Exploitative play at lower levels

So, I wanted to hear what the general take is on exploitative play in low-level cash games, because I’ve found that anything that remotely resembles game theory optimal is not profitable. The problem I have found in these games is people have a tendency to play way too passively and be way too sticky. Because you’re usually in pots where at least 4 people have limped, I have found nothing but value betting big hands to be profitable. The best strategy I have found for dealing with these tables is to limp in with a pretty wide range of hands, especially drawing hands, fold when someone makes a big raise pre flop, continue with strong pairs or better on the flop, and fold even strong value holdings when someone bets big. Bluffing is mostly a terrible idea. As a disclaimer, I do understand that this is usually a terrible strategy and is highly exploitable, but I have had a good deal of success with it.

What interests me, though, is I’ve seen other people who seem to be able to make a lot of chips by making a crazy amount of big raises pre-flop (like raising the pot to 7x the blind almost as frequently as I limp in). They also have a tendency to raise with marginal holdings, which I absolutely don’t do. I’m assuming that they’re just bloating the pot and betting when they know people will call light. I’ve experimented with several iterations of this kind of aggressive play, and have found a couple problems with it. For one, I’ve found that betting three streets of value is enough to get it all in by the river, and by limping in, I get to see a lot of cheap flops with marginal holdings and fantastic pot odds. For two, I’ve repeatedly found myself getting felted when I bet out with light value, because I’ve found that in a pot with 5 or 6 limpers, someone usually has something better than top pair bad kicker.

Anyway, I’m curious as to what people think the best strategies for exploitative play are when you’re dealing with players who are very loose and very passive. I’ve found what I’m doing to be a very reliable way to chip up, but I’m interested if there are other approaches.

I find the same thing. A tight, aggressive linear range and bluffing nothing is pretty effective. If you do bluff, you have to understand how and when you can do it. I also have witnessed maniac play working pretty well, but the maniacs never last deep in a tournament unless they are very lucky, or start to tighten up once they have a big stack. I can’t seem to replicate that success myself, but if you’re one of the players who hits the nuts 5-6 times per orbit on a regular basis, it must be a fun way to play. If you are like me and get dealt 2 good hands per hour, it is pretty frustrating to be seated with such a player.

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You are absolutely correct that bluffing is completely unnecessary up to the highest stakes on Replay. Balance and game theory optimal play are also completely unnecessary even at the highest stakes on Replay. You seem to have a good sense of how to beat the games you are playing, but as you move up the stakes the optimal strategy changes somewhat based on one factor: people fold slightly more as the stakes increase.

From my experience (for what little it’s worth, I have 800 million chips), your strategy is great for lower stakes (“low” and “medium” stakes on Replay). Play cheap pots and wait to smash and raise huge preflop with premium hands, all to take advantage of players who won’t fold. At the “high stakes” games (2k/4k) and above you can start playing closer to what I would call ABC poker. You want to raise big before the flop to reduce multi-way pots, but while players still call too much in general, they will fold sometimes when they miss or if you apply enough pressure. This becomes increasingly true at the “elite stakes”, where you can actually make bluffing a profitable (albeit not entirely necessary) part of your game.

The players who crush Replay do it with a competent version of the aggressive strategy you described, raising frequently and applying pressure. However, they know how to select the right hands and boards to do this and know which players can fold and which always call. Assume everyone is a calling station unless you have clear evidence to the contrary.

Players like myself play a more balanced approach and do not always get max value or apply max pressure, but come out ahead by not losing big pots, getting folds with c-bets, and getting value when my hands hit. Playing exploitatively here involves primarily going for value but also recognizing that players are too fit-or-fold in certain situations and may assume you are stronger than you are if you are active preflop.

Edit: Thanks for the great question to generate actual poker discussion! Your question is specifically about low-stakes cash games, but my suggestion would be to increase your bankroll to play higher stakes. They are more fun, even though the skill level is still not that high, because people are trying a bit harder. So, you can try things like putting people on ranges, bluffing/semi-bluffing, making relatively light 3-bets, or adjusting your bet sizing, rather than just waiting patiently to go for max value. They may not be GTO elite skills, but it’s good practice for ABC poker and these are helpful skills to beat live 1/2 or 5NL online.

