Thursday, November 19, 2015

What to Do When the Fish Fight Back - Crushing the Aggro Donk

How to beat an aggro fish in poker
If you have been around the low limit poker tables long enough then you have probably encountered the aggro fish. This is the type of recreational player who for whatever reason wants to try and bluff you out of every other pot.

Now as you might know I am a huge fan of hammering on the fish and isolating them every chance that I get. But the consequence of doing this is that they will inevitably get frustrated with you. This is actually a good thing though because it causes them to play even worse than normal.

However, once the fish start fighting back it requires a different strategy to beat them. You need to be able to notice the signs of the aggro donk and switch up your approach.

So in this article I am going to discuss some of the top ways that I go about exploiting the aggressive fish at the poker tables.

Know the Difference Between a True Maniac and a Fish on Tilt

One of the first things that you need to know is the difference between a true aggro fish (often referred to as a "maniac") and a regular fish who is simply on tilt.

A maniac will have stats which look something like this:

VPIP: 55
PFR: 37
AF: 5

This means that this player is playing 55% of their hands and also raising with an astonishingly high 37%. This player also has an extremely high aggression factor which is even more insane given how many terrible hands he plays.

Compare this to the regular fish:

VPIP: 55
PFR: 7
AF: 1

These are the classic stats of the regular fish (sometimes called a "drooler fish") that you will encounter most of the time. They play way too many hands like their maniac counterpart. However, when they come in for a raise it is much more likely to be with a strong hand.

They also have the lowest aggression factor possible because almost all they know how to do is hit the call button. Their maniac counterpart is hitting the bet and raise buttons instead.

However, if you apply enough pressure (such as raising them up with almost any two like I talked about last week) then they are likely to get frustrated with you.

With most people (fish or regulars), the tendency is almost always to play more aggressive when they get frustrated. In the case of the regular fish, when they are on full blown tilt they play exactly the same as the maniac (bluffing up a storm).

Let the Maniac Hang Himself

Let's discuss the strategy versus the pure maniac first. A true maniac is very rare at the poker tables but you will encounter them on occasion especially on the weekends when they might be intoxicated. In some cases it might even be a higher stakes reg who is just blowing off some steam at the micros.

There is really only one strategy that makes any sense against a real maniac. This is to let them do almost all of the betting. They are going to try and bluff you every chance that they get so it is to your benefit to try and keep the pot small and let them hang themselves.

1. Do Not 3Bet/4Bet Them Light

Hopefully you have position on them. But even if you don't it is important to avoid 3Betting or 4Betting them light. It is much better to just see a flop and let them bluff off their stack with some random nonsense.

Unless you have a big time premium hand (AA, KK, QQ, JJ or AK) I prefer to just flat their initial raise or flat their 3Bet. This prevents me from getting into some ridiculous situation such as a 4Bet pot with 99 where the flop comes:


...and they keep firing away.

Just because you almost surely have the best hand preflop with 99 against somebody who raises 37% of hands does not mean that you need to re-raise them every time.

In fact it often makes a lot more sense to just let them have the betting lead, keep the pot size manageable and avoid getting yourself into some kind of ridiculous spot for your entire stack with 3rd pair.

Instead, play "small ball poker" if you want to call it that and just flat preflop. Then call down lighter than you would against any other player.

2. Do Not Ever Try to Bluff Them Postflop

The same thing goes for postflop. You should never even bother trying to bluff raise the flop against these kind of players. Or even worse, some fancy crap like check/raising the turn with a draw.

Why? Because they will call your ass down!

The whole point of a bluff is to try and get your opponent to fold. But against these players you have literally no fold equity at all. So unless you truly have a massive draw (12 outs+) it is better once again to simply manage the size of the pot and let them have the betting lead.

Hammer On the Regular Fish Until They Get Mad

So as I talked about last week, I will be raising up the fish in passive micro stakes games with as much as half the deck, the top 50% of hands. I will also be sticking a CBet in their face the large majority of the time we go to the flop whether I have something or not.

Any fish is going to eventually get pissed off about this. The bro will get mad.

In their ideal poker world they should be able to limp their garbage hands to their hearts content and make their fish bets after the flop. I am instead forcing them to pay a price for this almost every single time and then pushing them around after the flop as well.

They are going to start playing back at me. It is hard to say when this will happen because it is different with every fish. With some bad players they might put on their sheriff's hat and start calling me down after I beat them out of just a single pot.

