weak tournament competition

How to Dominate Weak Tournament Competition Post-flop

So you’ve read part 1 of this series and learned why maximizing the amount of pots you play against weak players is important, and how to make that happen pre-flop.

That only part of the job, though. Post-flop poker against weak players is what we’ll discuss in this article.

We’ll get into specifics shortly, but if I had to summarize everything I know about playing against weak players post-flop in one sentence, it’d be this:

Play big pots with big hands, and small pots with small hands.

When you’re playing high-level poker against another regular, sometimes a hand like this happens:

100/200/25 antes. 12k Effective Stacks.

You are dealt K T♣ in the big blind
Villain opens to 500 from the cutoff. btn & sb fold. You call.

Flop (1,300): J T 5♠
You check. Villain bets 700. You call.

Turn (2,700): 2
You check. Villain bets 1,600. You call.

River (5,900): A
You check. Villain bets 2,200, you shove for 9,200.

You don’t have enough showdown value to call, but you do have the K, which blocks both the straight and the nut flush. So, you turn third pair into a bluff by check-raising, trying to get villain to fold a hand like two pair or a set–a more than reasonable decision against a regular capable of folding.

Here’s the problem: many fish will basically never fold a hand as strong as two pair.

In fact, I used to have a post-it note taped to the bottom my computer screen for many years. It read,

“Fish don’t fold two pair. Ever!”

Of course, I’m not saying we should never bluff the fish; I’m just emphasizing a fish-specific rule that has served me well throughout my career: play big pots with big hands, and small pots with small hands.

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Why pot size matters

Fishy players generally view poker differently than serious players do. They have short attention spans, and can become married to the pot as it gets larger. This is especially true in tournaments, where you can’t reload if you lose all your chips.

I’m always surprised, then, when I hear a regular use this excuse after bluffing off all their chips to a weak player: “I didn’t think he could call, because if he did, his tournament would be over.”

The problem is when the pot is already 90BB on the final table bubble, say, and the fish already has half his stack invested, he’s less likely to fold than a professional. Pros know the value of a short stack, while weak players tend to have an all-or-nothing frame of mind.

Suppose there’s 50BB in the pot, you shove for 25BB and a weak player has 25BB behind. In this case, again, it’s unlikely your opponent is thinking about ranges or pot odds. Instead, they see a spot where they’ll either be left with 100BB or 25BB. And so all of a sudden 25BB doesn’t feel like much to them, so they’d rather call for a shot at all the chips.

The point is that when weak players feel pot committed, they really are pot committed, no matter what happens or how scary the board runs out. Sure, sometimes you’ll see an opportunity to blast off in a huge pot against a weak player, but it would be tough to find a pro who doesn’t bluff enough in these situations. More likely, we tend to bluff too often when the board runs out perfect for a bluff, or when we have the perfect bluffing combination, or when we can put our opponent to the test on a final table bubble. Against weak players, I’m confident we’d all be richer if we bluffed just a little less often.

Conversely, weak players are too willing to give up small pots. A 90BB pot on the final table bubble is something they’d sell their grandmother for. But a limped 3bb pot blind versus blind? They couldn’t care less. They care more about the next chance to be dealt a strong hand or really hitting the flop. This means two things:

  • We should bluff a LOT in small pots!
  • When a weak player shows serious interest in a small pot, we should be very cautious.

When we miss the flop as the pre-flop raiser

In heads-up pots against weak players, we’re usually the pre-flop aggressor. As such, we’ll usually miss the flop.

Suppose we’ve raised pre-flop with a pretty good hand and a fish with an estimated 50% range calls. Suppose further that we miss the flop. Against weak players, it helps to simplify what to do next:

When it’s a brick flop that’s unlikely to hit your opponent, go ahead and c-bet heaps like it’s 2011. I’d recommend sizing your bets just a tiny bit bigger than you would against regulars, because if a fish views a bet as insultingly small, he may stick around with a speculative hand.

