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Tactics vs. Strategy (Part 2): The Foundations of Strategy

A Fresh Approach

As we mentioned in part 1 of this series, there’s a fundamental problem in poker right now where you are facing stronger competition than ever before. If you want to gain the advantage, you’re going to have to learn to use a different approach to poker. Last week, we outlined the tactical approach to poker and where it comes from. What we want to do now is take a fresh look at poker and figure out exactly where this new approach can come from.

Knowing What To Do

Tactics are great in poker when you know what it is that you want to accomplish. When there’s something specific to do, tactics will help you to do it in an effective way, and that’s what they are particularly good at. However, when there isn’t something clear to do, that’s when you’re going to need strategy because tactics will not be able to help you. A lot of people have this feeling of being lost in a lot of situations. A study of strategy will help you to avoid that feeling by giving you clear goals that you will be trying to meet with your play. However, this takes a shift in focus.

The Foundations of Strategy

Here we’re going to look at some of the foundations of strategic thinking in poker. This requires a different perspective on the game than what a lot of players have, and it requires a bit of a shift in priorities about what you believe is important in the game.

Playing Your Range

The most fundamental shift in thinking that you have to make when it comes to taking a strategic approach is playing your range as a whole instead of playing your hand. The way you do this is by thinking first of your range when a situation comes up. Briefly think about how the different parts of your range should play, then play your specific hand that you hold this time according to where it falls in that strategy for your entire range.

This is hard to do at the tables when you first start trying to do it, and that’s why I strongly recommend that players practice this with plenty of other hands to begin with. The more you practice it, the better you’ll get with it.

Basic Game Theory

You need to know some of the basics of game theory if you want to be able to decide how your range should be played in an effective way. Essentially, you want to understand the relationship between exploitative and exploitable strategies (hint: they are the same) along with understanding the concept of balance. A general idea of how to develop a balanced strategy in any given scenario is also a good idea since you can use that as a basis for your exploitative plays, but we’ll come around to that later in this series.

An Inclination Towards Balance

Tactics are essentially specialized, exploitative plays that follow some specific pattern. As a strategic player, you’ll tend towards balance more often and save your massively-exploitative plays for specific situations. This is much different than the tactical player who only thinks about the hand going on in the moment because it allows you to really hone in on a single player’s weaknesses instead of trying to apply a specific tactic to the player pool as a whole.

This inclination towards balance is something that a lot of low stakes players are going to have a major mental block over because they see the idea of balance as some kind of super-advanced concept that they shouldn’t have to be using because low stakes is all about exploiting bad players. Yes, it used to be all about exploiting bad players, and now it’s about being able to pick and choose how you exploit bad players while you make it hard for the regulars to play against you.

More on the Topic of Balance

Balance is such an important topic in this framework of thinking about poker because it’s so misunderstood by the very people who need to switch to a more strategic approach to the game, so we’re going to break it down into a bit more detail. Balance is essentially what a strategic approach to poker centers around because it’s your default setting. It’s like a home base that you will stay in until you get the chance to move out and attack in situations where your opponents are weak.

Let’s suppose that you see a weakness of your opponent’s. Perhaps he folds a really high percentage of the time to SB opens in the BB as an example. You have two approaches on what to do with that information. The purely tactical player would go with an over-the-top exploitative approach that would involve opening from the small blind with 100 percent of all hands.

The strategic player would dial it back a bit and maybe open somewhere in the range of 60 to 70 percent of hands instead. While this is still exploitative to a degree, it’s not going all-out with it and exploiting the weakness as much as possible in the situation. Instead, you skip over a significant portion of the most difficult hands to play (bad hands out of position) and make it less likely that your opponent adjusts to what you’re doing. It has a degree of balance that gives you a number of advantages which we will get into next week.

The First Step Toward Strategic Play

The first step towards strategic play is learning how to incorporate balance into how you play your ranges to some degree. We’re going to give you some examples of how that could work in next week’s edition of this series.

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