Top 3 Exploits to Crush Poker in 2024

Saulo Costa
13 May 2024
Psychology Strategy
13 May 2024

In today’s topic we’ve compiled a list of the most valuable strategy tips. They possibly help you crush your opponents and make more money. So let's dive into them.

Preflop Game

Coming in at number three on our list is something that surprises me every time: a fundamental strategic approach for preflop play. Despite its importance, I've noticed that 99% of regular players don't utilize it enough. To understand this first step, we need to delve into the theory and math of how preflop works.

Imagine you're dealt a hand in the small blind on a six-max table, and the action folds to you. Typically, here you have two options: raise with a three big blind open size or simply fold. Sometimes, there can be a limping option, but most professionals ignore that option for simplicity. 

Now, what happens when you raise from the small blind? Well, your opponent has three options:

  1. They can fold to your bet and let you take down the pot.
  2. They can 3-bet you, usually to a 9 big blind sizing. 
  3. They can call your open, and both of you go postflop. 

The expected value (EV) of opening from the small blind with a random hand is equal to the sum of the EV of all these three possible outcomes multiplied by their probability. The EV of raising equals the fold EV multiplied by the fold frequency + the call EV multiplied by the call frequency + the raise EV multiplied by the raise frequency. 

Now, this is where things get interesting. The fold EV is really simple to understand: if the big blind folds, they put one blind into the pot, so the fold EV equals one blind per hand.

But what about the raise EV? How much money do you win or lose when you face a 3-bet? Well, of course, the answer depends on your exact hand. If you face a 3-bet after opening with aces, for example, your EV shoots up to 32.2 big blinds per hand. That's a lot of money. 

However, the same is not true for the rest of your range. In fact, exactly 2/3 of your range becomes breakeven or worse when facing a 3-bet.

What this means in practice is that every time you get 3-bet while holding those hands, you effectively lose the money you invested, as you're not getting anything back. That's minus three big blinds per hand. 

I hope you understand the point here: for two-thirds of your range, facing a 3-bet is terrible for their EV, while getting a fold nets one big blind. Facing a 3-bet loses three big blinds every time.

What about the call EV? Well, this one is harder to determine for any given hand. But one thing we know for sure: getting called certainly costs us more money than facing a 3-bet. Simply because we get to see the flop and realize at least part of the equity from our hand. So, the call EV is higher than minus 3 big blinds.

By understanding this, you can realize that if all of a sudden your opponent reacts less than he should, the EV of most hands in your range will increase. It's just math: a really bad outcome happens less often, while a preferable outcome (either more calls or more folds) happens more often. Ultimately, then, you make more money with all those hands when you face fewer 3-bets.

Take a look at these two preflop simulations: on the left, you have the GTO simulation for the small blind versus big blind scenario. The small blind is supposed to open 44% of hands and face a 3x open, while the big blind should respond with 44% calls and 18% 3-bets. On the right, however, you have a simulated player on the big blind that doesn't meet these frequencies: he calls 40% instead of 44% and 3-bets only 9% instead of 18%.

When we compare the EVs between the two, we see that almost all small blind hands have their EV increased by the lack of 3-bets. Even a hand as strong as ace-jack suited has its EV increased from 0.67 big blinds per hand to 0.76 big blinds per hand. 

The only hands to have their EV decreased by the lack of 3-bets are sevens plus, ace-queen suited, and ace-king. Everything else starts to make more money, and the overall EV of the small blind strategy goes up from minus 0.23 big blinds per hand to minus 0.17 big blinds per hand — a 26% boost.

The lack of 3-betting has a major consequence for the small blind's raise-first-in (RFI) strategy. Those hands that were supposed to be open-folded in the GTO model now become profitable to open.

In order to take advantage of the big blind's mistake, the raise-first-in (RFI) frequency goes from 44% to 64%. 

Now, what I wanted to tell you from the beginning is that the numbers I use to simulate a mistake in the big blind strategy are not fictitious or random. 

