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StrategyWeekly No Limit

Crushing NL50 (5) - Opponent Specific Play II


Crushing NL50 (5)
Opponent Specific Play II

by Hasenbraten

In the previous article you were introduced to the basics of opponent specific play: exploiting, balancing and the application of those concepts in the form of polarised ranges.

In this second part the same concepts will find their application in the form of semibluffs and deception. Furthermore you will be introduced to several basic ideas that you can apply against different types of opponents.

The focus will be on opponent specific play. We will examine specific mistakes made by different player types and suggest concepts to exploit them. These will go beyond "bluff a nit" and be based on a solid theoretical basis.


The term deception has been mentioned sporadically but it hasn't been in the spotlight so far. Deception is linked to balancing and describes the camouflaging of hands in this context.

The goal is to keep your opponent from putting you on a hand by analysing the way you play. Deception is often the reason to make a continuation bet but it shouldn't be the only justification for it. If your opponent is good at hand reading he will be able to make very good decisions against you if you don't make use of balancing or deception. It would give your opponent a significant edge against you.

The goal is to make it as hard as possible or even impossible for a thinking opponent to make good decisions against you. Let's look at the situation in more general terms.

You and your opponent have certain goals and expectations for a hand. These depend on your own hand and also the hand or hand range that you expect your opponent to hold.

If you can determine your opponent's hand range very accurately, it is unlikely that his goals will be the same as yours (situations that are exceptions to this rule are easy to play). It is therefore crucial to manipulate your opponent's perception of your range. To put it more simply: Against a good opponent you should not play every draw like a draw and every made hand like a made hand.

Pure Bluffs and Semibluffs

A simple introduction to this concept are semibluffs. The following criteria should be met:

  • You now play short handed.
  • You are more experienced.
  • You are better at hand reading.

The same applies to your opponents. On dry boards you primarily have two options. Either you only play hands with sufficient equity this way or you also play bluffs like that, besides strong hands.

The option of not polarising your range and playing medium and very strong hands will not be examined further. To assume a perfect opponent this means that he either always knows when you want to go all-in and asks himself what your range is whenever you show strength, or he has to evaluate whether you want to go all-in or whether you're bluffing. In order to make a good decision he needs precise information about a specific situation or reliable statistics of your bluffing frequency.

If he assumes that you are likely to bluff in certain spots, it will quickly lead to bad reactions on his part. Your opponent can easily assume that you bluff more frequently than you actually do or assume that you do it a lot less than is the case. If you never bluff, however, you make life easy for him as he can only make mistakes when assessing your value range.

A big problem of pure bluffs is that they can easily fulfil the requirement of having zero bluff equity. Against a range that continues to play, their share of the pot usually is zero. As a result, a bluffing player can make expensive mistakes when he misjudges a situation.

More or less strong semibluffs are a different scenario. Semibluffs might have an equity of 25%-45% instead of having zero share of the pot. Even with these hands you would much rather see your opponent fold. However, his folding frequency can be much lower than it would have to be for a pure bluff and you would still not suffer a loss.

Your fold equity is often so big that you don't need any fold equity in order to go all-in profitably. However, in this scenario maximising your fold equity is necessary to make sure you don't only have a positive EV but the maximum EV possible.

It is also important to put even the last bit of money into the pot as long as this might create more fold equity. For example, you often have to call an all-in with a draw after a check-raise although it is not an odds call. If there is the option to play a different line and force your opponent to make the last decision and create fold equity through this, you should prefer that line.

Example 1

100BB Stacks

Preflop: Hero is SB with 8, 9
UTG raises 4BB, MP calls 4BB, Hero calls 3.5 BB

Preflop coldcalling is an option because of a weak MP/UTG/BB-player.

Flop: T, 7, 2

This is clearly a great flop with a large amount of equity. What is the best line in this case?

