Often in HU matches, I’ll come across a player who doesn’t seem to have many leaks. He’ll raise a solid range from the BU, not play too loose OOP, and have a good mix of cbets and two barrels, as well as balanced ranges in other areas. Many when playing, whether it’s six max or HU, will play “their game.” By this I mean that they will always use the same preflop bet size, same flop bet size, same turn bet size, same lines, etc. This is fine versus mindless fish, but versus good players you’re allowing them to get comfortable and to easily balance their ranges. So instead of playing a “standard” game, to beat solid regulars you have to get them uncomfortable. You win at poker when you play against unbalanced play.
The first step to getting your opponent uncomfortable is identifying where his game is strong. I remember in one match I had versus a regular. This certain reg was normally tight/passive, which with patience can be very easy to beat. However, when I threebet him and he called in position, he would always raise my flop cbets with a balanced range: Any draws, top pair or better, some air. If I were to continue threebetting him light, general poker knowledge would tell me that I would lose: I have a weak range facing a balanced range OOP. Many others will have balanced ranges in other areas of their game. Preflop and flop cbetting is usually balanced, as well as double barreling frequency.
So the second thing you have to do is stop playing against these players in spots where there game is solid. If someone is double barreling a solid frequency, DON’T c/c the flop with weakish hands likely to get double barreled off. If someone is shoving a solid range to your cbets in threebet pots, DON’T threebet light.
But this is about as far as many go, they make the “I’ll play tighter” adjustment. Yet, there is another important step is to make your opponent uncomfortable; take him out of his game. How do you do this? Play your ranges in such a way that forces him to make thin calls or make big bluffs.
So lets go back to the opponent who is shoving over my cbets in threebet pots with a balanced range. Well what if instead of cbetting 3/4ths to pot when I threebet, I start betting 1/4th pot or check? Let’s put ourselves in our opponents shoes. We are getting threebet light by ISF, and he checks the flop on a J74 board. With midpair, I’m afraid that he is going for a possible c/r, which I can’t call, so I check behind. Maybe I’ll even check behind top pair weak kicker. I don’t want to get blown off my draw, so I’ll check behind that. But I’ll bet my sets, overpairs, and AJ/KJ hands because maybe he’ll c/r with air and I’ll scoop a nice pot! Maybe I’ll bet air sometimes too to steal the pot.
I don’t think this is an unreasonable assessment of what our opponent may be thinking, but look at what just happened! We successfully unbalanced his range. While his betting range is balanced (He’s betting his good hands, but his checking range only contains medium strength and weak hands. So now lets say our opponent does check behind, if we bet the turn and river with a semi balanced range of air and solid hands, he is going to have to make a huge call with either mid pair or bottom pair, which much of the time is going to be incorrect!
Yet this is only one way to go about it. There are many ways so make sure to experiment.
So in summary
1. Find where your opponent’s play is strong.
2. Stop putting yourself in spots where his play is strong.
3. Take different/odd lines to unbalance his range.
4. Play super aggressive with semi balanced ranges in those spots.
Eventually, a good opponent will have to start adjusting where he checks behind some strong hands. But that’s what poker is all about! All we have to do is make another adjustment, and we have him on his heels yet again.
I know this week is complicated, but if you really get it, it’ll improve your game ten fold! If you have any questions make sure to visit my comment thread in the FTR Blogs and Operations forum.