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aggressive poker strategy counter

How to Beat the Guy Who Is Always Betting — Countering an Aggressive Poker Strategy

Geez, this guy just won’t stop betting. I just need to be patient, wait for a strong hand, and then I’ll win a fat pot from him!

You’ve probably thought something similar to this while facing an ultra-aggressive player. But while this line of thinking seems to make sense, a patient approach is not always the best way to counter aggressive opponents.

There are other, more effective tactics you can use to beat these players, and you don’t have to sit around waiting for a strong hand to use them.

You might dread playing against players with an aggressive poker strategy––their mere presence in the game might make you anxious. But that anxiety will fade if you implement the tactics we’ll discuss today.

In a moment we’ll categorize overly-aggressive opponents into three types. But let’s first discuss bluff-to-value ratio, a concept that will be heavily used in this article.

What is bluff-to-value ratio?

Bluff-to-value ratio simply refers to the ratio between the number of “bluff” hand combinations compared to the number of “value” hand combinations.

“Bluff” and “value” are in quotation marks because, up until the river, hands are not pure bluffs or value bets since they don’t have 0% or 100% equity in the pot.  Consequently, the easiest street to calculate the precise bluff-to-value ratio is on the river.

The optimal bluff-to value ratio is based on the pot odds your opponent is being offered to call. So, a balanced river betting range has a bluff-to-value ratio that is proportional with the bet size being used.

Suppose we want to bet 75% of the pot on the river with a balanced range. In this case, we need to have 70% value combos and 30% bluff combos. These numbers are based on the pot odds our opponent will be offered when facing our specified bet size.

For example, let’s say we bet $75 into a $100 pot. Our opponent will need to call $75 in order to win what’s already in the pot plus his own call. So, he needs to call 75 / 175 + 75 = 0.3 = 30% of the time in order to break even with call.

Thus, in order to deny the profitability of our opponent’s bluff-catchers, we need to restrain our bluffing frequency to no more and no less than 30%. If we bluff significantly less than 30%, our opponent might catch on and exploit us by folding to our bets. If we bluff significantly more than 30%, our opponent can exploit us by closing his eyes and clicking call with all of his bluff-catchers.

(For a more in-depth explanation of this concept, check out this informative video from Doug Polk.)

Types of ultra-aggressive players

We can put an ultra-aggressive opponent into one of three categories:

The Nitty Over-Bluffer (c-bet stats: 60/70/70%). This type of opponent is selective with which hands he value bets on the river, meaning he will be rather tight in his approach. On the other hand, he will be not nearly as selective with his bluffs because he doesn’t want to look weak by checking back and losing at showdown. So, he chooses instead to fire again with all his missed draws, hoping to make his opponent fold. The problem with this player’s strategy is that it results in an extremely skewed bluff-to-value ratio, consisting of many more bluffs than value bets.

The Loose Over-Bluffer (c-bet stats: 70/80/70%). Like the nit over-bluffer, the loose over-bluffer will have a skewed bluff-to-value ratio when he bets. However, this type of opponent will not be as nitty when picking hands to value bet, probably as a result of being aware of relative hand strength. This player will end up over-value betting while also over-bluffing.

The Over-Value Bettor (c-bet stats: 70/80/50%). This type of opponent is similar to the loose over-bluffer in that they are unaware of relative hand strength and over-value betting. However, the over-value bettor will not be bluffing enough. This player will have inflated barreling stats, which gives off the image of an aggressive player who bluffs a lot, when in fact this player barrels with medium strength hands, such as second and third pairs.

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How to beat each type of ultra-aggressive player

Now that we’ve categorized these players, we can start exploring ways to exploit each of their tendencies.

Let’s start with a general adjustment, namely, we will need to change our flop strategy against all three types of player. And we do so in a similar fashion against three because their playing styles are pretty similar on the flop and turn.

In particular, we should tighten up our check/calling range a bit. I recommend this because the weaker calls in our range will not be able to withstand the pressure of a second and third barrel, which, as we know, will be frequent from these players. One obvious adjustment to make here is to fold weaker pairs since they are vulnerable––hands like third pair, a weak pocket pair, etc.

Let’s dive into the specific exploits!

Exploiting the Nitty Over-Bluffer

Take a look at the following hand:

Online $0.50/$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.00.