I don’t usually play more than 2-3 tables at a time, and I find the play at lower stakes very frustrating, never knowing what anybody could possibly have.

It’s definitely possible to get into the millions or tens of millions in a matter of days or weeks with good game and spot selection. Good luck!

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I know right! But then it’s so satisfying when you flop a set and bust them because they rarely fold muwahahaha.

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I am not entirely sure what you mean by “bluffing is completely unnecessary up to the highest stakes on Replay.” I don’t play anywhere near that level (I regularly play the 20k/40k blind level), and have observed that bluffing is an essential tool and it is indeed profitable.

It’s effective use, however, depends on several factors, particularly (1) preflop action, (2) the players at the table, and (3) your table image. For example, if you have limped in (don’t limp in) or flatted preflop, a bluff on the flop is unadvisable in most situations. However, if you were the preflop aggressor, a bluff on the flop can often take down the pot. A double-barreled bluff is another matter, though, and requires more tact to be successful.

LAG-type players use bluffs to great success, but, as you elude to, the strong LAGs apply pressure based on a good read of the board and their opponents, and never overplay their hands. Alternatively, with a tight table image, you can represent all sorts of hands (semi-bluff) on dry boards.

Caveat: I would never consider air bluffing if there are calling stations to my left on the table.

Quite frankly, I think that it necessary to mix in some bluffs to protect your strong hands. Without bluffs, you will become too easy to read when you c-bet.

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From an actual poker standpoint, I completely agree. Bluffing is an important part of the game, which helps you generate value and gives you a chance to win without having a great hand. It is a standard part of my game.

But on Replay, there are players in the top 20 with over 2b chips who almost never (or possibly absolutely never) bluff. They can do this because most players here are so inflexible in their play, that they don’t need deception. They bet big or check-raise for value, play medium pots with medium hands, and draw if they are getting a good price. By not making mistakes and playing their hands exactly as they are, they are still able to get value from players who are incapable of folding. Players here are not good at adjusting, so they are unable to exploit this very exploitable strategy. For example, most players play their absolute hand strength and don’t know to overfold when facing a bet from a player who never bluffs. Basically, they are pretty nitty and hard to get value from, while still being able to get value from calling stations.

That being said, against good opponents that strategy cannot work. But it is tricky to play against these players because they don’t leave a lot of chips on the table, are not easily bluffed, and while you can sometimes overfold, you can face tough decisions when you both have strong hands.


When you have a pre-flop monster and you’re playing against people who shove light/will call a shove light, you can punish them bigly - this happened on back to back hands LOL

Hi @petrthegreat,

I play for a couple of hours, most days, at 1/2 with some friends and for bankroll building at the weekend, I play all stakes up to 50/100. I’m more than comfortable at higher stakes and used to play up to 1k/2k (and higher!) but I am now bankroll limited (not for reasons to do with my style of play) and have only a small amount of play time to correct that situation. For what it’s worth, this time around, I have gone from zero to nearly 200k in about 3 weeks = 30 - 40 hours of play. Considering how much time I spend on the 1/2 tables, that is probably less than 10 hours of bankroll building play.

I’m using 1/2 stakes to convert BB to actual number of chips but I use nearly exactly the same strategy at 2/4 and 5/10 tables as well.

I think that it is essential, at all stake levels, to have a well defined starting hand range for each position and only deviate from that if you have a strong read on the players at your table. Given the propensity for low stakes players to call with nearly any two cards, I fold a LOT pre-flop - my stats say that I fold 75% of the time which is appropriate for my style of play and a bit too low for people who play (or want to play) a TAg style.

I very close to never open limp and nearly only limp behind with some of my more speculative hands that play well, multi-way, post-flop and will play for stacks when they hit. That is, I am limping behind and relying on implied odds to cover the “cost” of the large number of times that I have to fold to any bet post-flop. I do balance this by occasionally limping a premium hand but I’m not sure how important balance is at these low stakes.

