Exploitation in Poker

Winning at poker is often defined by how much you exploit poker players. But what is exploitative poker? At the top level of the game, anyone who demonstrates a weakness at the felt often corrects it moments after doing so, and at least in the same orbit. The lower you go down the food chain, however, the less people either notice or correct those errors.

In this article, we’ll break down which players to spot at the poker felt who you can exploit, and give you some easy-to-implement tactics that allow you to make the maximum from them. From calling out three different types of players that you can exploit to providing you with an example of a hand that shows you their weakness -and how to take advantage of it – we’re like the big stack at the table… we’ve got you covered.

Player 1 – The Hippopotamus

Hippo Playing Cards

In nature, the hippopotamus is an animal that lives in water yet cannot swim. In poker, this contradiction of comfort and habitation might act as a metaphor for the tight-passive player. These are typically players who don’t call down nearly enough and therefore you can exploit them on later streets. However, just because they’re not comfortable to swim with you, like hippos will gallop along the river to avoid predators, these tight players will do their best to avoid you.

If a player shows tendencies at avoiding calling post-flop, or after the turn or river, then you want to be making bets on each of those streets with far more regularity.

Tight-Passive Folders Example:

Let’s look at a common example against a player we can identify as The Hippopotamus. In this instance, we’ll imagine that you’re playing online poker and that you have ace-jack of spades. Raising it up pre-flop to around 2.5x – a fairly standard bet from middle position – you get a call from the player in the big blind only.

On the flop of K-6-3 with both the latter cards coming in diamonds, you bet again, this time around 35% of the pot. Your enemy calls again. On the turn, a queen of hearts, giving you a gutshot to Broadway and one over to the board. You bet around 75% of the pot and your opponent calls again.

The river is an insignificant brick, the three of hearts. A lot of draws have missed – including yours – but once again your opponent has checked. Against some more aggressive players, like a busy restaurant on Saturday night, we’d want to add plenty of checks into the mix. But against a super-tight player, you want to be bluffing a lot more, maybe even for all of the chips you have.

How You Can Exploit The Hippopotamus

Put to the test in this horrible spot, what you should be doing is imagining very deeply what you would be feeling if you were your opponent. If you were a tight player used to folding often in this spot, are you now making a hero call, and if so, why?

Once you have established what your opponent’s mindset is at the time of you making the bet, make it right and you can exploit the fear of The Hippopotamus. They cannot swim, but they’re in deep water – their only option is to run.

Player 2 – The Gorilla

Gorilla at the felt

According to most research, gorillas can reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. They frequently don’t, however, preferring to stand their ground and beat their chests rather than make moves they really should do. If you’ve ever faced across the felt with a poker player who rarely three-bets, then you’ve stood opposite The Gorilla. But have you asked them to go for a run?

Players who rarely three-bet miss out on opportunities to force others off pots pre-flop and will play directly into your hands if you’re alert to this major leak. But how can you take advantage of their consistently made error?

Scared Three-Bettors Example:

Let’s say that you’re in the cutoff position with a suited ten-nine. After you raise pre-flop from your late position seat, The Gorilla three-bets to ten times the big blind. That’s the sound of a hairy fist hitting an even hairier chest.  Why is your opponent making this kind of raise when they rarely three-bet? They’re strong and they have you cornered. It’s at this point that The Gorilla’s reluctance to run should see you take to your toes and start sprinting. But only if they fit a specific criteria.

How You Can Exploit The Gorilla

Ask yourself a few questions before you toss in your cards pre-flop. If you’re playing online, what are their statistics for three-betting against the player in the cut-off or hijack seat? Are they three-betting less than 6% of hands, or if you’re playing live, have they refused to three-bet in the last two levels?

If someone you’re playing against has got to showdown with hands such as pocket eights or lower, ace-ten suited or lower and have never three-bet them, then you’re behind in this position and could well be absolutely crushed by a monster. No-one comes out from under a gorilla in one piece – unless it’s a very flat piece – so slide your cards into the muck and wait for a better spot to take down your chest-thumping opponent.

Player 3 – The Hyena

Hyena Playing Cards

Some poker players are more akin to the animal kingdom than the human population, and we’re not just talking about that guy who thinks deodorant is the French word for steak cooked rare. While players who are tight-passive and those reticent to three-bet frequently are players who are easy to prey on, some weaknesses can present themselves under the disguise of strength.

Take players who are not tight but loose and bet aggressively. On the face of it, they’re looking to push you off every pot, dominating you with a display of aggression. But while aggression is at its most powerful when it is focused, targeted and exploitative, when it is scattergun it is misplaced and can be taken advantage of.

There are a number of ways you can exploit loose-aggressive poker players but one that some players forget to take advantage of is bluff-catching. Sure, you’ll want to play strong hands harder, call rivers after picking up strong second pairs and draws have been missed in regular occurrences against the aggressive type – the hyena – but bluff-catching is a method guaranteed to stop them laughing.

The Hyena will bet and bet and bet and calling them off with air can be scary but if your bluff-catcher is stronger than their bluff, it is as good as aces over kings.

Bluff-Catching Example:

Let’s imagine that you’re in the big blind with jack-nine of hearts. The flop comes with a jack, a seven and a deuce, with two clubs. Pre-flop, you called a 2.5x raise and now on the flop, you face a small bet. It’s likely that your loose-aggressive maniac is simply c-betting strength, such as a high ace or a stronger middle or bottom pair or low draw.

On the turn of an offsuit ten, your enemy bets again, this time big. Other – tighter – players might be making this bet for value but if you know your maniacal friend isn’t this type, they’re often trying to bully you off the pot.

The river of an offsuit four is no threat but they smash the pot, betting around 15x the big blind and putting you to the test. Making such a big call in this position is risky but only because of the chips in the middle and they’ve instigated that feeling in you to elicit a fold. It’s all about pressure.

How You Can Exploit The Hyena

If your opponent has a 40%+ VPIP (voluntarily put into pot) frequency and c-bets flops and turns 60%+ of the time, along with three-barrelling 40% of the time on the river, then they are often bluffing in this spot. Watch for them to have previously showed down weak hands or mega-bluffs, and if they play every hand, then take advantage and make them pay in these positions and you’ll win some very big pots.

In Conclusion

Learning how to exploit weaker players who fall into patterns is an elite skill that you can learn from the very start of your poker career. It can win you big pots and allow you to step up the ranks quicker than others who play it safe. But make sure that you follow our guidance and make notes on how attempts to exploit players go in your poker analysis and you’ll refine the art of exploitation.

Stay tight on identifying ranges in your opponents and don’t take unnecessary risks. Take calculated risks at the right time and you can make predictable players pay – the winning formula of any poker player.

Did this article deal you a winning hand?

Jackpot! You’ve flopped a winning hand! This article has surely added some extra chips to your stack. Tune in for more valuable insights and pro-level strategies!

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Paul seaton


Paul Seaton, a poker luminary with over a decade of experience, has reported live from iconic poker events, including the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour. He’s not just a spectator; he’s been the Editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine and Head of Media for partypoker. Paul’s poker insights have graced publications like PokerNews, 888poker, and PokerStake, where he’s interviewed poker legends such as Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, and The Hendon Mob’s, entire lineup. His exceptional work even earned him a Global Poker Award nomination for Best Written Content. In the poker world, Paul Seaton’s expertise is a force to be reckoned with, captivating enthusiasts worldwide. 

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