Once you’ve worn out your ability to use cheap tactics against pros, you have to beat them the old-fashioned way—by outplaying them.
You outplay the pros using the same skills we’ve used throughout this book. Pros in live games will tend to play too many hands pre-flop (though often not as many as recreational players). And pros have the same problem with these extra hands everyone else does—they have to stick them somewhere. But pros tend to be smart about where they go. They’ll call down with their junk hands when they can get away with it. They’ll fold them when they believe that makes the most sense. And they’ll often try to bluff their extra hands, because that strategy works against a wide swath of live no-limit players.
In other words, at any moment, in any given hand, pros are just as vulnerable to being punished for their loose, exploitable play as anyone else. But they’re a moving target. So they’re trickier. Instead of relying on a static strategy, they’re able to adjust their play to what they think will work in the moment.
But you still have two options to hit a moving target. One, you can try to stay a step ahead. Two, you can try to develop an optimal strategy that will exploit a pro player’s strategy no matter which way they turn.
The first approach is easier. You’re looking for specific leaks in their games. No pro I know plays anywhere close to a perfect game. They’ll always give away information about hand strength
by the way they construct their hand ranges, and by the way they handle certain situations. Here’s an example.
Let’s say a pro opens for $30 from two off the button, and you call in the big blind. The flop comes Q♥8♦3♦. You check, the pro bets, you call.
The turn is the 6♣. You check and your opponent checks. What can he have?
The pro is clearly taking a typical pot-controlling line designed to get to showdown with a medium-strength hand. Hands like Q- J and A-8 are in his mix. The player could also have an ace-high hand like A-J, or a medium unimproved pocket pair like 7-7.
With extra-strong hands like 3-3 or 8-6, the pro would undoubtedly bet again in an attempt to get three streets of value against a good queen. The turn check, therefore, likely indicates that the pro has a hand worth between one and two streets of value. Or the pro checks because he’s giving up on the hand.
So if that’s what a check means, what does it mean if the pro makes a big turn bet instead?
Well, it could be one of those extra-strong hands such as 3-3 and 8-6. But it could also be a bluff. Any time a pro-level player is making strong bets, there’s a chance it’s a bluff.
The question is, what percentage of the time is he bluffing? An optimal bluffing frequency does exist. So if the pro bluffs precisely that much, you can’t do anything about it. Call, and you lose too often to the good hands. Fold, and you get bluffed out a lot.
No pro will actually bluff at the optimal frequency. Sometimes they’ll bluff less than optimally, sometimes more. These are often not conscious decisions. Most 5-10 pros aren’t thinking in terms
of optimal frequencies. Instead, they’re reacting to, and acting on, live reads. Or they’re a little lazy about their play, and falling easily into betting patterns that work okay, but aren’t necessarily perfect.
If you can get into a pro’s head, you can sometimes guess whether they’re over- or under-bluffing in this kind of spot and those like it. The first puzzle piece is board texture. How many strong hands, worth three streets of value, are out there? Some boards allow more of these hands than others. If a given board allows fewer strong hands, it’s likely the pro could be over- bluffing. Unless he accounts for the lack of good hands and bluffs less, he will be bluffing too many hands compared to the number of strong hands he can hold relative to the board texture.
The second puzzle piece is related to the first—pre-flop hand selection. A pro might have more strong hands on a K-9-7-3 board than on a K-7-6-3 board, for example, because before the flop he plays significantly fewer hands with sixes in them than he does hands with nines. Or it can work in reverse. If the professional is an aggressive pre-flop reraiser, when he doesn’t reraise, you can discount the possibility he has a high-card hand.
Third, you can try to intuit the pro’s overall strategy. Is he looking to win pots with bluffs, or is he looking to win showdowns? No pro player will skew too far in one or the other direction. But there will always be some skew in their overall approach.
Consider all these factors then examine the turn bet. Is it more likely to be value bet or a bluff? If you get skilled at deciphering the information available in betting lines, you’ll be able to create an edge over professional-level opponents.