When the flop is a little more coordinated, it comes down to just how hopeless exactly your hand is. Something that’s very useful to think about is the backdoor draws of your hand. If many turn cards give you reasonable equity against hands like top pair, for example, you might want to fire a c-bet.

For example, which of the following do you think makes for a better c-bet opportunity? (Assume the opponent’s range is wide and undefined, and that he will not fold a pair or ace high to any reasonably sized bet.):

Q J on K 4 2♠ or
A 5♠ on K♣ K 3♣

At first glance, Q J on K 4 2♠ doesn’t look too great, as you don’t have a single over-card. But notice that your hand actually many out to improve: 13 outs to make a very strong draw (10x diamond, 3x tens), 6 outs to a gutshot (3x aces, 3x nines), and 6 outs to make a strong middle pair (3x queens, 3x jacks).

The A 5♠ is slightly more likely to be the best hand now, but it has fewer possibilities on the turn (just 6 gutshot outs and 6 pair outs (which will be way behind/drawing dead against trips)).

When I miss the flop, I usually consider my backdoor draw potential when deciding what to do. If I bink a huge equity monster on the turn, for instance, with a hand that’s otherwise almost certainly going to lose the pot, a c-bet can’t be too bad. But with a hand that has little hope of improving, I usually just let my opponents have it—especially if they’re calling stations.

When to continue barreling on turns

By the time the turn card hits the felt, you should have a pretty clear plan. Pretty often your plan is going to be simple:

  • Bet on favorable cards
  • Check if you hit a mediocre hand
  • Check-fold on bad cards

Consider the following example, which demonstrates why having a plan and sticking to it is important:

Poker Tournament. 50bb Effective Stacks.

Hero is dealt 9 8 in the CO
Hero open-raises to 2.5bb. btn folds. SB (fish) calls. bb folds.

Flop (7bb) K K♠ 3♣
SB checks. Hero bets 3.5bb. SB calls.

I decide to bet for three primary reasons:

  1. My opponent has probably not hit this flop
  2. I can make him fold some better hands with a bet
  3. If I check back it’ll be tougher to win the pot.

Should my opponent call the bet, I’ll probably give up unless I turn a pair or a backdoor flush draw. This a clear and concise plan for the turn.

Turn (14bb) A♣

What I should do: Repeat the plan in my head, and then give up.

What might happen without a plan: I think “Hmm, that’s a pretty good card for me to represent and he probably doesn’t have an ace,” and then I bet.

Without a plan we’re more likely to make costly mistakes (especially online, where we only have a very short time to make decisions). At first glance, an ace in the above example looks like a great card to bluff—it’s the obvious “scare card.” However, in reality, betting it with our hand would be somewhere between marginal to terrible, leaning towards the latter.

Note that you don’t have to think about every possible turn card before making a decision on the flop, but you do need to categorize them in your mind: if a brick comes, I will do X; if the turn is a third heart, I’ll do Y; and so on. Train yourself to do this all the time and you’ll donate less often to calling stations.

Sizing your bets against weak players

In my opinion, many professionals also fail to exploit weak players enough by tailoring their bet sizes. This is especially true now that we’re aware of theoretically-correct bet sizing, and are sensitive to balancing.

However, sizing our bets against fish according to programs, such as Piosolver, could mean that we’re missing out on a lot of value. Again, our main goal is to exploit weak players, and bet sizing tricks is one of the best ways to do that.

The flop is probably the most important street in terms of bet sizing, but it’s often overlooked. We spend a lot of time analyzing whether to overbet bluff the river or not. Meanwhile, we leak money by under-sizing our flop bets.

And I don’t mean we leak money only on the flop. Remember: bet sizing on the flop sets up bets on all future streets. By sizing up a notch on the flop the pot will be bigger on later streets, meaning we get to bet more later in the hand. For example:

Tournament. 50bb Effective Stacks.

Hero is dealt 2♠ 2 UTG+1
Hero raises to 2.5bb. 4 folds. BTN (loose fish) calls. blinds fold.

