Matt Matros: Make the move from online and beat the live game regulars (part 2)

In the second part of this series CardRunners pro Matt Matros looks at how to exploit and beat the live game regulars…

(Click here for part 1)

Last month we went over subjects such as etiquette and the rules of live tournaments that some online players struggle to adapt to. This month we are going to really get into the fun stuff and talk strategy, starting with preflop play. Live players play very differently preflop to players that usually play online. But what specifically do they do differently?

Preflop style differences

Less three-betting, more calling Live players don’t three-bet as much as online players and like to flat call instead. It’s a fairly big difference but it’s not quite as bad a play as internet players like to think it is. The old-school player style was to see a lot of flops, especially in position, by flat calling. This is a lower variance style. If you know how to play this style – which some of the better live players do – it’s actually not as easy to deal with as you might think it is. Part of the reason online players don’t play this way is because they three-bet a lot and they think that by calling it alerts everyone as to what they have. For example, they three-bet with their steals but just flat call with small pairs and suited connectors to try and flop something big. It’s too easy to define a player’s range if they do this. Whereas because the brick-and-mortar players aren’t three-betting anything apart from really good hands their flatting range is wider. Of course, when they do three-bet they are exploitable because they have a really strong range. It’s tougher to deal with a player who just calls very good hands alongside his speculative hands.

Personally, I hardly ever flat call except when we are really deep. When we get to the stage of the tournament where stealing the blinds and antes is really important I’ll always be threebetting and usually only calling from the blinds. The old-school players will still flat even in this part of the tournament when they only have 20-30 big blinds. They will do this with hands as good as A-K and A-Q sometimes! Don’t rule out a particular strong hand from an opponent’s range just because an old-school player flats you. They don’t have the same standards for three-betting as internet players have.

Larger raise sizes
When live players do three-bet they tend to make it bigger than online players – the same goes for initial raises. So many people have started making their opening raises smaller and this has started to have an impact on live players so their preflop raises are not as large as they once were. Players that do still open to three or four times the big blind typically will have stronger hands so you should probably tighten up your three-betting range in these spots.

The real difference in sizing is in threebetting. A typical online player will make their three-bet 2.5x the initial raise or smaller whereas the live player will make it at least 3x the initial raise. Because the raise size is so big there appears to be a lot of value in four-bet bluffing but this would be a mistake because their range will be so much stronger in the first place.

More limping, less raising
Again, this is not as bad a strategy choice as you may think it is. The better live players try to balance their limping range by adding in monster hands they will limp-reraise with. They cannot balance it enough and so their limping range will always be weaker than their raising range on the whole. If you’re a player that is constantly raising their limps in position then this may be a good spot for them to mix in some limp-reraises to their game. The advice here is that if you do get limp-reraised by one of these guys then do give them credit for a hand! They are not just getting annoyed because you are constantly raising their limps.

Fewer preflop bluffs
It’s now very popular in tournaments to three-bet, four-bet, five-bet and even six-bet preflop without a hand. Old-school players are never going to do this. There are some really good aggressive players but even they are not getting aggressive this way. Their aggression will come by barrelling flop, turn and river, or by open-raising a lot. They don’t do the preflop thing or show resistance when someone has played back at them.

To sum up, overall they are just tighter players. They are willing to be the first one in the pot with just about everything, but will not combat you without a hand if you have already raised. And, any time they four-bet you can rest assured it is a monster hand!

The live player’s postflop style

Bigger bets and raises
Just like internet players, old-school players will continuation bet a lot of the time when they raise preflop but they are more likely to make a pot-sized bet than the more common online equivalent of betting half the pot. This pot-sized bet size should not be read as being especially strong – it’s just their normal sizing.

Find out where you’re at
Once you bet or raise a brick-and-mortar player they are less likely to play back at you with a semi-bluff. However, they are much more likely to play back at you with either decent or pretty strong hands that they feel safe in folding to the next raise. For example, on a flop of K-4-2 if you raise preflop and then bet the flop a good chunk of old-school players will raise you with K-Q. This is different to the more common online approach where you would just call to induce another bet or get value on later streets. They don’t think this way. They think, ‘I’m going to raise here to see if I have the best hand and if I get three-bet he must have A-K or better so I can fold.’ Live players are not thinking about how to extract value – they are only thinking about if they have the best hand or not. This is backwards thinking and not the way to play poker, but I am trying to get inside the heads of these players that are still populating live brick-and-mortar tournaments. Once you get deeper into the tournament a lot of these guys will have already been eliminated.

Poor value bettors
The biggest thing that old-school players do wrong is not value betting well, particularly on the river. The strategy adjustment for this is counter-intuitive. Because the old-school players are so bad at value betting you actually want to call them pretty often when they bet the river. The reason is that if they’re not value betting then what are they doing? They will bluff the river because they have no other way of winning the pot. They really will not make anything close to a thin value bet. A thin value bet for them is probably betting a flush when the board is paired. They almost always check it back. You shouldn’t always call the river with your bluff catchers, but against old-school players you should often call just because their ratio of bluffs to value bets is huge. Their range is all messed up because they aren’t betting enough. With the good price you’re getting from the pot it means you should often call if there’s any doubt in your mind.

Tips for live tournaments

Listen to what players are saying. Live players give away a lot of information just by talking about poker. You can get an insight into the way they think about the game and then know the types of hands they play and those they might fold. I’ve exploited many players just because I have overheard them saying how tight they are and how they are willing to fold big hands preflop. Pay attention – don’t just get to the table and put your iPod on.

Know your tells
You should know the rule of thumb that when someone is acting strong they are generally weak and when someone is acting weak they are generally strong. Even if you are not a people person you should know this much about tells. When you see someone pretending not to pay attention or sighing before putting in a raise – that person has the nuts! Also, when someone is very aggressively betting it is often a bluff. This is only among bad players. Good players can do whatever they want. Another good tell is if a player glances down at his chips when the flop comes out then he usually has hit something. Watch out for that one. The other general class of tells is that the more comfortable a person looks the more likely he is to have a hand. On the flip side the more nervous a person looks then he is less likely to have a hand and is probably bluffing. This manifests itself by talking. If a person is incoherent and suddenly cannot master the ability to speak then they are often scared and bluffing. Engage your opponents by talking to them and know what you are looking for.

Put yourself in their heads
Don’t think to yourself, ‘what would I do in this spot?’, but instead think about the person you are playing against. if you’re facing a live opponent that you are not used to seeing then you need to be able to think like them to decide if a certain spot is a good one for calling or folding. Also, think about what they are perceiving you to be doing. If they think you are this crazy online kid then you may be able to value bet a little thinner. Or, if they think you are on the same level as them, you can get away with four-betting light as it is a play they would never make in a million years. They will think you have it every single time.

Exploit scared play
One thing about live tournaments that you might not have considered if you’ve never played one is that the stack sizes look so much bigger when you get deep. Late on, everyone has stacks and stacks and stacks in front of them. It can feel crazy to shove all-in, just due to the sheer volume of them! Pots can seem enormous because some people’s stacks are made up of smaller denomination chips – psychologically, it can influence play. Players who you might not think will ever fold – because they only have 15 or 16 big blinds – may fold to a raise because they think they have a bigger stack than they do. Late on you can get away with a lot more in terms of stealing against guys that think like this.

Pay structure adjustments
There’s also a difference in the pay structure between online and live tournaments. Live tourneys pay fewer places (typically 10% of the field) and there is much more incentive to reach the final table as the prizes for fifth, sixth and seventh are quite a bit higher than online. It makes more sense then to accumulate chips rather than just trying to survive. Just getting to the final table has more value.

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