My minimum pre-flop raise is “pot” which works out to be 3.5BB + 1BB for each limper before me - exactly where we want to be. If that doesn’t narrow the field sufficiently then I will raise higher on the next hand that I play - anything up to 12.5BB (25 chips) will generally get at least one caller and it is not unusual to get two callers even up to 17.5BB (35 chips) - I like multiples of 5!

Given how aggressive I am pre-flop, there is nearly always a decent pot to be won just by inducing folds on the flop; therefore I raise on the flop, at least 1/2 pot, with anything that hits my range even if it doesn’t hit my exact cards and sometimes I c-bet “just because I can”. This, in practice, leads to a nearly 100% c-bet ratio if I am the pre-flop aggressor.

From what I have read, a post-flop hit only occurs 1/3 time on average and, obviously, I am not hitting the nuts every time even when I do get a hit on the flop. Simple maths will tell you that I am c-bet (semi-) bluffing in the order of 70% - 80% of the time. Having said that, as I move to the higher stakes, 10/20 and above, I significantly reduce my bluffing range as a matter of practicality - my bankroll will not sustain the variance at those stakes.

The turn card will quite often hit my range on its own or in combination with one or more of the flop cards and that is enough to justify, to me, firing a second barrel of, again, not less than 1/2 pot. The same applies on the river although I will nearly always fire off 3/4 pot through to 1.5x or 2x pot - whatever is necessary to fold out the last player(s). You should, obviously, bet smaller for value on those rare occasions that you do have the absolute nuts.

At the low stakes, knowing how often people will call with complete rubbish and chase a draw to the very end, it is, in my opinion, extremely unwise to go to showdown with anything less than the absolute nuts. My stats are that I win 17% of pots, which I understand is about average across all players at all stakes, and I win a massive 63% of pots without showdown. This is ridiculously high and clearly indicates that I either know nothing at all about value betting (since I know the term, that is probably not true!) or I am winning with a very high percentage of my bluffs.

Be warned that this style of play is definitely not for everybody! I get felted quite regularly and a single session loss of 1000BB (2000 chips) is not at all unusual for me. It is also very easy for any decent player to exploit this style of play - I have to remain at “high alert” and notice, very quickly, when someone is making adjustments.

I strongly suspect that taking the advice of @JoeDirk and others before me will yield very similar or better results to what I achieve with my style of play.

I enjoy playing LAg (borderline maniac) because it strongly “encourages” me to learn to read the board and put players on ranges post-flop. If you want to go this route, please note that trying to put players on a range pre-flop is a fools errand! You MUST go to the flop assuming that you are playing against a pre-flop range of any 2 cards regardless of how aggressively you raised pre and never be surprised, and definitely never complain, about getting your, what you think is the nuts hand, defeated by a river card hitting your opponent who called with rubbish and chased the 4 outer through to the bitter end! This will happen so often that you will swear to your choice of god(s) that RP is rigged! RP is NOT rigged - you are playing against people who will chase 3 and 4 outers and win. If there are 2 people sticking with you to the river card, you will lose, far more often than you think possible, to one of those 3 or 4 outers. That is the nature of (pseudo) random numbers doing what (pseudo) random numbers do!

If you can take the extremely high variance and enjoy the thrill of taking stacks, my style of LAg (“informed maniac”) is a style that may be worth exploring. Very conservative bankroll management is another essential element of this style of play.

As I said, I don’t think is a great, or even good, style for most people but it works for me and gives you a different perspective on how you might want to play.

Hope this helps



I actually really like this idea, and I’m going to try incorporating it some into my play. I think I tend to play too passively to avoid getting felted, but it’s a -ev play in the long run. I think I just need to accept the losses as a cost of doing business

People tend to play passively, especially in tournaments because they don’t want to risk their stack with less than premium hands, but the only way to win consistently is to take the initiative before the flop. The 3.5x+1per limper is the perfect open size for cash games on Replay, though you might want to go larger at lower stakes and smaller at short-handed tables (because you want to open a larger percentage of hands).

In tournaments, especially in the later stages, you can safely open to 2x+.5 per limper because people will play fit or fold and you won’t have to risk as much of your stack.