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Exceptional Poker Article | Getting Inside the Villain’s Head with Q&A


Sky Matsuhashi

on September 3, 2016

I read a great article from the Exceptional Poker Blog about getting inside your opponent’s head and understanding the logic they use in the plays they make.  With a Q&A afterwards.

Download and listen to this episode as you follow along below.


Exceptional Poker Article | Getting Inside the Villain’s Head

‘The Third Factor That Turned Me Into a Winning Poker Player: I Learned to Get Inside The Villain’s Head.’ (3:10)

Click here to read the article and to visit the Exceptional Poker Blog.  While you're there, sign-up for Mark's newsletter and let him know Sky sent you!

My Take (8:40)

Great article and I fully agree!  It’s important to understand the opponents at your tables.  Even the bad players use logic (faulty sometimes, but still logic).

If you can figure out what makes the villains tick, you can create effective lines of exploitation.

Having a HUD helps the online multi-tablers, but you can’t just rely on software to understand your opp’s.  Paying attention to street by street action, bet sizings and showdown hands is a great strategy that we all need to do.

1st Point: Observing Mistakes & Diving Deeper (9:30)

Sometimes I just dismiss the mistakes my opponents make.  I label them as “fish” or “donks” and just go about my play.

But, instead of criticizing the player, I should be asking myself, “Does he know something I don’t?”

It may appear to be a mistake to you, but it's possible they're doing something right, but you just don't see it.  It could be a mathematically sound play, or they could be doing something based on some perceived weakness on your part.  They could be taking advantage of a frequency issue you don't even know you have.

So, the next time your opp’s make an mistake ask yourself, “Does he know something I don’t?”  Tag the hand so you can run it through Flopzilla later.  Whip out the calculator and check out the math and ranges involved.  You just may be surprised to find they made a mathematically sound decision.

With this type of analysis, you’re working on your own understanding of the game and how things work.  These exercises will make you a better player.  You might be able to turn their mistake into a winning play in the future.

2nd Point: Taking Useful Notes (10:55)

It’s important to observe hands, but along with that we need to take notes on the players involved.

Your notes need to be useful & actionable.  

When taking useful notes on players, there are three things I like to include within my HUD in PokerTracker4:

  1. Classify the player type (LAG, TAG, NIT, Station, Reg, etc.). I’ll classify them by highlighting their HUD stats in a specific color based on their player type.
  2. How I can exploit them. Put this within parenthesis and all in caps.  For example: (STATION, DON’T BLUFF) if they call down super light through the streets; (BIG BETS = STRENGTH) if they telegraph their hand strength thru bet sizing tells.  Add exclamation points for each time they repeat it.  If I see in three different hands he made large bets w/ a made hand, my note would be (BIG BETS = STRENGTH!!).  The more !!!!, the more accurate the read.
  3. Exact hand details. If necessary, put in the action of a hand to explain an exploit you type in.  So, for the (BIG BETS = STRENGTH!!) note, the shorthand explanation might be “CO open 4bb w/AA, f set bet 3/4pot ftr IP.”  The shorthand saves space, and the explanation might be helpful in future confrontations.

Over time as you learn more, you’ll refine your notes to add to your exploitations.

My notes on the example players

Jumping Jack – color coded orange for being a LAG, (BLUFF CATCH THIS GUY), UTG open JTs, cap of OOP big bet trpbrl semi-bluff on scary KxxxA board

Sticky Sam – color coded green for being a Station, (NON-BELIEVER IP, GO FOR MAX VALUE), called ft and big bet on r on KxxxA with TT

Question from Rob (14:30)

Excellent post – and encouraging too, that all this “out of hand” observation will pay off. I use non play time to look for tells, but I should probably be observing betting size and approach compared to street and if seen, hand strength. I need a poker brain CPU and ram upgrade. lol

Any tips for fathoming the logic used by loose LAGs? I’m hunting for a strategy when OOP to an aggressive LAG. My plan is usually to enter with a good hand and let them fire into me, unfortunately the cards sometimes don’t come.

Appreciate your thoughts.

Here's my answer in relation to three LAG characteristics:

1. LAG's like to bluff

They know that most players crumble under too much pressure, so they use this to their advantage.  They bet often and big vs the players they know fold too much. So, you should tend to call more often than not vs a LAG because they’re betting more often than not with a weak hand.

2. LAG's take advantage of position

Being IP makes it easier to take pots away, to go for value or to control the size of the pot.  You can use this to your advantage by playing IP vs the LAG’s.  Try to avoid calling their opens from the blinds, and stick to cold calling IP.  Even if you decide to 3bet their open, you should tend to do so when IP.  If you do it from the blinds, many of them will call pre-flop with intent of stealing when you check the flop to them.  And of course, if you’ve got a tough LAG (or more) on your left, switch seats or leave the table and find a more profitable one.

3 LAG's have a much wider range on the flop

Whether they opened the pot or 3bet pre-flop, they’re doing so with plenty of weak hands.  You can take advantage of this by allowing them to bluff you down the streets, and you just call with a showdown worthy hand.  You can also steal pots with a bluff raise on the flop or turn, or even a bluff c/r on boards that could hit your pf range.

My Big Takeaway

The big takeaway from this article for me is the idea of figuring what’s driving the decisions by the players at your tables.  Whether they’re thinking with the same logic you are, or some twisted, fishy, gambling, superstitious logic; once you figure it out, you’re one step closer to exploiting them.

Podcast Challenge (17:45)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: In the next session you play, make an active effort to watch every hand at the table and make useful notes on your opp’s. Typing out hand history notes isn’t good enough. Classify them by player type, and note how you can exploit them.

Also, please check out the Exceptional Poker Blog and all that Mark Warner has to offer.


Sky Matsuhashi

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