Those are actually the real stats of how the average recreational player behaves when facing a 3x open from the small blind. 

It's because of those mistakes that you can see me opening very wide from the small blind in my play-explained videos when the big blind is a confirmed recreational player. If you usually play static GTO ranges in these circumstances, you're leaving tons of money on the table.

Use Preflop Exploits

My first strategy advice for you to really crush poker is to use pre-flop exploits. Adjust your ranges according to the players you're facing. Expand your RFI versus big blind's call range from the big blind when weaker players open and 3-bet more often than a GTO chart tells you to. 

Against a weak opponent, playing like a rigid robot pre-flop against everyone is just literally refusing to make more money. Don't do that!

Story About Me

Number two here in our list of strategy tips is something I've been teaching to my students since I began coaching almost six years ago. I cannot stress how big and lie grade this can be for you, and if I'm being honest, this tip has the potential to completely change your results. This may sound a little exaggerated, but I only say this because it's exactly what happened to me. Let's go back in time a little bit so I can tell you my story.

Seven years ago, in early 2017, I was playing 15NL Zoom on PokerStars. Unfortunately for me, despite my efforts with long hours of grinding and a relatively consistent study routine, which included posting lots of hands and asking for feedback on forums, I was struggling a lot. 

For some reason, I absolutely couldn't beat that stake, even though I had easily beaten 25NL Zoom a few months prior. Things got so bad at some point that I actually started questioning my own intellectual capacity.

I had left the fourth year of computer engineering at the most prestigious university in my country to pursue poker. Thinking that it had been a great decision for me, but then, one and a half years later, I still couldn't beat a relatively low stake.

By approaching June of that year, I had played over 250,000 hands of 50NL Zoom with a minus 2.5 big blinds per 100 win rate. That's 80 buy-ins in the red. 

It seems terrible, and it is, but it's not like I wasn't trying everything that I could. In January of that year, for example, I paid $1,000 for 10 hours of private coaching with a respected reg who had great results at those limits. Unfortunately, things didn't work out between me and him, and I quit the package after the third lesson.

How Coaching Helps

The next month, however, I saw that a brand new coaching for profits offer had been posted in the 2+2 forums. To my great surprise, one of the coaches involved in the project was my biggest idol in the community, Easterdamnz, one of the most legendary Zoom grinders of all time. I loved watching his videos on Run It Once, where he was very popular for making mostly plain explain videos. Somehow, he made winning look simple, and I wanted to learn from him. So, I signed up for the CFP offer (it means Coaching For Profit), quickly got in touch with the leader of the group, and started my contract.

Despite my initial excitement, things didn't click in that contract. I wasn't improving at the pace I thought I should, so after a few months of building frustration, I decided to terminate the agreement. I paid my coach, which was $2,000, to terminate the contract early, which was almost half of my bankroll, and continued on my own, trying to break through from what seemed like an impossible climb.

But then, shortly after, my redemption came, and it came in a very unexpected way. At that time, I had a Skype group with some friends who were playing similar stakes. We would discuss hands in the chat, and occasionally, we would have a call where we would each share some hands and get feedback from each other.

During one of those calls, I shared a few hands with my friends, and one of the guys in the group gave me some very emphatic, consistent feedback. The hands I shared were mostly bluff-catching decisions on the river in big pots, and every time I showed a call that I had made, my friend would reply quickly and firmly, "I would fold that." The next hand I showed, he'd say, "Yeah, I would fold that too." And it continued, "Fold 100%, no, you can't call that, I think you should fold". That call was really eye-opening to me.

That friend of mine was having decent success at the Zoom games, both at 50NL and 100NL. Now, I thought we had at least a similar understanding of the game, so I took his strong opinion on river calls as an indication of what I could improve in my game. 

Perhaps I was giving people too much credit. The next day, I decided to do something radical. I was tired of losing, and I really wanted to make poker work. I was so close to my initial long-term goal of playing 100NL, so I was ready to do and try anything to make that happen. 