With some others it might take 10 pots. You never know.

It is important to remember that most of these players are insanely passive by nature as well so the progression usually goes something like this:
  • Call you on the flop with anything
  • Call you on the flop and turn with anything 
  • Call you on the flop, turn and river with anything
  • Re-raise you preflop and postflop (donk bet postflop also).
Basically what will happen is that they are going to start calling you down wider after the flop often with nothing at all. And they will take it further and further until eventually you can't get away with any bluffs anymore at all.

After this (especially if you are running well and winning most of the pots) they will hit a point where they "snap" and become the aggro fish.

You will know that they have hit this point when they start limp re-raising you preflop and raising you on the flop or later streets. They will also start making donk bets into you after the flop. 

This transition is rarely subtle. Usually it will just happen out of nowhere and they are suddenly a maniac now.

Adjusting to the Fish on Tilt

So it is extremely important at this point that you adjust as well. You need to play them like you would against the real maniac. As we saw before this means a lot of pot control and letting them hang themselves with silly bluffs.

Let's look at an example hand. I actually played this one just yesterday:

Villain = 53/7/1 Fish

Villain limps in EP and Hero raises on the button with 79

The flop comes:


Villain donks for 1/2 pot
Hero calls

The turn comes:


Villain bets 1/2 pot again
Hero calls

The river comes:


Villain bets 1/2 pot again

So the key to this hand of course is the backstory. I had just sat down at this table a few orbits ago and I had no previous experience with this player. I had indeed just tagged him as a fish because he had all of the signs of a bad poker player such as a high VPIP, low PFR, constant limping, below 100bb stacksize etc.

I had position on this player and I had won a couple of pots already by raising up his limps and then firing at the flop. He had folded on the flop the first time and folded to me on the turn the second time. 

So I raise him up again in this hand because I have the 79 offsuit monster. I actually hit something this time (middle pair) and to my surprise he donks into me on this fairly non-descript board.

Standard call. 

The turn came with a fairly meaningless 4 and he donks into me again. This card actually does complete the 56 gutshot and possibly makes some fishtacular bizarre two pair hand. But other than that it looks pretty safe so I call again. 

The river comes with the big scary king which also completes the flush draw. He fires again. Yikes, what do we do?

Hero should...Call

After deliberating for a few moments I figured that there were plenty of bluffs and hands that I beat in this bad player's range. This is especially due to the recent history between us and him very possibly already being on tilt against me.

That fact that I am getting 3 to 1 on a call (and therefore don't need to be right all that often) also plays a role. So even though the pot had gotten reasonably big by the river this was a fairly routine call here for me with 3rd pair, weak kicker.


Villain shows T3 and mucks
Hero wins the pot with a pair of 7's

It should be noted that after I made the call in this hand my opponent here went on complete monkey tilt and handed over the rest of his stack within a few hands.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes the fish are going to fight back. But it is important to make the distinction between the drunken Friday night maniac and the regular fish who is prone to tilt. 

Versus the former you should let them have the betting lead the large majority of the time and widen your calling range considerably. This allows them to keep doing what they do best, bluff away their stack.

However, versus the regular fish it is important to pound on them every time they limp if you have anything that is even remotely playable. You should follow this up with even more aggression after the flop as well. This will cause them to eventually snap and turn into an aggro donk just like their maniac brethren.

As we saw in the example hand above, they will start running ridiculous bluffs for no reason at all. It is your job to realize when that switch has been flipped and call down wider.

Let me know what strategies you use against the aggro fish in the comments below. Are there any specific scenarios which give you trouble?

If you found this article helpful then please do me a big favor and share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter below!

How to get a tell on your opponent in poker.


  1. Good advise as always Nathan
    I had read something like this somewhere else , all in all with loose fishy players that bet on every street is definitely a good idea to call wider, You ll find yourself good even with A high many times. The thing that scary me a bit is that you don't really never know if you are ahead or not cause if he connects with the board in a big way he plays his hand the same way so you must be ready to lose some big pot from time to time, what do you think?

    1. Thanks hammer. It is really all about the history between you and the opponent. The hand history example in this article illustrates that. Most fish won't triple barrel bottom pair for no reason. This player likely did that because he felt that I was pushing him around and he wanted to get even with me. This is when you can call wider like I did with 3rd pair no kicker and expect to be right a lot. With no history it is more of a guessing game and I would have probably just folded.