Flop (7.5bb) A K♠ 2♣

On this kind of texture most players won’t fold an ace or king to any reasonable sizing, and if they have a hand like 87s they are going to fold regardless of the size of the bet they face. From a theoretical perspective, this is the type of flop on which to bet small with most of our range, because we have a range advantage (against a normal opponent).

But against a player who might have a great number of silly A-x combos in their range that they will never fold, we need to capitalize quickly and bet big. Few players will fold top or middle pair on the flop, but they may get away on the turn and river. Firing a ~33% pot bet in these spots is one of the most common ways I see regulars miss out on value versus weak players.

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Plan your sizings

Your plan for future streets should include bet sizings. And, as should now be obvious, this is mostly worked out on the flop.

Against weak players, there are many situations where we want to value bet multiple streets. Let’s consider this scenario:

Tournament. Blinds 50/100. 15k Effective Stacks.

Hero is dealt 9 8♣ in the BB
MP, CO & BTN limp (all fishy players). SB calls. Hero checks

Flop (500) T♠ 7 6♣
SB checks. Hero checks. MP bets 300. 3 folds.

Versus a fish in this spot, we should try to get as many chips into the pot as possible. A “standard” check-raise would be around 1,100 chips. Assuming we get called, to get the chips all-in we would have to size our future bets as follows:

Turn (2,700): 2
Hero bets 3,500. MP calls.

River (9,700): K
Hero shoves for 10,300.

These sizings are pretty awkward, however, and our turn overbet might scare the fish away from hands like 86, 87, JT, and so on.

So, in a hand like this, I’d prefer to check-raise on the flop to around 1,900. The key is to think about this from a fish’s perspective. There isn’t much difference between 1,100 or 1,900; either is only a fraction of his stack. If he has a hand like 86 or 87, which have a plethora of fake outs, he’s not going to fold. If he has a hand like top pair, he’s not going to fold, either—not for just 800 extra chips.

With a check-raise to 1,900 on the flop, our future bets looks like this:

Turn (4,300): 2
Hero bets 3,500. MP calls.

River (11,300): K
You shove for 9,500.

Thanks to our large flop check-raise we are able to bet comfortable sizes (80% pot) on the turn and river.

Very broadly speaking, you should bet as big as you possibly can on the flop against weak players.

Size your turn bets so that your river shove will be reasonably sized. I’d rather bet a little more on the turn in exchange for less chips behind on the river. Again, keep in mind there’s still another card to come; people are significantly more likely to call when there is still a chance their hand will improve. You want to charge them while you still can, and offer them great odds on the river when they’re dead.

On the other hand, for the rare occasion you’ll fire three streets as a (semi-)bluff against a fish, it’s often good idea to bet smaller on the turn to leave the big, scary bomb for the river.

Timing tells

For most online players I wouldn’t rely too much on timing tells. But against bad players, especially 1-table types, they can be quite valuable. Remember: recreational players like action (even if their playing style is passive), and they don’t like to waste time unless they’re interested in the pot.

So, when a fish tanks during any post-flop scenario, they’re probably thinking hard about what to do. By contrast, if a weak player snap-calls a bet then he had an easy decision.


Tournament. 50bb Effective Stacks.

You are dealt Xx Xx in MP
You raise to 2.5bb. 4 folds. BB (fish) calls.

Flop (6.5bb) K♦ 8♦ 6♣
BB checks. You bet 3bb. BB snap-calls.

In a situation like this, we can discount the possibility that he has two pair or better, because most players would spend a moment to consider whether to check-raise or not. You can probably discount strong draws, too, unless he’s really passive for the same reason. So, he probably has a hand like K-x, 8-x, 6-x, or a draw, which don’t warrant much thinking.

The same applies even more so on turns. When playing MTTs, the stacks are often shallow enough on the turn for either player to check-raise all-in when facing a bet. On a drawy turn, when a player snap-calls (especially out of position) instead of comfortably check-shoving it’s very unlikely that they have a strong hand. These can be some of the best scenarios to 3-barrel bluff. Usually, weak players snap-call on the turn because they aren’t ready to fold just yet, but if their hand doesn’t improve on the river they are often too willing to give up.

