Generally speaking, aggression is something that tends to get rewarded in poker. By contrast, betting too aggressively on casino games or on sporting contests and your bankroll could suffer. Aggressors in poker usually perform well and wreak havoc on their opponents. They’re tough to tame!
Celebrity poker pro, author, and coach, Jonathan Little recently wrote a thought-provoking column in Card Player magazine. “How to Combat Good, Loose-Aggressive Players” discusses how to disarm a highly aggressive opponent (a “maniac”) who loves to raise and re-raise. He explains his plan to get “maniac” to play against him in a more straightforward manner. The key concept: “Fight fire with fire.”
He was playing in the 2018 World Series of Poker Main Event with two such maniacs at his table; and, what’s more, they had position on him. It was a high-stakes, no-limit hold’em game. Early in the event, he put his plan into action. When the maniacs raised and re-raised, Jonathan then re-raised aggressively, making it a 4-bet. One benefit, he cites, of making such a play early is that, if it fails, he won’t lose too many chips.
Result: The two maniacs tended to stay out of his way the rest of the time, making his decisions so much easier. “When you have little fear of being re-raised, you can play a much higher range of hands before the flop with little fear of being outplayed,” he commented. Jonathan noted that had he simply folded to his opponents’ aggression early in the day, as most players would have done, they (the two aggressors) would have almost certainly continued playing aggressively against me for the rest of the day, allowing them to win all the small and medium pots.”
But there is a different perspective worth considering…
The above strategy that Jonathan employed may be fine for high-stakes, and no-limit hold’em contests, but in my opinion is less likely to be effective in low/middle stakes games that most of us recreational players prefer or fixed limit games. In such games, the money involved is not a big enough threat to change the aggressor’s strategy.
In limit hold’em in particular, I prefer to use position against highly aggressive opponents. If possible, try to get seated to his left. Then you can easily fold weaker hands – those that barely meet our hold’em Algorithm criteria – without any cost when they raise. Furthermore, when you do have a strong playing hand (e.g., a decent drawing hand), your raise will help to thin the playing field, giving you a much better chance of winning the pot when you connect – or when you decide to semi-bluff on the turn.
But, what if you are seated to the right of the maniac aggressor? In that case, it would be prudent to muck your hole cards unless they’re strong enough to withstand a raise; e.g., a premium drawing hand, suited connectors, or medium/high pair.
In fact, if you are fortunate to catch a made hand or one with lots of good outs (8 or more), you might make use of an aggressor to pull off a check-raise, expecting to take that pot. Check your hand and let the aggressor do the betting for you. Then, after several other players have called his bet, your raise is bound to swell the pot as they (almost invariably) will call your 2-bet.
In conclusion: If you are in a high-stakes (or no-limit) game, Jonathan Little’s “fight fire with fire” concept is worth considering. In low/middle limit games, I believe my “Taming the Aggressors” strategy is preferable.
P.S. You can always request a seat or table change if the game is too aggressive. It’s up to you!