The True Nature and Importance of Aggression – Part 4

Guide To Winning Poker (18)

  • Defending against aggression properly is a valuable tool to have
  • The normal reaction of players is to counter aggression with more aggression
  • Knowing how to defend properly in addition to attacking back is a powerful weapon

The Challenges For Our Opponents In Combating Our Aggression

In thelast sessionwe left off looking at the difficulties that our aggression will be presenting to opponents in formulating proper strategies to defend against it. The first thing they need to do is to figure out how often we’re betting, to get at least a good idea of what sort of hands we’re doing this with, how often we’re bluffing, and so on. Most players only have a vague idea here, and what perceptions they may have may be off a fair bit as well. The less accurate they are here, the more they will be in trouble right from the start, as the more likely they will be to make mistakes.

So they may or may not be using stats of some sort, although as mentioned earlier, people almost always use stats that aren’t very accurate anyway. We are hoping that they are using stats though as much as they are capable of doing, as this will often throw them off even more, as we don’t just play one way, we alter our play according to the tendencies of our opponents. So we’re going to be pretty aggressive against tighter players for instance, and less so against looser ones, so when you throw all these stats together they aren’t going to give our opponents a very accurate picture at all.

Most Opponents At The Small To Mid Stakes Play Pretty Transparently

We also need to be aware of the possibility of these variations in our opponents, in other words their tendency to play different players significantly differently, but unless they are very good players, this isn’t going to be something we will need to be worrying about too much, and as we improve, we’ll also get better at looking for signs that someone does vary their play in the same way we do. By being this sort of player ourselves, and as we get better at this ourselves. it will be much easier for us to do than otherwise.

So once they get a feel for how often we’re betting, then the next step is to decide what range to play against it. So already they are off a fair bit, but this second step is even more difficult. Even if they know, for instance, that we bet half the time here and they should be calling or raising a certain amount of the time, it’s quite another matter to know if their particular hand here falls within that range. This will take some real skills in fact, and we’ll be looking to get better at this ourselves, but it’s something that very few players put much thought into.

Tailor Your Strategy To The Player, As Always

So as mentioned earlier, our being aggressive puts pressure on our opponent to not make a mistake, and not doing so can be pretty challenging in fact. So that’s a big reason why we want to tend to want to play pretty aggressively, although only in situations where it makes sense to do so. So in general, the play of our opponents will fall into various categories of looseness and tightness, passivity and aggressiveness, and we want to always look to tailor our responses with these tendencies specifically in mind.

As mentioned though, there is a range which will place our aggressiveness at a disadvantage, or at least a given degree of aggressiveness. When we’re aggressive, its an attack of sorts, and we’re putting pressure on our opponents to defend correctly, which may include defending by calling or re-attacking with raises. Generally we’ll be faced with a combination of both. With every given degree of aggressiveness that we throw at them, there will be a range where their response will indeed be correct, and in fact they can exploit our aggressiveness simply by calling with the right range.

How We Can Better Defend Against their Aggression

We spoke of this during the example of our betting every time and showed that in fact all our opponent would need to do in order to get the best of us would be to fold out the bottom quarter of his or her hands. So you may be thinking that this is only because we’re just firing out way too often, and if we bet less, we’re not prone to being exploited this way, but you’d be wrong. Any level of aggression short of betting with only the nuts can be exploited in fact through a similar means.

Let’s take a 6 card deck this time, and look to defend against an opponent who is betting out two thirds of the time, and see if we can come up with a way to exploit this. So we know that the opponent is betting 3,4,5, and 6 and checking 1 and 2. We’ll limit our options to either calling or folding when bet into, and when checked to, in order to keep things purely to our defending and not give us additional tools, we’ll say we can only check and show the hand down.

