“This game is not that difficult.”
So begins Alex Fitzgerald’s excellent strategy book simply entitled “Exploitative Play in Live Poker.” And in its pages, Fitzgerald easily and succinctly explains the patterns and behaviors used by today’s average player and what you can do to counter them.
Facing Hard Truths in Part One
Part One of “Exploitative” begins with ‘The Theory of Live Poker.’ Alex begins his musings on the live arena by telling his readers exactly what he thinks of most poker players. And more specifically, most low to mid-stakes live tournament players. He knows you’re on your phone too much. He knows you aren’t taking enough notes, not paying enough attention, and not three-betting enough pre-flop.
He looks right into your soul and tells you what needs work. Alex doesn’t know you personally, but his years of coaching and hand history reviews are so extensive that he doesn’t need to. He can already tell you about your bad habits without even having to see you play. Several times during these opening sections I felt like a scolded child with his hand caught in the cookie jar. Because I was 100% guilty of what he was describing.
It’s these first forty pages or so that are the book’s most enjoyable. Alex talks extensively about the human condition, what kind of people play poker tournaments, what these people are seeking from poker in general, and, naturally, how to exploit them.
I was reminded of an old Mike Caro line from one his books that says something like “people didn’t drive all the way to the casino to fold.”
Alex takes that concept and expands on it extensively. With sections labeled “How Homo Sapiens Play Poker, ‘Fallen Heroes,’ and ‘The Thrill of the Hunt,’ Fitzgerald takes a deep dive into the human psyche and shows his reader how to do the same.
And then by doing so, profit.
Alex’s first book “The Myth of Poker Talent” focused heavily on the numbers and the math and a Game Theory Optimal strategy. And in this follow-up Alex says good, now that you know all the rules, it’s time to break a couple.
Exploitative Play in Action
Part Two of this book is simply titled “Exploitative Play” and in it, we finally start seeing some of Alex’s theories in practice.
These pages cover a vast array of topics. In early sections Alex explores how to attack players defending their big blind too much. He then moves on to discuss how much money we’re making if we simply just play hands in position.
And then Alex talks about three-betting. Alex likes three-betting a lot. It’s one of his favorite hobbies.
Because he has such an extensive knowledge on it, he’s able to go in-depth as to all its benefits and why players aren’t doing it enough. And psychologically, why you personally aren’t doing it enough. Again, I felt ashamed.
Part Two is also rich with information on what specific players we should be targeting, why we should be looking to play pots against them, and how important our stack sizes are. Other great topics follow: four-betting, check-raising, donk-betting, C-betting, triple-barreling, and many more.
And much like in Alex’s first book, several sample hands are used to hammer home his points. Lifted from his own tournaments played across the world, Alex posts these hands and shows how his plays work in different scenarios. It’s very much an in-theory to in-practice teaching formula.
This section is the bulk of the book and will obviously take the most active work on the part of the reader. Section One lays down the foundation, but Section Two starts building the framework.
Each sub-section is laid out simply and follows the same organizational blueprint. When Alex goes over “The Continuation-Bet,” he spends a couple pages dissecting what it really is, and what we’re trying to accomplish with it. He then examines some pre-conceived notions on it and improves upon them. And finally he gives several examples of hands where a C-bet works great, and sometimes where it doesn’t.
Almost every section is like this. It makes it very simple to go back and review that section if you feel it’s a spot in your game that needs work.
Let’s. Play. Some. Cards.
Part Three of ‘Exploitative’ introduces the reader to “Situations to Exploit,” and in these sections Alex begins to discuss more general themes that will come up as you play. On these pages we find Alex’s theories on flush draws, straight draws, and what kind of boards to attack. But what I enjoyed the most were the sections discussing how to dissect the nature of the game itself.
We find sections about passive games, agro games and more generalized sections on the importance of folding, early stage tournament play vs. late stage play, and of course many, many hand examples illustrating his points.
It’s all about situational awareness.
One particular section that resonated strongly with me was “Tournament Stages,” where Alex perfectly characterizes the atmosphere at different stages of an event.
In ‘The Dog Fight’ he writes, “Four or five levels in, sometimes more, you’ll be in what I call ‘the dog fight’ of the tournament. This is where everyone decides, ‘okay, time to win a poker tournament.’ Before that, no one gave a damn as to what happened, but now they’re playing for keeps.”
