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Game Theory Non-Optimal Play

08/05/2018 by Byron Jacobs

With the current availability of powerful poker solvers such as PokerSnowie and Pio Solver, much poker theory nowadays revolves around Game Theory Optimal (GTO) play. These are all good and fine for establishing a solid baseline to play from. However, sticking rigidly to a GTO-style could mean that you are missing out on some very profitable opportunities.

In his forthcoming book, Excelling at Live Poker, the well-known poker coach Alex Fitzgerald (also author of The Myth of Poker Talent) focuses almost entirely on exploitative play. Alex explains in great detail what players actually do wrong at the table and how you need to make unlikely adjustments to exploit them. Here is a sample extract that demonstrates exactly how players can fail to react accurately to something as simple as an unorthodox open raise size.

I was in the final 50 of a $5,000 buy-in tournament in the Bahamas. 27 people got paid. Two years prior, I had finished third in this tournament, easily feeling that I had a huge edge on the field. Looking around this year, I said something to myself that I hadn’t said in a long while:

“I have to be the worst player here.”

The field was full of Russian pros that clearly played high stakes cash. While I was learning a great deal about poker through our interactions, I sure as hell was not loving playing with them.

I sat there as the cards got dealt out and thought to myself, “what is something all of my Russian students hate?”

I thought through all my sessions and I locked in on one I”d had recently. There was a player who was opening to 3.5X at their table, and it put the guy into fits. He was used to expertly three-betting his competition, but the 3.5X put him in an uncomfortable situation. He also assumed the raiser was some jaded and faded live pro who was afraid of getting another pair of aces cracked.

Without much idea as to what else to do, I made it 3.5X. Confused, everybody folded. A few hands later I raised another hand to 4X. Everyone folded again. The next hand, everybody stared at me, confused. A few guys behind me looked dejected.

For fun, I opened to 3.25X, seeing if it would look like the jaded old pro wanted action now. A few of the guys actually shook their heads and folded.

The next time I raised the player in the big blind called. He then check/folded on the flop, bored, assuming I had a large hand.

I looked down at my chips. I had started this foray into experimentation with 32 big blinds, and I had grown them to 45 big blinds. I had increased my chip stack by 40% without a showdown. Later on, I’d finish in the final two tables of the tournament and collect a decent payout.

A friend of mine came up to me and said,”I know it’s hard man. You alright?”

“Well, yeah, I”m fine with it. I haven’t had a hand all day. Everybody just kept folding to me.”

I’d later try this method deep in the WSOP 2016 Main Event, and it would get me into the money. I then applied this method in Prague, again trying it against Russians and Eastern Europeans. It would get me to a World Poker Tour final table. A month later, I used it to get to a final table in Quebec. Even later, I”d get near another WPT final table with the method, and so it went…

People stopped three-betting me. They called me from the big blinds, and they consented to playing large pots with me out of position. I could have been the worst player on Earth, and still made money with that handicap.

When I got home, I constructed a system I called PBSH to help my students continually seek these advantages with large preflop raises. PBSH stood for Position, Bigger Pots, Superior Hands, Heads-Up. It was easy to remember, although bigger pots really meant “be the raising party.”

My students started making money hand over fist in tournaments. While the style wasn’t exactly finesse-driven, it did weird out other poker players enough to work.

If you enjoy the full article and think this book is for you then pre-order now and the book or ebook will be sent to you as soon as it publishes: Excelling at Live Poker