Assume that UTG isn't the fish in this hand. A donk bet or a check-raise are two possible ways to get money into the pot. The problem with the check-raise is that it only works if an opponent actually bets.

This isn't guaranteed to happen because the flop isn't ideal. Three handed with a fish in the hand, UTG can check a lot of hands. Also, on the turn 2/3 to 3/4 pot will be left, depending on the raise size.

There are opponents that would only call the flop to see a turn card. If you hit, they will fold (at least to a flush). If you don't hit, they will call. Unfortunately, that is the opposite of what you wanted them to do. However, you can easily represent a made hand here which was your goal in the first place. Many players would play exaclty the same line with TT, 77, 22 or maybe T7.

This leaves us with the donk bet, which is frequently the best choice. In case both opponents fold on the flop, you can be happy. If one opponent raises, you can put your money in the middle on the flop with a rather large amount of dead money and possibly even fold equity. This way you can avoid difficult situations on the turn.

In case of a call, you have to play the turn out of position. Furthermore UTG is likely to raise or fold hands which he would only call heads up. This is a result of his sandwich position between the fish and the donkbet.

Otherwise you can decide on the turn whether you want to continue your aggressive play or become passive. Overall, the line bet/3-bet will be easier to play than a check-raise.

What does all of this have to do with deception? At first look, nothing. It is a bonus that this aggressive line that is suitable for draws is also good for made hands. If you play sets as well as monster draws this way, it makes your opponent face a very tough decision from a theoretical point of view.

He has to carefully evaulate which types of draws and made hands you might hold. He also needs to be good at judging how you would play them in this situation. It is important not to give away information about your range. Here is an example to help you get away from semibluff ideas on the flop.

You might hold around three hand categories on this flop:

  • Medium strength hands like top pair or middle pair, maybe JJ. Those beat overcards and draws but they are behind against the strong part of your opponent's range.
  • Strong hands like sets or T7. With these you definitely want to go all-in. It depends on the situation and your opponents, where exactly you should draw the line between medium strength and strong made hands.
  • Draws of different strengths. Combo draws, single flush draws or straight draws are possible.

This roughly represents the groups of hands which you want to play. Many players would check-raise + bet strong hands and check/call or check/fold the rest as standard lines. Obviously, there isn't much deception going on there. The ranges aren't balanced at all and easy to play against.

One possibility of deviating from those lines is playing bet/3-bet with strong made hands and some draws. This way you can play both hands well but you can get into trouble:

When you play check/call on the flop, you can never call three bets unless a draw hits. You either have to live with the fact that you are bluffable or you have to include hero calls with medium strength hands. This is the alternative line that we have illustrated. Without going into detail, it should be mentioned that there are other possibilities of balancing these lines.

If you are heads up rather than three handed, there is another option. You could only check raise simple draws that you will fold to a 3-bet and only call with strong draws as well as sets and two pair.

On the turn you can then check raise your entire range. This would be one option to counter frequent second barrels from your opponent. This way you could get one pairs to the showdown more easily as a result of a lower second barrelling frequency of your opponent.

The thought process behind it is simple: play part of your range differently to what is expected of you. You should make sure that your opponents cannot put you on a precise range (always keep bluffs and semibluffs in your range). Also you have to prepare for necessary hero calls when they can't be avoided.

Basics against different types of opponents

A classification based on stats has been avoided on purpose. It is more important how somebody plays and what goals he has. This information is for categorising and pure statistics.

Weak tight TAG (wTAG)

You could call this opponent a bad TAG. Tight aggressive is clearly a good start. However, there are many players who are generally weak or play too schematically. This leads to weaknesses caused by a lack of depth in the decision making process.

The wTAG is often a marginal winning player because there are some real fish out there. He isn't a strong player, however. You will win money from him in small and medium sized pots. The wTAG often plays his cards without paying much attention to his opponent's ranges. As a result he is open to crude bluffs. He is only rarely able to play creatively or start big bluffs.