So, I took my friend Rodrigo's advice to heart, and I set out to grind with only one intention: to f*** fold in the river in big pots. I told myself I wasn't going to call anybody. "You want my money? Try something else, 'cause today, I ain't calling." That's what I did. I started to play with this unique intention of letting go of my desire to call people down in big pots. I didn't even know or wasn't even sure if I was, in fact, calling people too much, but I had to try it. I was desperate.

What happened next was mind-blowing to me. I couldn't believe my eyes. From that point forward, I went from being a 2.5 big blind loser to a three big blind winner for the rest of the year.

My full graph for 50NL in that year looks absolutely insane — I was suddenly a different player. All because I stopped giving other rags credit for having bluffs in big pots. If you want to crush poker this year, then you must stop doing something you probably do every day, at least once: you're donating money to nits. 

Calling off nits in big pots is the quickest recipe for burning money and killing your win rate. 

It may not happen very frequently, as big pots do happen at low frequency, but you lose so much money making those calls that it has a tremendous impact on your win rate. For example, if you call off a 60 big blind shove in a 3-bet pot where the pot is 80 big blinds, your opponent is supposed to bluff 30% of the time for your bluff catcher to break even. If he's bluffing 15% of the time instead, you lose 30 big blinds with your call. 30 blinds in a single hand. 

If you make such a call once every 1,000 hands, then the impact on your win rate is three big blinds per 100 hands. You only make the losing call 0.1% of the time. Over a 50,000 hand stretch, perhaps the volume you play in 22 days of grinding, you're only going to be making a bad call in 50 hands. That's basically two bad calls per day. You make two bad losing calls against nits per day, and your win rate drops by three big blinds per 100. 

Part of this problem is generated by the terrible narratives that get perpetuated in the poker community, like the bad old "can't fold top pair" range or "you got to have at least some calls here." Let me save you a lot of time and money in your career: you don't have to call the top of your range. You don't need to have a calling range versus nits. 

The way to exploit these player types is by always folding with your bluff catchers against them in big pots. Your blockers don't matter and the board doesn't matter. How you feel about it doesn't matter? You have to find the fold and click the fold button versus nits in big pots. I can guarantee you that you'll see a substantial improvement in your win rate already.

But this last step is more than an improvement. If you can successfully apply this last strategy of device into your game, then you might completely transform yourself as a player. Despite being in essence a strategic advice, just like the previous items in this list, the spear tip is rooted in something bigger than pure strategic execution. 

The spear tip has to do with what's your mindset as a poker player. It's an attempt to bring back something that, in my opinion, is vital to poker as a profession but that has been unfortunately forgotten and neglected in the last few years in the community.

GTO solvers

With the rise of GTO solvers and all the technology around it, software companies and poker content creators were able to make big profits from selling a dream. Actually, not just a dream, but the dream.What if you could make tons of money playing this card game while not having to care about your opponents anymore?

Imagine playing this perfect strategy where it's impossible for you to get exploited.

If you can play this strategy, then no matter how your opponents are playing, you're guaranteed not to lose. Oh, how delicious and sweet that sounds, right? How powerful of a promise that is! 

If I can learn all these GTO plays and frequencies, then I don't ever have to worry about poker again. My strategy is solid, it's unbeatable, and all I've got to do is play volume and collect my winnings.

While it's absolutely true that GTO strategies are unexploitable, there's a piece of information that unfortunately gets omitted in many circumstances. The truth is that you can't play GTO. That's right — you can't. And I know that because not even the best players in the world can.

One of the most recent posts in my weekly email newsletter, where I share statistical insights every week, I wrote an article where I answered the question: Are nosebleed players GTO? 

I took the top 15 players in the world and compared their performance to computer performance. The results were, to me, not surprising. Even the best players in the world, the ones taking millions out of the ecosystem every year, have major flaws in their strategy.

