Sunday, August 2, 2009

When Your Opponent Adjusts

I don't know at exactly what stakes you'll start playing opponents that you not only know from before but that also are good enough to adjust to your particular playing style, but I know that the $1/$2 tables at Party have a fair share of them. And when that happens, you have a problem: you're being exploited. What should you do about it?

I can't say for sure that this is universally true, but it at least seems to me that you have two - and only two - ways to counter-adjust: the offensive or the defensive way. I was originally going to call them the "aggressive" and the "tight" way of adjusting, but decided that that wasn't entirely correct for all situations I could think of. However, no situation I could come up with when I was out for a walk earlier failed to be solved by adjusting defensively and/or offensively. The two examples I thought the most about during the stroll were these:

The guy on your left starts 3-betting your blind steals
A huge part of playing winning poker is aggressively stealing the blinds in late position. My average for the button is somewhere around 55%, but for certain opponents it's 100%. However, it happens once in awhile that one of these opponents - that on average fold their blinds very, very often indeed - realize that I'm relentlessly opening any-two when I have the button and they post a blind, so they adjust. If they're good, their preferred way of adjusting is to start 3-betting me when I open on the button and for quite a few rounds they'll get away with it before I start to notice. Once I notice that they've broken character and are now exploiting my very wide opening range, how should I counter-adjust?

Coaching videos and many forum posters will say "start 4-betting him light." I disagree that this is the complete answer to the question, however, because if it is you're just trading one exploitable tendency for another one that is much more expensive. I'll explain what I mean by that by way of explaining what I think is the better adjustment:

1. Tighten up your stealing range. If you up until this point raised 100% of your buttons, his 3-bets will be massively profitable. If you instead only open 30% of your hands, you've taken away the very tendency he's exploiting. What you miss is 70% of the chances to steal the blinds, but he's already denying you that. Exactly how tight of an opening range you should go with (30% was just an example) is outside the scope of this post. This, however, is by far the most important re-adjustment you can make, and this is the defensive one.

2. Open up your 4-betting range. This is not the same as 4-betting "light." This is widening the range with which you're willing to get it in. Because - and this is why I think 4-betting light is a bad "complete" strategy to deal with wide 3-bettors - when you 4-bet you leave your opponent with the "last bet." He can 5-bet bluff but you can't 6-bet bluff. At the point when he shoves you're down to calling or folding and that means forfeiting all the equity that your bluff-range has. But if instead of 4-betting with trash you 4-bet hands like 99 and JJ (and maybe AQs) with the intention of getting it in, you've opened up your 4-betting range by a lot - and with a range that beats his 3-betting range - without opening yourself up for another exploitment. This is the offensive adjustment.

I think what most people intuitively dislike about these adjustments is that they don't help right now. The guy just 3-bet you and you have jack-nine offsuit. You think it's very likely that he's bluffing. And changing your ranges for the future won't help you at all in this particular deal, but that's what it means to adjust your ranges. And I think adjusting your ranges is a much better way to deal with exploitative opponents than to offer them more rope with which to hang you.

My opponent has started raising the flop a lot
I c-bet very often. In fact, I probably c-bet too much, if anything. And it happens, quite often, that one of my more observant opponents decide to start raising virtually any flop and for awhile that's going to be profitable. After I pick up on it, I'm going to counter-adjust though and my counter-adjustment will, again, be two-fold:

1. I will start to c-bet less frequently, and I will make my c-betting range more polarized. That way, when he raises me, my hand will be either strong or very weak and I will either be perfectly happy to fold or have no intention of folding. This puts a serious dent in his adjusted strategy. This is the defensive first measure.

2. I will start to 3-bet the flop more liberally (picking somewhat equally from both ends of my now polarized range). This is the offensive second measure.

What I can't do - or shouldn't, at least - is start 3-betting the flop right this instant just because he check-raised me again. Not if my hand is not in the polarized range that I want it to be. This is similar to the idea of not necessarily 4-betting light preflop from above, because you don't want to be in a position where you have to fold a marginal hand because your opponent shoves over your 3-bet.


