, so playing the optimum game already yields the maximum value, in some sense. But the optimal mode has a decisive advantage: it is independent of any reads or stats. We cannot be "wrong" and cannot be tricked by the opponent. No matter what the opponent does or how good he is, we are at least break even, but usually almost always +EV by default.


That's not the entire article...

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Comments (1)

#1 angryded, 05 May 11 14:57

There is a calculation of EV in Strategy known =/= strategy unusable section. According to this calculation we have .22*9(Ev with bluffs)>.2*9 (Ev without bluffs). I think there could be a miskate in this calculation, because when we don't have 10% bluffs our EV is +10bb (not +9bb) in 20% cases, which means .2*10. Our opponent can know that we don't bluff at all and fold 100%(in that case ev calculation is fine), but this situation is highly unlikely.