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Saturday, September 23, 2006

This great Tourney strategy article was written by online pro Rizen for Pocket Fives.

One thing that we are taught in poker over and over again, be it from books, coaches, videos, or forums, is to constantly be the aggressor. "Attack weakness," we're always told. Another common phrase is "make sure you win the pots nobody else wants." One of the core problems with this is that aside from knowing that we need to be the aggressor, we don't really know how to spot weakness in the first place, and then when we do spot it, we often don't know how or why to attack it.

One thing I want to warn about before I go too much further with this is that you must be paying attention to the table in order to exploit weakness. Good players know how to mix up their game and disguise strength as weakness and vice versa. You must know your opponent well enough to be able to tell if their actions indicate real weakness or disguised strength.

There are really two types of weakness you need to be able to spot. There is obvious weakness, when your opponent makes no attempt to hide the fact that he is weak. There is also disguised weakness, where your opponent tries to hide how weak he is by pretending to be strong. We'll talk some about the more obvious signs of weakness first.

Pre-flop, there is the limper. Limping on its own doesn't necessarily signify weakness. In fact, a limp from early position can be quite strong. That being said, if someone is limping after the first two people have folded, I consider it a sign of weakness. Beginning or unsophisticated players are often doing this with exactly the types of hands you think they'd limp with: Smallish/medium pocket pairs, medium suited connectors, or weak broadway hands like JTo and QJo.

Okay, so we've got a middle/late position limper; how do we exploit him? If the stacks are deep, you can often raise from position to isolate the weak player. I prefer to do this from the button, cutoff, and 2 off the button and not try and exploit these players from middle positions, as we can often then run into a real hand. For this article, I'm assuming that we're exploiting the player because he is weak without a real hand. If we have a real hand, then we're obviously raising for value, and this all doesn't matter as much. With this range of holdings, sometimes the player will fold, but often, if you make something like a 4x raise to isolate them, they'll call, hoping to hit a flop hard and get your entire stack.

Okay, so let's for arguements sake say your opponent calls your bet. What are you looking for?? Ideally what you're looking for are either flops with lots of high cards or a good mixed flop (K82r) or the like. You're going to c-bet most flops though, since their range of hands is such that they usually either hit it hard or missed completely, and you're often only playing this hand to exploit that they're going to miss most of the time (or not hit hard enough to easily call).

Flops to really watch for are low, coordinated flops. A flop like 567 with two of a suit would really scare me, as that often connects with their mid/pair mid/connector holdings. Sometimes on the scarier flops, I'll do a delayed continuation bet (check behind on the flop and bet the turn when checked to). A weak player is often a great source of chips this way, because he will continuously limp-call and fold the flop, feeling like once he hits, he'll make all his money back. He won't, though, because you're making a play on him and will fold when he shows strength.

Post flop, the most common type of obvious weakness is the weak lead. This is when someone makes a less than 1/2 pot bet into a pot. Good players will often use the weak lead to entice action with their big hands, but bad players often do it because they feel they have a decent hand or because they raised pre-flop so they have to bet something, but they are scared so they don't want to bet a lot.

Attacking this type of weak play differs depending on who the pre-flop aggressor was, as well as position. With position, if you were the pre-flop aggressor, the weak lead from your opponent often means that he got a piece of the flop but isn't confident enough to check-raise you. A decent sized raise on the flop will often take down this flop, as he will convince himself that you must have a monster if you raised pre-flop then raised him again on the flop. If he was the pre-flop raiser, the same line often works too, as your opponent often feels since he raised pre-flop he has to bet, but he is afraid enough of the flop to not make it a strong bet.

Out of position, you can check-raise in an attempt to take the pot down right there. Another way to vary your game is to check/call and see if he will fire a second bullet on the turn. Many weak players aren't capable of this, so you can often steal the pot with a river bet. This calling strategy works in position as well, and can be a very powerful move against players who will take one stab at the pot but not two.

Then there are the disguised forms of weakness. Pre-flop, this usually includes raising from a steal position. Re-stealing from these players is very read dependant, and it requires you to be paying attention to the table. There are a lot of pre-flop stealers who will fold when re-raised (assuming stacks are deep), and there are others who will call with almost anything they raise with. I try and categorize players as I play with them based on their pre-flop strength of play and aggression and post-flop strength and aggression. If the person is a poor post flop player, I'll often smooth call and look to take the pot away later, but if they're strong post flop, I'll often re-raise and try and take the pot down right there, particularly if I believe they're getting out of line. If you're dealing with a player that hardly ever raises, then don't assume the raise is weak, even from a steal position.

Post flop, the most common type of disguised weakness is the overbet. Again I caution you that good players will overbet their good hands sometimes to look weak, but average players often do it to discourage calls. Before deciding to try and exploit an overbet you perceive as being weak, make sure you look at the flop texture. Draw heavy boards are more likely to get overbet with a real hand as players attempt to protect their hand. Overbets on uncoordinated boards are more the type of plays we're looking to exploit. Again, how you attack this comes down to your read. Against some players who aren't capable of firing two bullets without a hand, you are better off calling and waiting to see if they can fire twice. Against players capable of firing twice, you'll want to raise to represent real strength. Mixing up your game and playing your opponents based on their strengths and weaknesses is of the utmost importance.

These are just a few of the more common forms of weakness I see, but there are many more. As you play more, you'll learn to identify them as you play and exploit them. One thing you'll notice I didn't talk about is short stack play. If you choose to attack weakness as a short stack, you're just pushing all in, be it pre or post flop. These plays often work, but when they don't, you can often look silly showing down garbage. If you're in the medium stack range, you should be limiting how much you're attacking weakness without a legitimate hand. If you have a 10 M stack and you raise a middle position limper and then c-bet the flop, you're often using close to half your stack on the play. While it may be +cEV to do so, you can often use those chips better with your real hands later. Attacking weak plays is something that, when done right, works about 80% of the time for a small pot and doesn't work 20% of the time for a larger pot. Make sure you can afford the chips that 20% of the time, or else don't do it.

Also, when we're attacking weakness it is a steal, and we must treat it as such. A steal doesn't become a value play because we hit middle pair, unless we hit a flop with two pair or better with our trashy hands (again, for this article, I'm assuming we're attacking them without real cards), it's still a steal. We've shown a lot of strength in the way we've played hands against the weaker players, and if they suddenly spring out of the woodwork, they've often hit their hand. If you're not disciplined enough to be able to lay down middle and even top pair with your raggy hands when you're trying to steal from a weak player, then you're probably giving away any profits and more you're making from your plays. A steal is a steal, and doesn't become a value play unless you hit two pair or better.

Lastly (and probably most importantly), be selective. Use your table image and play style to dictate how often you attack players who show signs of weakness. If you do it every time, it becomes obvious and exploitable (I'll limp with Aces because this guy always raises me!). If you go card dead for a little while, use your tight image to pick up a pot. If you've been getting hit in the face with the deck, use your image of always playing good cards to pick up a few pots. Knowing how and when to do it is largely a 'feel' thing, but you should be aware of how people at the table are reacting to you and adjust your game accordingly.

Best of luck



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