When a weak player tanks for a long time on the river before checking, it usually means they don’t want to see a bet. This is a pretty reliable indicator of weakness, and makes for good bluffing opportunities. But when weak players—and many regulars, too—tank for an unusually long time before betting the river, they usually have it. Few players are capable of tanking the river and then settling on a bluff. (However, beware of players that might be capable of tanking-then-checking for balance.)

Of course, none of these tells are 100% reliable (like all live tells). Your opponent might tank because he’s got something else on his mind, like the sandwich he just ordered or a new match on Tinder. But as far as timing tells come, it doesn’t get much better than the above.

Making big folds against strong lines

Weak players tend to play loose pre-flop and passive post-flop until they make a hand. They call too many bets, and often seem like they don’t have a fold button in their software. It’s easy enough to play against this type of opponent, until we face one scenario that really, really sucks.

Let’s suppose that we open with AA from middle position and a weak player calls in the small blind. The flop comes K-6-6, we bet and he calls. We’re already fist-pumping because there’s a good chance our opponent has something like KT, KJ, or KQ, and so we’re going to get their stack. So we bet a brick turn. But then they check-raise small…

It’s very difficult to fold in this spot for three primary reasons:

  • We are getting great pot odds
  • Our opponent flatted in the small blind – what six is he going to have?
  • His line is fishy and nonsensical in general

Nevertheless, we should probably fold, if not now, then on the river—it’s just too likely our opponent has a nutted hand. If we know our opponent is loose then, sure, we can begrudgingly call. But a typical, weak-passive fish probably just has trips—the line taken contrasts sharply with how that type of player usually plays.

Hell will freeze over before you see a player like that float the flop out-of-position and then check-min-raise the turn.

Tournament life considerations

While most weak players generally overvalue their tournament life, under some scenarios they actually do the opposite. It’s crucial to know when to put them under maximum pressure, and when to hold back.

Live tournaments

The early levels of a big live tournament is a great time to fire river bluffs against weak players. Often times these players were looking forward to the event, and may have even traveled from another city to play. They don’t want to bust in the first few hours, and so they certainly don’t want to call with one pair for all their chips, knowing they’ll agonize over their decision for the rest of the weekend (or longer) if they’re wrong.

But once a player is short and aware that something needs to happen to make the money, they might stop caring. A player who’s lost 15,000 out of a 20,000 starting stack during the first two levels isn’t going to care much about their quarter of a starting stack, even if it’s still worth 50 big blinds. In other words, weak players undervalue short stacks.

Online tournaments

Online, early level river bluffs are generally very risky, because if a weak player happens to bust he he can just fire another tournament. Moreover, the shame of making a call that looks really dumb to other players is not a factor.

This is why we want to play big pots with big hands and small pots with small hands. The chips only really start to matter to weak players when they’re deep in a tournament. There will be enough opportunity near the bubble (especially the final table bubble) to put pressure on them. At the same time, we need to beware of their aggressive actions in bubble scenarios. Against a player who really wants to make the final table, we need to be prepared to make big folds when they go all-in.

Wrapping Up

Most of what we’ve discussed in this article series is somewhat broad and generic. I normally like to include simulations more precise math in my articles, but I chose not to for this series because the main takeaway is the very general rule I introduced at the outset: when you’re against a fish, aim to play big pots with big hands and small pots with small hands.

To build on that, we discussed sticking to a plan, specific ways to exploit and manipulate weak players, and why we shouldn’t do stupid stuff. Again, you don’t need to know technical things like what hands have the best river blocker bluffs in order to beat the fish. Knowing how to exploit them in the more basic (and sometimes unorthodox) ways we’ve been discussing is often good enough, and sometimes much better.

Until next time, good luck!

If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up in the comments box below or on Twitter @chuckbasspoker.

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Read more from Miikka Anttonen on Upswing Poker:

Miikka Anttonen is poker professional from Finland with $2.4 million in career earnings and a world championship title under his belt. His autobiography is Once A Gambler. Find out more at http://www.onceagambler.com/



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