Dealing with Aggression: Strategies to Counter Hyper-Aggressive Players

Dave Roemer | 2 weeks ago in Poker Theory and Concepts

Hyper-aggressive players are naturally tough to deal with at the tables. Whether it be in a tournament or cash game, they are always in our face, seemingly always applying pressure. Many players get flustered by these opponents, and respond with forms of tilt like wildly punting their stack, or going to the full opposite direction and go into a shell, waiting for premium hands and folding everything else. In this article we are going to discuss a few different types of hyper-aggressive players, what their characteristics are, and how to deal with them at the tables. Let’s get started.

We’ll break these types down into 4 sub-groups: Smart LAGs, Bad LAGs, Maniacs, and TAG Bullies. (LAG = Loose-Aggressive, and TAG = Tight-Aggressive). These are not comprehensive or fully compartmentalized. Real people in real poker situations may not fit precisely into these buckets, I get that… but to start addressing this topic, it’s a useful place to begin.

Smart LAGs

Characteristics

  • Plays a lot of hands, but generally plays them well post flop
  • Generally only looking to play a big pot with a big hand
  • Will adjust their definition of “big hand” based on how opponents are reacting to them
  • Their goal is to win a lot of small pots, and get big value on their monsters

Adjustments

  • Attack their small pot stabs more frequently with lines that look like strong value lines, i.e. check/raise flops more, call flop/raise turn, etc. They are often just stabbing with marginal values or misses… prey on that.
  • Avoid playing big pots with them on deep stacks without a big hand.
  • If they are playing small ball, counter them by playing long ball more frequently when you get involved. This means you may look to put in some larger than normal 3-bets preflop against their opens, or large bet or raise sizings post flop to attack them. Don’t go overboard of course, or you may end up in that big pot without a real hand too often. But the idea here is to take away their ability to successfully stab and maneuver in smaller pots by applying bigger bets, against ranges that are necessarily weaker than normal because they started wide to begin with.

Bad LAGs

Characteristics

  • They also play a lot of hands, but don’t play well post flop
  • Prone to bluffing too much, and pushing weak holdings too far in an attempt to beat you down with sheer aggression.
  • Does not adjust well to opponents or situations, often missing cues about how other players are reacting to their unbridled aggression at the tables.

Adjustments

  • Speculate more in position on deep stacks against this type of opener, as they will tend to give good value when you hit
  • Value bet good hands harder, as they will be poor at adjusting and often give excess value with moderate holdings Good non-monster hands like top pair/top kicker or a big overpair to the board qualify to play a larger pot than might normally be warranted against other types of opponents. Bona fide monsters like 2 pair+ can be slow played if the villain figures to be bluffing, but should often simply be played fast against bad LAGs because they will tend to overplay their made hands and give action with inadequate values.

Maniacs

Characteristics

  • Bets and raises at seemingly every opportunity with a high frequency of being involved in pots.
  • Often involved with marginal hand strengths post flop, a necessary result of entering the hand preflop with such a wide array of weak holdings
  • Frequently presses action with weak hands and air alike, bluffing too often.

Adjustments

  • Since maniacs tend to attack weakness at every opportunity when they sense it, encourage more of their favorite mistake (bluffing too often) by showing them weakness when your hand has showdown value.
  • Call them down lighter. When we are playing against a calling station, we know we should value bet them like crazy but not bluff… there’s no profit in trying to bluff someone who will call you down with an under pair to the board or ace high all the time. Applying the reverse of this thought process to countering the maniac, a great adjustment to a player who is bluffing way too much is to go a bit more calling station on them and call down lighter.
  • Raise monsters on the river as long as they’re driving the action. Since they will be more bluff-heavy than most, give them the room to bluff off as much as possible before dropping the hammer down with your monsters. The exception here of course is if they are so out of control that when they are raised, they’ll reraise with garbage… then go ahead and raise your monster hands before the river and get them committed to the pot as quickly as possible.

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TAG Bullies

Characteristics

  • May be a tight-aggressive player who hardly ever takes a passive line.
  • One that only uses “push” tactics when they contest a pot, they have never learned to “pull”.
  • Not involved frequently so you’ll run into this type least of all the aggressive players.
  • Tougher to adjust to as they are generally involved with a stronger range and thus will be bluffing and semi-bluffing at a much more reasonable frequency to their legitimate value bets.

Adjustments

  • Bluff or semi-bluff when appropriate. This type will be susceptible to bluffs on board textures that are good for your range and bad for theirs.
  • Good non-monster hands usually do better keeping the TAG bully’s range wide. In conjunction with the last point, raising or rearising them will narrow their range to stronger hands and draws, which isn’t necessarily desirable when we have a good but not great made hand.
  • Practicing some avoidance is okay! While it’s hard to avoid their looser counterparts (because they are in the mix so frequently) and it’s desirable to tangle with those looser counterparts when we reasonably can (to exploit them), the TAG Bully is both harder to adjust to because their ranges are more reasonable, and easier to avoid since they’re not entering lots of pots. That doesn’t mean run for the hills when they get involved, but we can certainly exercise some discretion when it comes to getting involved in more marginal spots against them.

In summary, identify what type of hyper-aggressive player they are, and think about what strategies make good sense to counter them. Stay level headed, avoiding tilt, and execute your plan. Remember, that plan should show a profit long term but won’t win every single time! And lastly, don’t be intimidated! Intimidation is their weapon. Render it useless by not allowing them to either immobilize you, or tilt you. These player types can all be exploited. Figure out what they’re trying to do, make your plan to exploit that, and work the plan with a cool and level head. Enjoy the process!

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