  2. Thanks BlackRain. Just yesterday I had played with fish 89/7/1 vpip/pf/af. And I lose with KJo 100BB with trips of kings because he limpd AKo on BB)) It was 4000 hand or more and I can't play anymore at 4a.m.
    One thing that I saw 2 or 3 times that he all-in without showdown on the river. It was the same thing that time. With him I had played 37 hands and no history between us.

    1. Thanks Frank. Ya unfortunately this happens sometimes. We have all been there.

  3. Wonderful. Hardly anything to add. Watched some crazy game on switchpoker (nl2) lately. Mild lurking ABC vs truly demented fishbull always got upper hand in the long run. In fact sooner than one might expect. Admired perfect composure - one guy lost three times in a row preflop all-in with AA vs fishbull with rags only to win eventually 8-fold in 15 minutes vs the same 'superaggro-calling-station' maniac 'who never seemed to find the fold button' (I quess it's your quote, Natan :) quite applicable to maniacs, not only calling-stations)

  4. Hi Nathan. Thank you for all of this great stuff you write here man. It has helped me more than i could ever thank you.
    I wanted to ask you something:
    I'm following your advice and been hammering merciless on fish and it has increased my bottom line, but sometimes i see my AF on 12 over 100 hands.
    Is this optimal against fish? Or am i with some kind of over aggression leak?

    1. Acho que VC é brasileiro, por isso vou responder em português(não escrevo muito bem em inglês).
      Acho que é normal isso acontecer, acontece comigo também, as vesez em uma mesa eu to com 1 de AF e na outra 8, não da pra entender muito bem.
      O mais importante no fim das contas é que VC esteja lucrativo.

    2. Hey Luciano,

      Glad I could help! Don't worry about your AF over such small samples. It can be wildly abnormal like this.

      Adair, sorry but I don't speak Portugese.

  5. this post is life changing ... I finally understand a lot of the things about this fish behavior that I didn't understood before .... I always saw fishes with AF = 1 fighting back and I couldn't figure it out how is this possible , what's happening here. Everything makes completely sense now. I still have 2 questions in adition to this.

    1.) Regarding maniacs I feel like in the long run I loose more money to them ( even though I play exactly like in your book and their are the weakest and no brain opponent out there) . It's like one time I take their money with a premium hand and then they recharge stack and in the next all in I just loose with Aces against their 92s hand ... and this thing keeps repeating because you never know when they actually have a monster hand or they are just bluffing.

    2.) When the fish becomes the aggro donk , sometimes they like to bluff completely with overbet and potbet on river / turn and you don't actually know when they have a monster hand or not. For example yesterday one fish started getting frustrated with me and went donk 1/2 flop / turn then overbet shove on river board with nothing changed and he had a failed OESD.
    Then after a few more hands he played like that again and this time on the river he had total nuts , stil a safe board with nothing spectacular.

    1. Thanks Mircea, glad this blog post helped!

    2. Hey Nathan can you please answer the question I had on your article before this one : " Isolating the fish " ? I really want to know the answer to that.

  6. Nathan thanks for another excelent post, Do you plan to write about all changes are affecting de poker ?

    1. Thanks Camilo. I thought about it but probably not. I assume you are referring to the changes at Pokerstars by the way. Two reasons why, the VIP club changes really have no affect on micro stakes players which is what my blog is about. Also, the HUD changes are simply rumors at this point. Until Pokerstars actually makes some big changes (which I don't think they will) there really is nothing to discuss.

  7. Hi, Nathan! We miss your new fresh articles =(

    1. Thanks! There will be a new one coming soon :)

  8. Muchas gracias nuevamente Nathan. Después de "descubrir" tu libro y blog tengo más ganas de estudiar y aprender que nunca!! jajajaja. Con relación a este artículo, en la sala que juego (6 max NL2 Yapoker) los jugadores tipo VPIP: 55 PFR: 7 AF: 1 casi no existen. Por lo general son regulares (20/18; 22/16 o 33/19) y sinceramente son con quienes más me cuesta jugar. Te sigo todos los días y te deseo éxito y gloria PD: Me voy a "repasar" "Aplastando los micro límites"!!! jajajajaja.

    1. Hola Raúl,

      Me alegro de que mi libro le ha ayudado! Los juegos son más duras en estos días y los peces no son tan fáciles de encontrar. Tienes que hacer un montón de selección de la tabla e incluso la selección del sitio, si usted quiere encontrar a estos jugadores.

  9. Good advice and also an entertaining read!