To sum up, I think people think too much about how to deal with this particular hand when what they should be doing is adjusting their own ranges and not let one specific deal bother them. Yeah, you just lost $6 on a blind steal to someone who most likely is bluffing. No sweat - just adjust your range for the next round and you'll be the exploitor, not the exploitee. Sadly, you won't get the immediate satisfaction that 4-betting and watching him fold brings you (then again, nor will you have to do the figurative walk-of-shame that is folding to a shove). But poker isn't a game about immediate satisfaction.


That last sentence is probably the truest thing I've ever written about this game. I wonder what word should be used to describe poker satisfaction? Extramediate? Supermediate? Eonmediate? Everediate.

Or maybe EV-ediate.


Zach said...

This is old but I think you'll enjoy this article. It presents a third adjustment to counter light 3-betting:

Another thing though is that although light 4-betting is also exploitable, so is opening less. It's very similar to your passive adjustment but when you start opening less this opponent may start 3-betting less, in which case you want to begin to steal more again. It's all an endless cycle of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

The other thing though that I don't think you mentioned that's pretty important is also the use of a HUD. Most players use them today and make some pretty big assumptions. For example say one of these light 3-bettors is on your left, just because the steal stat on your HUD is 80%, it could easily be 90% against most opponents and 25% against them. Even some players who only use hands in the last month on the HUD will just never believe you're not stealing from them as much which means it'll take them longer to adjust to that while the 4-bet light even if the stats don't show it they will certainly remember in their heads.

Also another adjustment to make is bet sizing. If they're 3-betting you a ton and not calling much, do you ever start minraising or maybe 2.5x? This either decreases the price on their 3-bet bluffs or lets us flat a ton with deeper stacks in position.

Good post.

Fredrik Paulsson: said...

About light 4-betting: The reason I think that it's a "more" exploitable adjustment is that your opponent will often be waiting for it. So when you do it, he's already a step ahead of you, so to speak. Or so I'd imagine, anyway, since I can't picture a guy who starts to 3-bet every chance he has and not give my next 4-bet slightly less credit than he normally would have, if you see what I mean.

Regarding the use of the HUD: To confirm my suspicion, I double click on in the HUD (I use Hold'em Manager) to see what their stats are like for this session and this table. It lets me know if I'm just imagining them 3-betting me lots or if they really are, and it also tells me how exactly they play when I'm the one on the button and they have the BB, as opposed to their "generic" style.

Regarding bet-sizing, I think that's not as straight-forward as just tightening up because it assumes that I'm dealing with someone who's 3-betting light BUT still folds way too often for me to pass up on steals. It can be an ideal adjustment, but it should be used carefully if you're also tightening up your opening range as a specific adjustment to a certain player.

For instance, if I notice that the otherwise nitty player to my left has been 3-betting me 25% in this session (and it's a decently long session) then I can tighten up OR make my bet sizing smaller, but I'm not sure it's good to do both, because if I'm tightening up I don't want him to stop 3-betting me - quite the contrary. And there's an inherent danger to making bet sizing changes as a counter-adjustment: They might notice that you've changed something mid-session. Now I'm creeping dangerously far into "I know that you know that I know" country but I think you see my point.

But against people who "always" 3-bet much, I do open smaller (2.5x; I don't have the minraise in me quite yet although I think I'll start toying with it at some point and against some players).

Thanks for the input; I appreciate it.

Fredrik Paulsson: said...

... and now I finished reading Cole's article, which I thought was good (albeit a bit dated - it's funny how quickly strategy articles have that happen). His idea is fun and I might play around with it at some point.

Zach said...

To clarify I would be 2 or 2.5xing a wider range especially from the button. Even if they adjust it basically makes every option they have suck. They can 3-bet big and get worse odds on their 3-bet bluffs. They can 3-bet closer to pot-size and let you flat a wide range in position with a ton of money behind. Or they can call more which again they end up playing a pot oop without the initiative with deep stacks. I actually do this normally against decent opponents. Plus if you do decide to 4-bet bluff after getting 3-bet you can get such great leverage and a really cheap 4-bet bluff like 2 -> 8 -> 21 you put 21 BBs in and basically force him to risk his entire stack or fold unless he's going to flat the 4-bet oop.

Jurn8 said...

Great post and nice discussion between you and zach FP.
I enjoy your strategy posts, well thought out and well written.
Ty Sir

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