When to Play Optimally vs Exploitively

As we discussed in a previous article, exploitive play means taking advantage of your opponent, but this also opens you up to be taken advantage of yourself. Playing optimally, rather than exploitively, means balancing your play so that your opponents cannot reliably take advantage of you. The best time to switch to optimal play is when your opponent has caught on to your exploitive strategies and is changing his play to exploit you. Switching at this time ensures that your opponent is making a mistake. However, before jumping on the optimal bandwagon, be certain that your opponent is changing his play correctly to exploit you.

For instance, if our opponent folds too much, then we’re going to bluff more often in order to exploit this mistake. The second that our opponent catches on and starts calling lightly, we stop bluffing often and revert to an optimal strategy. Then, if our opponent keeps calling lightly, he’ll still be making a mistake, because we’ll have anticipated his adjustment.

When playing an exploitive strategy, always keep your eyes open for your opponents adjusting. If we se our opponent trying to take advantage of us, optimal play is a great way to shift gears and create confusion in our opponent. If our opponent attempts to exploit us while we play optimally, we will win money.

Typically, we want to play exploitive strategies. Exploitive strategies make us more money. For this reason, playing unexploitable poker is more of a skill than it is a strategy. The real strategy is in knowing when to choose optimal play instead of exploitive play.

Optimal play looks something like this: Before the flop, raise your best hands, call with your average hands, fold your worst hands, and if you can’t tell if you should call or fold, raise! After the flop, bet your good hands, check your bad hands, and occasionally check your great hands. After the turn, bet your good hands, even if you checked them on the flop. Usually check your bad hands, even if you checked them on the flop. Occasionally check your great hands twice. If you bet the flop, check (show weakness) with both strong and weak hands, but continue to bet your extremely strong hands like a set or better. Bluff with draws. On the river, bet your great hands, check your average hands, and bluff with your worst hands.