Beating Aggressive Players
Aggressive players can be a lot of things. They could donate tons of money or they can dominate your tables. Of course, you would much rather face those players who are going wild with no sense of direction than those who actually have a clue as to what they are doing. This article is going to focus on both ends of the aggressive spectrum, from winning to losing players. Formulating a winning strategy against an aggressive style of play isn't as cut and dry as it might seem. There are always unique types of players even within one set style of play, and you need to be able to adjust accordingly.
Aggressive poker wasn't only the most successful way to play. In fact, it's one of the most notable creations of the modern age of poker. Prior to the mid-2000s when the trend started to gain traction, the most successful poker players were relatively tight and knew how to capitalize on big hands while losing the least with their weak hands. If you applied the same very strong strategies of those days to today, you might be able to turn a profit, but you won't be making nearly as much as those who are more aggressive.
The reason that aggressive play works is because it puts other players on the defensive. This can mean that others are intimidated and don't know how to react to aggression or it can simply mean that they are confused by the play itself. Non-showdown pots are the time where aggressive play is really focal. Players make the most money from being able to pick up small pot after small pot without much opposition. If you can effectively fight off these repeated attempts to win the "easy money," you'll already be one step ahead of the game. You shouldn't be playing for the sake of simply catching an aggressive player in the act though, as this is only a recipe for disaster.
Beating Losing Players
You would have a tough time finding any poker player who doesn't like sitting in a game with action junkies who play every hand. Whether you have a losing player who also loves action or a winning player who likes money, no one wants to see a reckless player leave their game. In fact, the players who get upset by reckless plays are usually some of the biggest passive losers around. They think that wild play is somehow ruining their chances of success, when in reality they should only be multiplying their likelihood of walking away a big winner. The point is that if you are scared or do not like crazy aggressive players, poker isn't the game for you.
The pre-flop play for beating losing aggressive players is actually quite simple. You should be looking to get in as many pots as possible with the player(s) in question. Some poker strategy will say that you shouldn't ever target one particular opponent, but this advice isn't applicable here. When someone says that you shouldn't "go after" one player at the table, they usually mean in the sense of revenge or payback. When you are just looking to capitalize on someone's bad play, however, it makes perfect sense to chase after the easiest money available.
Normally folding a hand like A7 suited would make sense against a raise pre-flop, but this is the type of hand that could pay off big time against a maniacal player. The important thing is that you are entering pots at the lowest price possible. If you are regularly calling off huge bets in the hope of flopping hard, you will still be losing money.
The post-flop strategy against these players is almost as straightforward. You should very rarely be making bluffs or any other type of move that requires your opponent folding a good portion of the time since they tend to be calling stations. Instead, value bet hard when you connect and give up without a fight when you miss. Value betting and folding are the two most primary skills that you could put into play against these players. Anything else, for the most part, is just unnecessary.
Beating Winning Players
Learning how to profit against winning aggressive players is many times more difficult than it is against losing players, and for some very obvious reasons. First, you are going to have to think when you are playing these people as they are often times going to be the toughest opponents in your game. You won't be able to apply a very simplistic strategy as this will be ripped apart in no time at all. You need to have confidence that you know what you are doing and you need to be willing to take some risks. If all of this isn't in play, you are going to struggle against any strong opponents who tend to play aggressively.
Pre-flop strategy against winning aggressive players calls for you to mix it up from time to time. If you are playing ABC poker, there isn't much that a thinking player won't be able to pick off. If you are tossing in some 3-bet bluffs and steals, however, you are going to balance your ranges much more effectively. As backward as it might seem, you need to be OK with losing some in order to win more.
Hand selection is going to be up to you. You can tighten up to take advantage of their widened ranges, or you too can be more loose and outplay your opponent post-flop. How you play pre-flop should largely depend on how confident you are in your post-flop play.
Post-flop strategy is the trickiest element in this entire equation. Not only will you have a tough time putting the other players on a hand, but you'll also need to work towards being as deceptive as possible. You don't want to be implementing a strategy where your hand is always somewhat obvious. This will disable you from being able to value bet or bluff, rendering your strategy all but useless.
There's no easy way to explain exactly how this strategy would look. While beating bad aggressive players is a walk in the park, beating good aggressive players is the polar opposite. The best advice against these opponents is to practice, experiment, and be prepared to fail. You'll find that you are more prone to variance against these winning aggressive players, but it doesn't mean that they can't be beaten over the long run. They are just like you and are in the game to make money, but someone has to be a loser. If you are more creative and are willing to take some risks, you are more than capable of coming out on top.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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