This is part two of my Exploitative Poker Series. Last week I showed you how to beat tight opponents. This week I will show you how to take advantage of aggressive players by using their aggression against them. Just like the other player types, aggressive players have specific tendencies that you can exploit by making the right adjustments.
The biggest “mistake” aggressive players make is that they risk too much money with weak hand ranges. Calling it a mistake wouldn’t be completely fair though because playing aggressively is often the best strategy. After all we learned that whenever there’s a good chance our opponent will fold, it’s usually most profitable to bluff.
Aggressive players open a wide range pre-flop knowing there is a high chance they will win the pot post-flop by either bluffing or hitting their hand. The reason this strategy works so well is that many people don’t know how to react to it.
The thing about these players is that they force you to play big pots. In order to beat them, you have to be prepared to gamble. It’s as simple as that. If you know somebody is betting and raising with weak hands a high percentage of the time you have to adjust and call them down with less than premium hands or raise them as a bluff.
That’s the problem most people have with playing against aggressive players: they aren’t prepared to call big bets with medium strength hands or bluff-raise in big pots. They’ll usually call one street with a hand like middle pair but when they face a second or third bet, they fold.
Quite often these bets are bluffs though. If you identify the right situations against the right opponents, you can find many spots where calling turn or river bets with less than top pair is the profitable play.
One thing you should keep in mind is that aggressive players are often good players. And the thing about good players is that they’re not stupid. When they see you call them down with second pair on the turn or river, they will remember it and bet a stronger range next time.
Also it can be quite tough to deal with this player type. Their playing style creates big pots and you will frequently have to make decisions for large chunks of your stack. This is extremely stressful and has a high potential of tilting you.
That’s why a good option is always to leave the table if there are too many aggressive opponents at the table. You will have a much easier time when you’re mainly playing against loose-passive opponents who only raise when they have the absolute nuts. Note that I’m talking about semi-intelligent aggressive players here. If you’re playing against a complete maniac who will regularly lose his stack with mediocre hands, by all means stay at the table until he runs out of chips.
How to Exploit Aggressive Players
Call Them Down
Aggressive players love to bet. They will bet when they hit and bet when they miss. The thing that makes them so dangerous is that you never know where you’re at in a hand. That cannot be changed. In any given hand they might either show you the nuts or complete air.
The thing is that it doesn’t matter. In poker you should always think about the best play considering the range of hands your opponent is likely to have. When a player has more bluffs than value-bets in his range (which is often the case for aggressive players), then calling the bet with a mediocre hand is often the most profitable play. You just have to accept the uncertainty when playing these guys and always remember not to get upset if they show up with strong hands from time to time.
When trying to identify situations where they might be bluffing more than value betting, look for spots where they will bluff close to their entire range. Aggressive players will attempt to steal the blinds with almost any hand, just like they will C-bet the flop a high percentage of the time.
Another good spot where you can often catch these players bluffing is when they C-bet turn cards that look good like they hurt their opponents.
Here is an example:
You’re on the button with ATs in a 6-max cash game. A 34/30 player who you know to be very aggressive opens from middle position.
You know he opens a wide range and that you have many of those hands dominated, so you call. The flop comes T5J and you call his C-bet. Then the turn brings a K and he bets again. An aggressive player would bet this card pretty much all of the time. They realize that any second pair hand in your range is now third pair and that it will be hard for you to call.
That’s why you have to take it one step further and call them down. Many players will give up after getting called twice. They figure you have at least top pair and are not folding to another bet. If they bet a third time you should usually fold. When you see an opponent fire three streets with absolute air in these spots make sure to take a note and adjust when that situation comes up again in the future.
So we can see why calling with medium strength hands in certain spots is a profitable play. What many players don’t realize is that against aggressive players, you should usually only call with your big hands as well.
It’s easy to see why many players choose to raise their big hands against aggressive players. They figure that their opponent is aggressive, so they have a good chance of getting him to come over the top with another raise.
That doesn’t usually work out this way. Most aggressive players bet or raise to take their opponents of weak hand ranges. Once you raise you signal a strong hand and most aggressive players will back off. They are conditioned that a raise post-flop is usually a big hand. If you raise with your flopped set, you will give them exactly the right information. That’s why unless you’re playing against a complete maniac, it’s usually the most profitable play to keep calling with your big hands, even if you’re risking getting drawn out on a later street.
Bluff-Raise More Post-Flop
That’s one of the dangers with calling the flop and turn with medium strength hands: you might lose the pot on the river. Your opponent could draw out on you or he could decide to launch a big river bluff that will be hard to call.
For these reasons it’s often best to try and end the hand on an earlier street.
As we discussed before, bluff-raising after the flop is still a relatively uncommon play at the lower stakes. Many players will give you credit for a big hand when you raise them on the flop or turn and you will get a lot of folds.
Good spots for raising are the same as those for calling. Look for situations where the aggressive player is bluffing a big part of his range. Here are some good examples: opponent is stealing the blinds, isolating limpers, C-betting a dry flop or C-betting a good turn card.
When deciding whether to call or raise you have to have some information about your opponent. If he is likely to fire one or two bluffs and then give up, it makes sense to just call. If he is likely to fire three big bets, it’s more profitable to raise or to just fold and wait for a better hand.
If you have a specific read on an opponent (such as history or his stats for a specific situation), you can often use it to make your decision. For example you might have seen an opponent come over the top of a flop raise with absolute air. Obviously this is not an opponent you want to bluff-raise. Save your raises for your value hands and don’t be afraid to get it in with top pair against a player like this.
Like with any other situation where you’re thinking about bluffing, it’s always better to have some showdown equity to fall back on if you get called. Having a backdoor flush or straight draw will give you just that little bit of extra equity to make the bluff profitable.
Playing against aggressive players is one of the toughest situations in poker. It forces you to constantly make difficult decisions for a lot of chips. If your normal game-plan is to play solid and keep pots small, playing with aggressive players will go against everything you’re used to doing.
For the most part my advise is this: unless you have a very good reason to stay at a table where you constantly face aggression, just leave. Try to find easier tables where you know that a raise is usually a big hand. It’s a lot less stressful to play with passive players and it’s usually more profitable as well.