How did I learn to fall in love with low-stakes poker’s adorable hard-charging sardines? Patience. Process. Hours. Over time, interlocking levels of awareness composed my Obi Wan fish revelations. Now a few years in, as the sole woman in most New York underground cash games, I’ve left relative terror behind and play back at hyper-LAGs like a warrior princess by exploiting a keen menu of formal lines and tactics. I don’t build counter-strategies for one sole player type. But there’s much profit to be won from the aggressive boys in the deep blue sea and I like figuring out their swim rates.

Trick the machismo
Recreational and amateur low-stakes grinders (mostly young and male) love projecting muscle while attempting to lock in a “table captain” identity with so-called aggro deeds. They work to appear fearless but are often reckless bullies, shoving flops, bluffing marginal hands, shutting down play on early streets, working tiny edges by punishing draws and avoiding showdown at all cost. As a first adjustment, I’ve integrated thoughtful, adaptive ranges in deep-stack games to punish out-of-whack LAG starting hands. Fighting fire with fire is also unsmart. I sometimes dive under the wave, checking against certain Villains, starving them for data. As cash-play magician Ed Miler says, what looks like “passive” play can print money. I’ll always lose pots to LAGs, Ed says. But the pots I win keep me in Manolo Blahnicks for years.

Hug the stress
We’ve all been there. Standard maniacs routinely put me to the test cause some play 95% of starting hands so what does that lotto range look like? Pure chaos. Devil range. And if those folks are stations it grows exponentially worse. And if it’s a 5/5 game or higher with routine straddles and rich businessmen at the table…then what?

Aggression gets pointless
More and more, I learn to separate decision from feeling. When my A-game is running the show I detach like a champion, delivering a small dose of glee to inner-game witchdoctor Tommy Angelo. I can’t speak for every girl grinder but early in my poker life I would talk to myself:

…boys seem to have this formidable aggression gene plus all those hormones baked into male-ness and god how they just don’t care, putting whole stacks into play with such weak hands and sucking out, how can I ever do battle against all that organ-driven moxie? The game is so unmappable and loose there’s surely no hope for me…

My inner doubt disappeared once I put shame aside and hugged reality. My pal Frank once lost $2,000 at an underground 1/2 game in three hours because he was rash. What Frank did wasn’t romantic. No badge of honor. This wasn’t a style to which thoughtful girls (or boys) should aspire. I now aggregate profit according to refined inner-game instinct, creative decision trees, “changing it up,” putting Villains to hard tests, sensible board-and-range analysis, bluffing organically, and mastering ideal spots through a complex playbook of fundamental bells and whistles. Spewing is not strategy. Amateur LAGs can make aggression look sexy for nine seconds. Until it isn’t.

I mind my own business
I now keep decisions in my own front yard. Good boundaries. I play back at craziness but don’t take it personally. It’s not up to me how others play. It’s up to me to manage and exploit it. Sure it gets weird. And maybe I get triggered and tired in a late session. I haven’t yet mastered 100% indifference and sometimes I feel the urge to keep Moby Dicks honest (certainly the drunk ones). But poker has one constant: revenge poker equals zero EV. So I prefer to seduce profit through various channels:

  • Bluffing maniac stations makes little sense
  • Calculated three- and four-bets preflop create a higher barrier to entry so LAGs can’t see cheap flops.
  • I ruthlessly exploit my (women never bluff) image and barrel ideal run outs.
  • When LAGs crush boards they often reveal it through bet sizing with larger turn and river bets.
  • I scrutinize a LAG’s face, body language, and breathing rate when contemplating a call. Tells are everywhere.

Not him, me
I do the narcissism thing. I ignore a LAG’s loony frequencies and fall in lust with my own quiet. Mindfulness and staying present for me are more than cliché. I avoid distraction. With each hand, superior focus starts the minute cards are dealt. I create my own version of Zen head. I often say precious little over the course of an entire session. I breathe.

Fat bank accounts
Rec players with lucrative day jobs get sticky. I factor that in when constructing multi-street bluffs. They love risk and often don’t care if they lose. A lot.

Patience is prayer
The game is a beast. And it’s tempting here and there to react to psychotic play even though I know in my heart it’s the source of enormous profit. I’ve studied Jared Tendler’s outstanding mental-game work and know I might still get tilty over Helmuth-branded entitlement. I mistakenly believe my superior poker brain (wink) means I should win most pots I enter (a beautiful confusion). Letting go of losses is easier said than done but the reliable answer is more practice. More detachment. See above.

Life is contradiction
Yet and still I adore watching seemingly coo-coo reckless pro moves because elite fish are often geniuses. In their capable hands wide Grand Canyon ranges are magnificent works of art. These players are affectionately labeled dangerous and are feared. They roam the global poker universe playing nose-bleed stakes, willing to light money on fire in the right spots, sucking profit out of cash games in their purest Old West form. 21st century, high-stakes cash play reinvents saloons of yesteryear in dollars earned but a cash game’s rebellious unruly spirit has the lifespan of vampires. Brilliant fish today are difficult to dominate. They’re savants who rarely fall victim to tartar sauce and I love them with all my heart.