Some people are firm supporters of the theory of poker (not always good for your chip stack) and then there are some who swear that playing theoritcal poker is like setting money on fire, and should never be a part of your game (they're wrong, btw).
Poker, like life, has scenarios which sometimes land in a grey area. Playing a well balanced poker game will help you as you move up in stakes so you can make intelligent adjustments and keep your win rate up.
That said, let's look at 3 spots where you should consider moving away from a balanced strategy to exploit the some common situations you'll see at the table.
Catching bluffs against a river raise
This is easily the first situation where you want to lean away from playing a balanced strategy. Sound dumb? It's not!
Some players simply never bluff raise on the river. Ever. And the players who do like to bluff raise the river don't do it very often.
Also, the trend of making small river raises as a bluff is a well known one, from $1-2 all the way up to $200-400 games.
Let's assume you've raised on the button, and the BB calls. Let's say you have [5c][6c] on a [9s][8s][7d][3c][2h]runout.
And now vilian raises on the river. Ugh.
If you do fold, you're probably folding around 90% of your range. I can just hear the poker theory crowd having a brain aneurysm. They'd be all like "He can't have [Jx][Tx]here because he would have raised on the flop or turn!!!"
When facing a river raise, from most players, you should probably discount what they "should" have been doing on earlier streets. You can't get past the cold hard truth, that most players will have it when they put in a raise on the river.
Now, if you know that Villian can make big bluffs like this, then of course your hand becomes a call. But keep in mind, there are far fewer players capable of making this raise with air than you probably realize.
Most of the top pros, who have moved up to the nosebleed stakes, got there on the back of making big folds. It worked for them, so you should seriously consider making it work for you!
Is it fun to fold in that spot? Nope. But do your bankroll a favor, say "nice hand", and get those cards in the muck.
Catching bluffs against a turn raise
An equally important, although often not as clear cut spot, to trend away from a balanced strategy is when you're facing a raise on the turn. Every pro out there will tell you that some of the strongest laydowns they've made are on the turn.
The challenge with facing turn raises, is that different players have different ideas about what raising for value on the turn actually means.
A good way to think about this, is you should be calling when your holdings beat the bottom of villians value raise range - which should be about 70% of his raising range.
Example time. You raise from mid position with [Ac][Kh]. The big blind is the only caller. You fire the turn on a board of [Ad][7s][4h][Th].BB now raises 3x your bet amount.
Now it's a tough spot. Theorists will say your hand is easily strong enough to be defending properly, but you should still consider a fold unless you have a strong read that your opponent is playing a balanced game. Instead of continuing with your one pair hand - good as it is - you should really only be continuing in the spot with your combo draws like [8h][9h], [Jh][Qh], [Jh][Kh].
Much like the river raise, a check raise in this situation is going to be a value raise instead of a bluff far too often to make a call profitable in the long run.
Catching bluffs in muitiway pots
If you don't play well in multiway pots, you're gonna have a bad day. The challenge, of course, is that multiway pots are far more diffficult to play because you're multiplying your opponense ranges against each other so there is far more to consider.
It's much harder to define what an optimal betting range is in multiway hands. The simple rule of thumb, is tighten up your betting range to stronger holdings, and avoid bluffing like your crazy ex-girlfriend.
You have [Ax][Ax]in a three way pot and are facing a raise on a board of [Ts][4h][7d].
Looks great, right? Let's think about that for a moment. As soon as you get called by 2 or more people preflop, the value of your aces starts going down. All the sets are part of your opponents range, and where you have multiple opponents, the likelihood of one of them having hit two pair or better goes way up.
It's unlikely in this spot, that someone is making a play with gutters or open ended or their weaker value hands that you're ahead of. It's almost certain that you're being raised and it's hard to improve your hand at this point. This is a spot where you should make a tough, but easy, fold.
As always with poker, deciding which strategy to play will depend on the situation in the moment. The situations we looked at today are only a few obvious spots to avoid a balanced strategy.
Always keep an open mind, and please stop getting married to one pair hands!