Let’s Look At This All More Closely

So what do you think the proper range will be here? Well our decision will come down to which hands it would be better to fold rather than call. Right off the bat we know we need to fold the 1’s and 2’s, as they don’t beat any of his range. What about the 3’s? Well they tie one and lose to 3, so that needs to be folded as well. What about the 4’s.? We lose 2, tie 1, and win 1, so that’s -3. If we fold we lose 4, so that’s a call. So we then need to call with 4,5, and 6. Let’s see what happens when we flesh this all out, from our perspective:

  • We have a 6, he ties with a 6, loses 3 each with 3,4,5, loses 1 with his 1and 2 (+11)
  • We have a 5, he beats us with 6, ties with 5, loses with 3 and 4, loses 1 with 1 and 2 (+5)
  • We have a 4, he wins with 5,6, ties with 4, loses with 3, loses 1 with 1 and 2 (-1)
  • We have a 3, we fold when he bets, and win 1 when he checks (-2)
  • We have a 2, we fold when he bets and win one and tie one when he checks (-3)
  • We have a 1, we fold when he bets, lose 1 and tie 1 when he checks (-5)

So that’s a net gain for us of +5 when defending with this range. So by folding the correct amount, and just calling or checking with the rest, we get an advantage here. This is by the way in addition to any advantages we could pick up by being allowed to bet or raise ourselves, and we’ve ignored that on purpose, to see if just by calling or folding we could exploit this player. As you can see, we clearly can.

Putting This Into Practice Is Something That Requires Real Skill

Once again though, it’s not anywhere near this easy to be able to pull this off, but our being aware of the dynamics here will not only get us at least on the right track towards being able to figure out what the ranges are that we’ll need to defend with to be able to profit from this, it also has us thinking about looking to prevent opponents from being at a similar advantage against us, whether accidental or not.

Players don’t generally think of exploiting opponents through calling though, and they will most often look to play back instead, which is actually better for us since we can look to exploit that ourselves. The true power of using calling as a weapon is that it closes the action, at least on that street, and whenever you can do that with an advantage, it in a sense banks the advantage.

Few Players Are Even Aware Of The Power Of Calling

This all in a real sense goes against one of the real so called fundamental ideas in poker, which states that it’s always preferable or even generally preferable to raise instead of call. Now there are plenty of situations where that’s true, but it’s certainly not necessarily the case. Such thinking comes about by way of a faulty understanding of the nature of aggression itself.

It should never be used blindly though, as so many players are prone to, and in fact we need a clear reason to do so in order for it to make sense, and that reason is that if a bet or raise will be more profitable than another course of action, then we want to do it. If something else turns out to be more profitable, we do not. If this is the only thing you get from this discussion, then you have profited considerably.

If you’ve been around poker at all, you already have an idea of how ingrained what I’ll call blind or at least unconsidered aggression is in the thinking of almost all players. This is one of the first things people learn, to bet and raise rather than just call, which is considered by a great many players to be weak. After all, betting and raising gives you an additional way to win the hand, while calling just gives you one way, at least calling with a view toward looking to show the hand down, instead of just delaying your aggression until later in the hand.

However, we can often make more money by focusing on being a lot more selective with our aggression, and what needs to be realized here is that if we indeed have enough fold equity to look to take advantage of that way to win the hand, we certainly will be doing so if it is appropriate, which once again means the most profitable course of action.

The More Selectively Aggressive We Are, The Better

Our being aggressive though just isn’t about taking hands down of course, as it’s also a way to get more value from our good hands as well. Once again though, we need to make sure we’re not just blindly firing out whenever we’re looking for value, as we need to make sure it’s the best way to proceed. This comes down to comparing a player’s tendencies when faced with a bet, in other words his tendency to continue in the face of aggression. Some players are tighter when bet into for instance but looser if given the opportunity to bet themselves. So we may get less money in some instances if we bet rather than letting the opponent do the betting for us if he’s more willing to commit more money to hands through that course.

So we’ve spent quite a bit of time on the topic of aggression and the reason is that it’s so integral to the game and being successful playing it. This won’t be the end of the discussion about it by any means, and this is more of an introduction to starting to think about some of the issues that surround its proper use, but it’s a good start. As we move forward, we’ll be revisiting these concepts and looking to go into them in more detail, so if this seems a bit overwhelming at this point don’t worry. The goal at this point is to get you to broaden your thinking at least a bit here, and to a degree which typical discussions on the topic fail to do very well, which I’m sure we’ve accomplished.

Ken’s Guide To Winning Poker – Index

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series