Just to name a few, I was able to spot deviations like over-sea betting frequencies, huge overfolds to flop check-raises, significant overfolds to turn and river probes, and too aggressive double and triple barrel frequencies — all of that in 2023, a full eight years after the first solver was launched in the market.

You could argue that these players don't play GTO because they don't want to. Or even better, because they are intentionally deviating from solver play to exploit their opponents.

While that's debatable, the most important point in this context is not whether or not the best players are capable or willing to play GTO. Regardless of the reason why their strategy is exploitable, whether that is because they are themselves exploiting their opponents or due to incompetence in exploitative play, the fact that really matters is that they are not playing GTO. And that says a lot.

Because of the ubiquity of an exploitable strategy in the poker community, most players have simply forgotten that poker is a competitive activity. 

This ain't no Co-op game on PS5. Poker is [ __ ] War. Poker used to be about fighting against each other, and now it has become a bunch of grinders playing a fixed style where they try to mimic solver strategies and then fail miserably in the process.

My call for you in this second item in this material is composed of two parts:

  1. First, realize that no one is and will ever be able to play completely balanced. This means that every single player in the world is exploitable;
  2. Second, ignite the competitive mindset in your mind and in your heart, and start fighting. No one is balanced in poker.

Therefore, strategies that make the most money are exploitative strategies, not poor attempts at pseudo-GTO styles. In the context of exploitative strategies, the one thing that will make you the most money when exploiting other people is attacking capped ranges.

Attacking capped ranges means balancing all actions with the appropriate amount of nutted hands. 

For example, I showed that in the 3-bet line versus the big blind, hands with more than 90% equity should be played as mixed strategies 95% of the time in solver land. This means that in order to have a properly balanced three-bet strategy, you have to mix bets and checks or bets with multiple different sizes with 95% of your strongest hands.

Let me tell you something: nobody does that. No one is putting the necessary amount of nutted hands in all of their strategic options postflop. This insight leads to some very not-so-obvious strategic adjustments when your opponent fails to put enough nutted hands in one of their strategic options.

For example, if they bluff too much with their nut hands in their betting range, then a few things will happen. First, all your hands gain relative strength. Your strongest hands are now completely nutted, your medium-strength hands become very good hands, and your weak bluff catchers become just a thin value. 

Second, your opponent will have trouble calling properly against aggression because now that they lack many snap calls or snap raise hands, they'll be forced to call your bets with some pretty marginal hands to prevent you from over bluffing.

Data shows that humans don't like calling with weak hands. Third, your opponent will also struggle to reach the necessary raising frequencies as they simply don't have the hands to do it.

With these three things, there are three immediate exploits you can use to attack capped ranges: 

  1. Increase your bet sizings with all hand classes. The equity boost from facing a weaker range allows your value hands to bet bigger, as their equity against a calling range increases even for larger sizes. 
  2. Think twice before giving up with a bluffing hand. Your opponent is now required to call with weaker hands more often, but they probably won't. Data shows that the population typically overfolds the lines where they're capped. Capitalize on that by firing with your bluffs and 3-betting more often.
  3. Inner thinner value with your middling strength hands. The lack of nutted hands leads to a lack of raises, which leads to either more calls or more folds.

In any of those cases, the value of betting with your middle strength hands increases. If you want to make this year your best poker year yet, then you must take these three tips to heart:

  • First, don't play fixed ranges preflop. Adjust your ranges to exploit your opponents as often as you can. 
  • Second, don't burn money paying off nits. Learn that money saved is worth the same as money won. 
  • Third, poker is a competition, not a cooperative game. If you really want to make money, realize that you must take it from other people. So, go on and attack the capped ranges. 

My desire for you is that you can absolutely crush poker. Playing this game professionally is a great opportunity, and when I see people taking it for granted, it breaks my heart. I'll do my part in helping you by providing you with the best poker strategy content on the internet for free. The rest, my friend, is up to you. It's time to level up!

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