Andrew Lichtenberger: Value betting and bluffing - two sides of the same coin

Andrew Lichtenberger at the 2023 WSOP
Andrew Lichtenberger
Andrew Lichtenberger
Posted on: March 28, 2024 05:55 PDT

Andrew ‘LuckyChewy’ Lichtenberger is considered one of the best high-stakes MTT pros in the game, with career earnings of more than $20,000,000. In an ongoing series for PokerOrg, he outlines his approach to some of the strategic and mental aspects of poker.

Exploitative vs GTO strategies

Let’s return to the concepts discussed in last week's article – Strategy and Tactics. We’ll talk a bit more practically regarding game theory as we go deeper into the concept of exploitative vs GTO strategies.

We should ask ourselves a question in any given hand to make the best possible decision: ‘What’s the best way to calculate how my hand range wants to play in this spot?’

The building blocks of game theory

In these two articles, I’ve outlined the building blocks for GTO strategies in poker. We are learning to structure decision-making based on mindful consideration of the positions, stack sizes, and hand ranges - the synthesis of which leads to strategy.

Poker theory is all about understanding how different factors intermingle with one another. The factors are always present, but their significance and weight in problem solving always vary.

What we are exploring together here are the vast ideas that shed light on how poker hands should be played properly in practical terms. That is to say that we should always be asking ourselves how to implement exploitative strategies and win the maximum Expected Value (EV) by pivoting or deviating from baseline strategies.

Value and bluffs

It's essential to understand that your value range drives your strategic approach in any situation. In a theoretical sense, your bluffs are activated mainly so that you get paid with your value hands. Simply put, your bluffs follow your value range in most scenarios. As such, identifying which hands are strong enough to value bet (and sizing) is a requisite first step in range construction.

Your range wants to maximize the EV of your strongest hands and then figure out what bluffs also fit into that range. Exploitative strategies emerge based on the adjustment of betting frequencies and sizes due to our opponent's perceived responses to our actions. If they bet too often relative to theory, we fold less and call or raise more, and vice versa.

Hands pushing poker chips forwards The WPT is among many tour operators expected to follow the WSOP in banning chip-rifflers

A closer look at hand ranges

Whenever I'm taking any action, I'm always thinking about what the inverse portion of my hand range looks like and how that range would want to play. It’s a very common and problematic leak for players to be overly focused on their hand instead of their range. Range vs range analysis is the gateway to success in poker.

You can figure this out by thinking critically: How ‘greedy’ can I get with certain plays? It’s a very powerful question. This is primarily the trick or the art form of playing against less experienced players.

The idea of greed is relative. The principle herein comes from the idea that your EV is capped in any given situation based on perfect responses. The EV you gain from an opponent's imperfect play is based on the size of their error and your ability to take advantage of it.

So, how to answer this question? Well, the main questions to ask are:

  • Do I have an understanding of how to play this spot as a baseline? If not, think about basic range vs range ideas and let this guide you to the best of your abilities.
  • If yes, consider exploits such as what your opponent does too much or too little of, and do the opposite in order to gain a strategic advantage. 
  • If you are struggling to understand ranges, think about other hands you might have other than the one you do have, and how they might desire to be played, as opposed to just the hand you have been dealt.

Breaking the rules

Rules were meant to be broken. With that said, it’s not that we should strive to break fundamental rules as much as it is true that the ways in which our opponents are approaching various situations, having already broken those rules themselves, drive us to adjust our strategies.

What we’re essentially doing is taking maximum advantage of the fact that our opponents are missing these baseline ideas we’ve articulated here. If you're playing against someone who doesn't roughly understand what that baseline is, they will be fighting a losing battle in most cases.

On the flip side, if you're playing an expert opponent, you're not really looking to exploit them. You’re looking to figure out what their baseline is and then most optimally meet the requirements to move forward in a hand with the best possible approach. An example of this would be familiarizing yourself with how savvy opponents structure their ranges and pick their bet sizes.

If you can identify what an opponent’s baseline is, you can then start to see if they're missing the mark. You will also begin to understand the ways in which they're missing that mark, which is required to be able to adjust appropriately.

That information will tell you where to dial up your aggression or dial it down, whether you should call more or call less, bluff more or less, and so on. That understanding will also tell you where to increase your bet sizes or change your hand selection and range construction for different strategies.

A pile of chips on a poker table

Conclusion: beware of 'what you think you know'

Ultimately, poker is a game of extreme relativity. It is also a game of competing factors. The ideas of right and wrong are important, but only to a certain extent. It’s easy to ignore how nuanced the game is and the importance of keeping an open mind and not underestimating your opponents.

As one of my best friends likes to say, ‘It’s not what you know that gets you in trouble; it’s what you think you know that just ain’t so.’

Let’s all do our best to use this philosophy to our benefit - and to the detriment of our opponents at the poker table!

Next: What is Octopi Poker?

Andrew Lichtenberger co-founded the poker community and training site  Octopi Poker with Nick Schulman and Victoria Livschitz. Octopi Poker uses GTO tools, drills, coaching, and streamed hand histories for an all-in-one integrated platform for collaborative poker study. Follow Andrew on  Twitter/X.

Images courtesy of the WPT