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The Anatomy of an Adjustment

Low stakes play is all about making adjustments that exploit your opponents. Unfortunately, most players at micro stakes and many at small stakes, even winning players, don’t really understand what it means to exploit someone. While it’s easy to say that exploitation involves playing individual hands in a way to get the most value based on how your opponents play, it’s harder to understand what that really means and how to put it into practice. This week, we’re going to break down exactly what an adjustment is, look at some examples, and look at what keeps people from understanding this on an intuitive level.

The Key Idea That Drives Exploitation

Everyone has a sort of default way that they play against relatively unknown players. In a lot of instances that come up, you’ll have two different ways to play a hand that are both profitable. Your default way of playing generally chooses the side that’s most often expected to be the most profitable. The key idea that drives exploitation for low stakes players is realizing when your default way of playing is not the most profitable way of playing. It’s often hard to see these situations when they come up because we are blinded by the fact that we are already making a +EV decision.

Here is an excellent example of what I mean by all of this. Suppose that a middle position player raises pre-flop, and it folds to us in the big blind. We have pocket aces. Both calling and 3-betting are profitable, but our default play is to go ahead and put in the 3-bet. However, there are situations where it would be best to just call instead. For a quick example, imagine that you’re 800 big blinds deep and your opponent is equally or slightly more skilled than you are. Putting in that 3-bet could cause you some serious problems because of your position.

Everything that we have talked about so far in this strategy series has led up to this idea of being able to spot when we aren’t making the most +EV decision. Now we’re going to look at some practical examples and break down how the exploitative adjustments work in each case.

Continuation Betting or Checking

In last week’s article, we looked at a continuation betting situation in a lot of detail. We had a situation where we could put in a bet out of position on the flop, and we looked at our expected equity with a few different hands against his continuing range. We said that we had 66 percent equity with AKo and about 50-51 percent equity with AQs on an Axx flop. A lot of people would have automatically bet AQs there, but we saw that checking was probably better.

The mental problem that comes up for people in situations like this one is that they want to value bet every hand that has more than 50 percent equity against the opponent’s continuing range. This makes it hard for them to see that checking will sometimes be even more +EV. Everything that we have talked about so far in this strategy series has been designed to help you better identify the situations where it’s best to switch things up a little. In short, it’s designed to try to change your mental processes so that you make these mistakes less often. The end effect is that you’ll get better at poker and make more money.

Another Continuation Betting Example

Suppose we’re out of position, heads-up on a flop, and we were the aggressor pre-flop. The flop comes whatever, we have a range and our opponent has a range. Let’s say that for whatever reason, we expect AJ to have about 55 percent equity against our opponent’s continuing range. This would put it near the bottom of our potential value betting range, so we have to decide if we’re going to bet with it or check. Note that since our default play would be to bet AJ here, checking it would constitute two things:

  1. Making our checking range stronger.
  2. Making our betting range weaker.

If you’ve followed along with the previous editions of this strategy series, you’ll know that there are certain reads that we can have that will make these changes to our ranges advantageous. For example, if our opponent folds a whole lot to continuation bets, then we should make our continuation betting range weaker. Likewise, if our opponent bets a lot when checked to, then we should make our checking range stronger.

This creates a situation where you have a very simple way of deciding if you should make an adjustement or not. Consider what the adjustment would do to your ranges. If the changes to your ranges are justified by opponent reads, then you probably have a good adjustment on your hands. If those changes are not justified by your reads, then you shouldn’t make the adjustment. It’s that simple.

Most Exploitative Adjustments Only Involve Borderline Cases

Making exploitative adjustments does not have to be some big, complicated, dramatic ordeal. There are going to be a lot of hands in your ranges that could potentially go either way. For example, the weakest of your value betting hands, the strongest of your checking hands and the strongest of your bluffing hands could often be played in two different ways. Making good adjustments to exploit your opponents just means that you consistently pick the way to play that fits the reads the best.

Here’s your homework for this week. Pick five hands where you weren’t sure what action you should take. Identify the two actions that you are considering, and view them in light of how they would affect your ranges. Pick out which of the changes to your ranges best fits your reads on your opponents. Post all of your findings in the forum thread for this week’s article so other people can see what you’re working with and you can talk about your findings.

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