In big pots he is likely to hold a strong hand so you are unlikely to have a big advantage in that case. Overall this type of player will play worse than you. You can constantly extract money from him without taking much risk. It won't be as much as against a proper fish but you will be +EV against him.

There are many situations in which you can try to buy small and medium sized pots at a moderate risk. Preflop you can 3-bet very frequently because you are unlikely to meet much resistance. You should make sure his initial range isn't too small (UTG raise!), otherwise you will rarely get lighter calls or 4-bets and bluff 4-bets.

On the other hand, there will often be profitable cold calling situations. Frequently you can buy the pot whether you complete a hand or not. You have to pay particular attention to squeezes because the wTAG is prone to getting squeezed.

On the flop, raises as well as floats are good plays to force a wTAG out of the hand. With flop raises you don't have to pay much attention to what you are going to represent because the wTAG is unlikely to call you down because your hand looks bluffy. Even against flop calls you will often see a fold. The wTAG doesn't second barrel enough and often plays too tight on the flop and turn.

This type of player is also susceptible to three barrel bluffs because he plays his strong hands quickly, in particular when he is out of position. After a check/call, check/call line he is therefore unlikely to hold a hand that is keen to see a river bet so he will often have to fold to one (even when he should consider a hero call).

Solid TAG (TAG)

As the name suggests, this is the stronger version of the wTAG. The weaknesses that were mentioned for the wTAG have disappeared with this ideal version of a TAG. The TAG plays similarly to a wTAG. However, he is willing and able to deviate from his game plan. He has a tight foundation but when faced with too much aggression and frequent bluffs, he will adjust correctly.

He will answer light 3-bets with calls, 4-bets and a modified open raising range. Floats and attacks on the flop will be countered with rebluffs and refloats as well as light call downs when necessary. This opponent also understands semibluffs on the turn and is able to adjust. In short, the TAG won't be keen on playing against you as long as he considers you to be an above average opponent. If you get in his way, prepare for battle.

When two players using the same strategy clash, one of them has to give way, or the player who has perfected the style furthest is going to win. You have the option of continuing your tight aggressive style and rely on your intuition or "spider senses" when facing tough decisions. Alternatively, you could adapt to the situation by becoming tighter (avoiding such decisions) or becoming looser (changing the dynamics).

The last option can work if you play well, otherwise it will just be expensive. You will struggle to win money from TAGs if they don't tend towards wTAGs. The TAG won't cause you trouble on purpose but isn't going to be your favourite player on the table.

Loose-aggressive (LAG)

We won't distinguish between good and bad LAGs because bad LAGs often are bad TAGs that play more hands or they are simply maniacs. A LAG takes a different approach compared to a TAG. He tries much harder to induce and provoke mistakes in order to make profit. He does this by confronting opponents with unusual aggression.

Even preflop, there is some basic behaviour which can be exploited profitably, for example the stealing behaviour. Take a player that open raises 27% from the CO. If he gets a 3-bet, he often only plays TT+, AK, i.e. 3.5%. He therefore folds 87% as a default reaction when faced with a 3-bet.

If a player risks 12BB for a 3-bet after a 4BB open raise and you ignore cases where a third player enters the pot, this raise will create a direct profit of  EV = 0.87 * 5.5 – 0.13 * 12 = 3.225 BB

That is a very high EV for only risking 12BB. A good TAG is aware of this. In contrast to a LAG, he doesn't force the exploitation. A TAG simply increases his 3-betting frequency while not putting too much pressure on the initial open raiser so that he is unlikely to change his game plan.  A LAG on the other hand is going to attack this soft spot much harder which forces the opponent to react and which destroys the situation that was initially +EV.

If you are lucky the situation gets replaced by one that is even more profitable. Generally this type of behaviour also has an impact on the image of the LAG. This can be projected to the behaviour after the flop.

