Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How to Play Against Highly Aggressive Poker Players

play against highly aggressive poker players
Years ago when I first started playing poker online at the micros all of the regular players that you would encounter each day were extremely passive and tight. So much so that any time they 3Bet you or raised you after the flop you could be sure that they had aces or a set.

But times have changed and even at very lowest stakes now you will sometimes encounter very aggressive players. They will 3Bet you light and raise you and float you with all sorts of hands after the flop as well.

Since most of the time in poker nobody has anything very good, this aggressive strategy that they use is highly effective and difficult to combat. However, thefre are still several adjustments that you can make to play effectively against these kinds of players.

In this article I am going to discuss some of the key ways to beat the aggressive regulars in small stakes cash games.

Don't Get Into Reg Wars

One of the most annoying things in poker is having a highly aggressive reg on your direct left. This is because they can just 3Bet the crap out of you every time you raise a hand and basically make your life suck.

This is such a frustrating spot to be in that sometimes I will just leave the table or rejoin in another seat. But more often than not I am at the table for a reason (i.e. there is a fish on my right). So therefore, I don't really want to leave.

So if you choose to stay at the table how do you deal with the aggressive troublemaker on your left without losing your mind?

Well let's first talk about what most people do.

Most people let their ego get involved and they start 4Betting and 5Betting the aggressive player light with all sorts of ridiculous hands. They will also start calling 3Bets out of position and floating and raising postflop with weak hands.

Both of these strategies are doomed to failure and here is why.

When somebody has direct position on you in poker, you are always fighting an uphill battle. This is like voluntarily choosing to fight someone with both of your arms tied behind your back.

The aggressive regular on your left is always going to have a big advantage over you in each hand because he gets to act last on every street. In other words, he gets to see what you do first before making his decision.

You on the other hand will make all of your decisions in the dark with zero knowledge of how your opponent will react. This is a massive handicap to overcome.

Furthermore, you are choosing to focus your attention on another regular who is probably somewhat close to you in skill level meaning that your overall edge is minimal.

And at the same time this takes away your focus from the entire reason that you are at the table in the first place, the fish!

Talk about a disaster.

So for all of these reasons it is important to keep your cool in these situations and avoid getting in the proverbial "reg war." Even if you win the battle, you will still lose the war.

Tighten Up Your Opening Range and Widen Your 4Betting Range

The smart approach is to instead recognize that this guy is going to 3Bet you light a lot and simply tighten up. This is not to be viewed as a sign of weakness.

This is simply assessing the situation as it is and taking the appropriate response. And this applies the most around the button because this is where the aggressive player is most likely to 3Bet you a lot.

So instead of opening with your typical 30%-40% steal range get rid of a lot of the weaker speculative hands, especially stuff with no high card strength like some of the suited connectors and all off-suit connectors (i.e. 54, 65, 76, 98, JT).

Get rid of a lot of the dominated broadways and crappy aces and kings as well. By this I mean hands like: QT, KT, A8, K9.

On the flip side you also want to open up your 4Betting range. Since we know that the aggressive reg is going to 3Bet us with all sorts of broadways, pairs, suited connectors and suited aces we know that a lot of the time he will not be able to continue versus a 4Bet.

So if you typically only 4Bet with hands such as AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AK, then start adding in TT, 99 and AQ for instance. Add a bluff or two in there on occasion as well with a suited ace blocker hand like A3 or A5.

You should also flat the 3Bet out of position from time to time with a decently strong range in order to balance your range.

Now I know that I consistently advise against flatting 3Bets (and even opening raises) out of position in both of my books, my blog posts and videos. And if you play at stakes of NL10 or lower (or are new to the game in general), then I think this is perfectly fine.

However, once you get to stakes such as NL25 and higher where the regs start to get a lot better, you can't only 4Bet or fold when out of position or they will exploit this. So you should start to develop a bit of a flatting range with reasonably strong hands out of position as you move up the limits.

How Should You Play a 4Bet Pot Postflop?

So obviously the aggressive player is not going to lay down and die every time we 4Bet him. Sometimes he will flat. Also, as just mentioned, sometimes we will just flat the 3Bet ourselves at higher limits.

So how should we continue postflop in these situations? Well, let's talk about what we should do as the preflop aggressor first.

