I’ve seen so many players make this same mistake over the years that it’s almost comical at this point. Hero has some medium-strength hand, some loose/passive player raises against Hero, and Hero calls down anyway to be faced with the inevitable strong hand that the loose/passive always seems to have there. What we want to do here is break down the situation in a way that will allow you to feel better about laying down hands in these types of scenarios against these types of players.
Remember the following premise as you read along:
A loose/passive player needs a strong hand to show aggression the vast majority of the time.
Now let’s get started.
Hero raises pre-flop from middle position, and a loose/passive Villain calls from the blinds. They see a flop heads-up. Villain checks, Hero bets three-fourths pot, and Villain calls. On the turn, Villain checks, Hero bets two-thirds pot, and Villain calls. On the river, Villain leads with a three-fourths pot-sized bet.
Consider the nature of Villain’s range here. Because he’s a loose/passive, he’s probably calling with a lot from the blinds here pre-flop. On the flop, he’s going to check/call with a lot of hands that barely catch a piece in addition to a wide range of draws and a ton of other weak hands like overcards with an ace a fair percent of the time. By the time we make it to the river, a lot of these hands could have improved to two pair or better, and that gives Villain a fair number of strong hands to be aggressive with.
Another point is that Villain is going to be fairly likely to call down multiple streets with flopped strong hands as well. The aggression with these hands frequently doesn’t come until the later streets for whatever reason, and this just shifts things in favor of making a lot of folds to aggression on the turn and river when facing these players.
But He Can Exploit Me!
One of the defenses of making dumb calls against these players that I’ve seen over and over is that folding fairly strong hands to simple displays of aggression on later streets is exploitable. To that, I say the following:
Of course it’s exploitable! We are exploiting our opponent’s tendencies by folding more often than what we normally would in a perfectly balanced scenario, so we’re obviously going to be exploitable to bluffs. Along these lines, I have prepared a few links here to help you to understand the game theory aspect of this situation and why putting your opponent in a position where he could exploit you isn’t an inherently bad thing.
A fear of being exploited doesn’t make sense in this type of scenario when you are purposefully and systematically exploiting a very predictable tendency in your opponent’s play. This fear comes from either a lack of understanding of the foundations of game theory, which you can fix by studying the links I’ve given above, or it comes from an emotional and psychological weakness/lack of faith in your ability to make the right decision, and that’s a form of tilt.
Spotting a Loose/Passive Player
In Back to Basics (Part 5): Poker Reads Made Simple, I talked a lot about using very basic stats to make important characterizations. Along these lines, the most basic way to note a loose/passive is to spot a large difference between their VPIP and PFR stats. In full-ring games, you might see something like 21/10 or 18/7. In six-max games, this could be more along the lines of 30/15 or 28/12. The basic idea is that their pre-flop play is full of loose/passive tendencies, and this is largely indicative of the same tendencies in all stages of the game.
Players who are aggressive after the flop virtually never play a loose/passive game pre-flop. You can use this information to your advantage when spotting loose/passive players by using their VPIP/PFR combination as your go-to, tell-tale sign.
Leveraging Post-Flop Stats
You should also avoid being fooled by certain post-flop stats. Something like a continuation betting percentage might seem normal or even high, but you have to remember that this is taken in the context of pre-flop play. In the example of a player who is 28/12 in six-max games, remember that they are only raising about 12 percent of the time before the flop. With such a strong range seeing the flop when they have the chance to make a continuation bet, you can easily see why their continuation bet percentage would be so high.
If a player limp/calls a high percentage of the time before the flop, then it can be worth your time to have a statistic that tells you how often they fold to a continuation bet after limp/calling pre-flop. Even seeing something like 2/2 or 3/4 can give you enough of a go-ahead to expand your bluffing and semi-bluffing range quite a bit on the flop. Along similar lines, seeing something like 0/2 or 1/3 would usually push you in the direction of limiting your bluffing and expanding your value betting range because they probably aren’t folding anything close on the flop.
It only takes small pieces of information to make huge adjustments on how you play against these loose/passive individuals, and once you pick up on their particular flavor of suck, then you can make a lot of money from them instead of paying off their hands over and over again by calling down when you know that you’re beat.
Make sure to go to the discussion thread in the forums and post your own hands against loose/passive players for analysis.