Once again a TAG is likely to continue to try and gain value from a given situation. The LAG on the other hand is likely to exploit the situation so much that the opponent is forced to react in some way. This reaction often is a bad one because the player gets taken out of his comfort zone while the LAG knows exactly what he is doing.

While a good TAG at the table can be annoying, a good LAG can be a real problem. You can't simply meet this kind of looseness and aggression with more of the same, particularly when you aren't used to it. The only option you have is to study the LAG and find spots in his game that he doesn't play well.

The good news is that since a LAG has to make so many decisions that some of them are bound to be bad. The problem is that it is marginal spots that you have to get into if you want to prevail.

The most appropriate response likely is a moderately passive style. You play less aggressively and pay less attention to pot building (you have the LAG to do that). You limit yourself to playing showdown bound. The large number of hands that a LAG plays means that their average equity is relatively low. If you manage to get your hands to the showdown well enough this is one way of finding a starting point to the game.

Overall the LAG is probably the most unpleasant candidate that we introduce you to. He is good and you are unlikely to win much against him. He is very aggressive and if you want to win something you will have to fight for it. This is where your hand reading skills, creativity and understanding of the game come into play.


Maniacs at the table appear similar to LAGs. The big difference is that they are bad players. You can win a lot of money from them because you are likely to have the biggest edge against maniacs. While the LAG tries to increase his EV by exerting a lot of pressure, maniacs are often happy to just create pressure.

You can often see this when you notice that maniacs don't adjust to different types of opponents. They constantly play aggressively without any preference and try to bluff even in situations where it doesn't make any or very little sense.

While you can occasionally try to win pots against LAGs without a showdown, this is the wrong approach against maniacs. Here you win your hands on the showdown against overplayed made hands or bluffs by the maniac. Slow plays and hero calls should be your weapons of choice against this type of player.

It is also important to memorise certain plays the maniac uses. Whilst good players often vary their lines, maniacs (like basically all bad players) only have a very limited selection of lines at their disposal, which they use for only a single type of hand.

Certain draws get raised on the flop or turn, others don't. Sometimes a check on the river will always be met with a bet, even when a bluff is unlikely to be successful. Others simply check raise every flop etc.

Often you will tend to see a type of play that is rather wrong. Maniacs tend to play draws and weak hands very aggressively while trying to slow play a lot at the same time. One of the reasons is his own playing style. Every poker player assumes that other players follow a logic that is similar to theirs. The maniac therefore slow plays a lot since that would work well against himself.

This is another difference compared to a LAG. A LAG knows that in order to play his bluffs and semibluffs, he also has to play made hands for value aggressively. This is why it is easier to play against a maniac compared to playing a LAG.

It isn't always fun to play against a maniac. However, if you keep control over your own game, the situation is possibly the most profitable of all of them.

Loose-passive (LPA)

Also known as calling station. Clearly a losing player and easy to play against. Due to his passivity he will rarely or never cause any problems. You can dictate the pot size and get to showdowns even with weak hands which another player would have forced you out of the hand with. LPAs usually play their cards. They rarely play aggressively and when they do, they are usually made hands or pure bluffs.

LPAs often play draws passively rather than aggressively to see if they hit. LPAs, like maniacs, lose a lot of money on the showdown because they see too many of them. However, they are unable to win pots without showdowns. They constantly lose money and are susceptible to value bets.

Their approach is very static. Once they have put their mind to something they try to get it no matter what. Often they just want to make it to the showdown, other times they really want to bluff. They rarely, or never, take into account when a board changes. Neither board cards nor other constellations make any difference.

Against LPAs you should adjust so that you can hit more medium strength hands. Deception and bluffing loses importance. Due to the passivity, you rarely see a big pot that would require a strong hand. Overall you will win most with medium strength hands, such as top pair.

It is not true that LPAs never bluff. It's simply wrong. They do bluff and are able to do it throughout several streets. Unfortunately they don't do it often enough to make them dangerous.