Hero is dealt two cards in the BB 
3 folds. Button (BU) raises to $2.5. sb folds. Hero calls.

Flop ($5.5): K J 8
Hero checks. BU bets $3.6. Hero calls

Turn ($12.70): 6
Hero checks. BU bets $8.4. Hero calls

River ($29.50): 3
Hero checks. BU bets $19.5. Hero…?

Here is what an opponent like this will be betting with on the river:

Editor’s note: As always, we’ve highlighted the relevant information in red boxes for those of you unfamiliar with solver software.

aggressive poker strategy nitty over-bluffer

We can see that she will barrel off with top pair+second kicker and better, which is essentially the correct thing to do. But she will also barrel with almost all of her missed draws, which in this case are plenty. This will leave her with a very unbalanced river betting range comprised of a whopping 64.3% bluffs:

aggressive strategy hand breakdown

The Nitty Over-Bluffer’s river betting range breakdown

It is probably no surprise, then, that the optimal solution on the river against this opponent is to call with every bluff-catcher we have:

aggressive poker strategy counterattack

The solver recommends folding a microscopic 0.07% of hands on the river versus the Nitty Over-Bluffer’s range.

But let’s now go to go one step further to really exploit this opponent. Since we know that she will be over-bluffing so much on the river, but not value betting thinly, we can call much wider than usual on the turn. How wide? We should probably call with any pair with the intention of calling almost any river.

This adjustment works so well because our bluff catchers will massively over-realize their equity on the river––they will win so many more chips from this player’s bluffs than they would from any other player type.

Exploiting the Loose Over-Bluffer

Consider the following hand:

Online $0.50/$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.00.

Hero is dealt two cards in the BB 
3 folds. BU raises to $2.5. sb folds. Hero calls.

Flop ($5.5): K J 8
Hero checks. BU bets $3.6. Hero calls 

Turn ($12.70): 6
Hero checks. BU bets $8.4. Hero calls

River ($29.50): 3
Hero checks. BU bets $19.5. Hero

(Before you check, yes: this is the same hand example as before. Keeping the example the same will help make clearer the differences between the player types.)

The Loose Over-Bluffer’s range will be a lot different getting to the river because of how he builds his ranges on the flop and turn. Here is a mock range for him when he bets the river:

loose over-bluffer with aggressive poker strategy

The biggest difference on the river between this player and the Nitty Over-Bluffer is that this he is willing to value bet much more thinly, going as low as QJ. He could also have extra value hands, such as 66, J6s, and 86s.

That being said, he is still massively over-bluffing on this river, and the exploit is again to call with every bluff catcher that we get to the river with.

But a major difference in our strategy against this type of opponent is that we will not be calling with all of our bluff-catchers on the turn. In this case, we should be calling with second pair or better. This shift happens because this type opponent is very likely to double barrel with hands such as J9 and QQ, going much thinner for value than a more conservative, tight aggressive player. This will cut down on the profitability of our weakest pairs, such as 8x.

Exploiting the Over-Value Bettor

This opponent is tricky to play against. He will have blown-up barreling stats, yet we won’t seem to catch him bluffing much.

With our same hand example in mind–with the K J 8♠ 6♦ 3♥ board–here is this opponent’s range on the river:

over value bettor poker strategy

Like the Loose Over-Bluffer, he will be barreling very thin for value, going as low as AJ. But he will be very picky with his bluffs, choosing, for example, only the suited versions of the missed hands.

His river betting range thus becomes weighted too heavily toward value bets, which will force us to tighten up on the river. As for the turn, his barreling range will be depolarized, containing a lot more medium strength hands and bluffs than it should. This means that our turn strategy should shift toward calling with slightly more lower pairs.

Although these seem like weird adjustments, they are correct even if this type of player has c-betting stats around 70% flop, 80% turn, and 50% river, which would encourage us to call him down.

Conclusion

Like playing against limpers, playing against an ultra-aggressive player is an opportunity to look forward to.

They are often times the most profitable recreational players to play against, because they will be the ones who put a lot of money in the pot for you.

All you need to do is make the right exploitative adjustments, and be there when the eventual blow-up happens. Hopefully this article has help set your sights toward that goal.

If you have any questions or feedback, don’t hesitate to comment below. And good luck, grinders!

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