The thing about a 4Bet pot (assuming 100bb stacks to start the hand) is that there really isn't a lot of room to manoeuvre. By this I mean that the stacks will be very shallow.

A typical raise progression before the flop will look something like this:

  • 3bb open > 10bb 3Bet > 22bb 4Bet

So by the time you see a flop in a 4Bet pot you will already have close to 1/4 of your stack in the middle.

Since the actual pot size is going to be close to 50bb then (assuming just one opponent), if you make a CBet you will have nearly half of your stack in the middle.

So what this basically does is create a situation where if you have an overpair, hit top pair or a good draw there is almost no way that we are folding.

I will probably just CBet and look to get it in with any made hand. With a draw it is a little bit different because I don't want to call it off. So often this is a good spot to try and check/raise the flop all in to put the pressure back on them.

How Should You Play a 3Bet Pot Out of Position Postflop

Playing a 3Bet pot out of position postflop is a difficult situation to be in. Most of the time you will miss the flop and be first to act in a bloated pot.

This is why I specifically advise against getting into a spot like this so often for newer poker players at the lower limits.

However, once we got ourselves in this mess what do we do now?

Well, if there is one thing that highly aggressive poker players like to do it is to be aggressive of course. So if we check, then we can probably expect to face a CBet a large amount of the time.

Now a 3Bet pot is totally different from a 4Bet pot. We don't have nearly as much of our stack in the middle and therefore we can still get away from plenty of hands if we think that we might be behind.

However, we do still need to fight for plenty of pots or else calling preflop out of position will be a disaster for our non-showdown winnings (red line) and therefore our overall winnings as well.

This is exactly where most people go wrong.

So you will need to mix in a whole array of different lines such as:
  • Check/call
  • Check/raise
  • Donk Bet

Now when to do each of these is a vast topic that can't possibly be covered in a little blog post like this. However, a lot of it will have to do with how the aggressive reg reacts to these various lines.

This is why I am such a big proponent of having a good HUD setup so that you already have data right in front of you on how your opponent is likely to react.

But in general you should just be mixing up your play here with all sorts of hands from top pairs, middle pairs to draws and even semi-bluffs and total air on occasion.

Versus an extremely over-aggressive reg (high 3Bet%, high flop CBet, high turn CBet), you can absolutely destroy them with a turn check/raise all in line here that includes plenty of value hands and strong draws.

Of course let me be clear that you should also simply fold to the CBet on the flop a fair amount of the time as well. Fighting for every single pot out of position against a competent reg will not be good for your winrate.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with a highly aggressive poker player on your left is never an easy thing to handle. In fact it just plain sucks no matter how you cut it.

Getting your ego involved though and fighting fire with fire will usually be a mistake for the simple reason that you are always fighting an uphill battle.

Don't get me wrong, it is definitely a good idea to mess with the regs. In fact I do it all the time, such as when I try to intentionally tilt them.

Don't go to war on their soil though. Counter their aggression with more aggression (or just flat the heck out of them) when you are the one in position.

When you are out of position though the only thing that you can do is tighten up. However, you can also expand your 4Betting range and even flat out of position a bit wider as well if you play at higher stakes.

Let me know in the comments below what you do when there is an aggressive reg on your left at the poker tables. Do you have any tips on how to handle them?

If you found this article helpful, then do me a quick favor and click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below. Thanks!

how to play against highly aggressive poker players


  1. Would you feel that all of the above totally relates to live low stakes games also? I am primarily a live cash game player and obv encounter the same player types and obviously only able to take mental notes rather than a HUD. Any suggestions or points would be appreciated .

    1. Yes absolutely. All of this applies to live games as well. While less common, you will sometimes see highly aggressive players in low stakes live games.

  2. Nice article, definitely a pain to face those kinds of player... The best thing for me is to remind myself the reason why I'm at the table (the fish) and try to avoid losing my head over those situations.

    1. Thanks Jorge and that is exactly the right mindset in my opinion!

  3. in the paragraph that starts
    "This is simply accessing the situation as it is and taking the appropriate response."
    I think you mean "assessing" not "accessing".
    or maybe since the "as it is" is in there, you meant "accepting".

    all that aside, great post about one of the most uncomfortable & aggravating spots I have encountered.
    unless there is a great whale at the table, I tend to bail out & call it "table selection".

    1. Thanks ekw! And yes that it a type, thanks for pointing it out :)