I love that. Simply because of its truth and I had never heard anyone talk about it before. There were revelatory moments like that for me several times in this book. I suspect most readers will feel the same way. It’s refreshing to hear the insight of someone who’s played countless bubbles, final tables, and Day 3’s give insight into the general player’s psyche when approaching each.
A Cautionary Tale
Finally, Alex’s last section is entitled “Practical Considerations.” It’s a fitting end that reminded me a little bit of various sections of Barry Greenstein’s “Ace on the River.”
There is no poker strategy in this final section. It’s simply words of wisdom. Alex hammers home the importance of paying attention at the felt, but also off of it. Fitzgerald is very much teaching us from his own mistakes here. In these final sections, Alex talks about life on the road, how to travel responsibly, and how to manage your money like an adult. It’s a realistic look at the life of a true grinder.
Alex ends his book on a somewhat sobering note. He reminds his readers that most of us are not going to achieve high roller status. For every Tom Dwan and Ali Imsirovic and Justin Bonomo there are a thousand young guns who go broke chasing the high stakes dream.
“You don’t hear much about guys who take their shot and miss,” warns Michael McDermott in Rounders.
And in this final section, Fitzgerald reminds his readers that of the many, many pro poker players he’s coached, precious few are crushing it financially. Alex says for most poker players, the average yearly income is definitely not over $100k a year. The real number is closer to half of that. So, if you’re doing this, it’s because you love the game.
Just like Alex does.
Who Should Buy This Book
This book won’t help you beat Dan Smith and Stephen Chidwick. (Although, nothing will really). However, this book will be a tremendous boon to those players slugging it out in mid-stakes tournaments and in nearly all WSOP events. If you’re a super high roller, little in here can help you. PioSolver and PokerSnowie are what you need. But if you’re playing events with a price point of under five figures, ‘Exploitative’ should help your game immeasurably.
Some Final Thoughts
-Alex’s first volume “The Myth of Poker Talent’ relied heavily on charts. It’s pages were full of them. But ‘Exploitative’ is much more conversational in tone. Because of this, ‘Exploitative’ is a little shorter in length. It comes in at 239 pages while its older brother ‘Myth’ weighs in at 327 pages.
-Aesthetically, it’s pretty standard for a D&B book. ‘Exploitative’ only comes in paperback. It’s light on fluff, color, and pictures. But it’s clean and looks good enough.
-One aspect I love about this book is that Alex paints a fantastic picture of the opponents you’re playing against in his examples. Every poker book I’ve ever read will give just the facts on your opponent: i.e. his stack size, position at the table, etc. But Fitzgerald gives exposition about his opponents in his hand descriptions. He says what nationality they are, whether they have tattoos, if they are talking a lot, their age, and even their temperament. And of course the buy-in level, the specific tournament being played, what country you’re in, and more. All these things matter so much and many books gloss over them. This book is about EXPLOITATIVE play, and the ranges you construct for a 70-year-old lady in a $300 tournament are going to be radically different than those for 24-year-old Swede in an EPT Main Event.
-Also, Alex is teaching the exact kind of players that I’m playing against regularly… So while objectively I think everyone should buy this book, subjectively I think no one should buy it – and therefore I feel it should be banned from bookstores worldwide.
I’m biased. I knew I was going to like this book going in. I wrote a pretty glowing review of Alex’s first book “The Myth of Poker Talent,” and I knew that if this book was even half as good as that one then I’d love it. I think what appeals to me the most is the conversational tone and carefree nature of Alex’s writing style. It’s so intuitively simple. But there’s so much wisdom in it. Alex told me that he wrote this book for players in the diner. People who love the game, who stay up late to talk hands, and who never want to stop learning.
Players like me.
And if that describes you, then you’ll love this book too.
Final Review 9.5/10
D&B Publishing seems to be making its mark as the go-to publisher for poker literature. In just the last year they have released books from Phil Hellmuth, Chris Moorman, Jonathan Little, Lance Bradley, Dylan Linde, and many more. And in the next year they are set to release: A Girl’s Guide to Poker, Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day, and Daily Fantasy Sports Unlocked.
Keith Woernle is a writer, comedian, and semi-pro poker player based out of New Jersey. He was a producer for season 10 of the World Poker Tour. He won a WSOP circuit ring in 2011. And he likes poker a lot. Follow or contact him on Twitter @WoernlePoker.