She was sitting on a stack of $1500, and she would not stop raising or cold calling.
It was the $1/$2 game at the Sands, versus one of the most aggressive opponents I had ever seen. She was 3 seats to my right. Her VPIP was about 50. She was raising every limped pot and calling every pre-flop raise in position. She was c-betting close to 100%. She was calling c-bets close to 100%, and when she wasn’t calling, she was raising. She was almost cartoonishly aggressive.
I knew I could exploit her aggression, so I opened up my range against her pre-flop and started limp-calling her raises more. When in position vs. her with a decent holding, I was often raising and calling her limps. I was cold-calling more of her raises. I just wanted to get into a pot with her, smash the flop, and sat back as she handed over two or three streets of value.
I got the opportunity when I was dealt KK on the button. A few players limped to Villain, who raised to $15. The old guy to my right called, and I 3-bet to $55. Everyone folded, she called, and the old guy muttered to me, “Good for you, go get her.” She was obviously bullying the table and they knew it, but I actually had something of a strategy for profiting from it.
Before the flop came out, I did some quick hand ranging in my head. Even though she was an aggressive player, she wasn’t calling my 3-bet with any two cards. Her range was strong, but it was also somewhat capped because I would expect AA, KK, AK or QQ to be 4-bet by such an aggressive player. I figured to have her crushed with KK.
And what did she think I had when I made this 3-bet? I believed she was putting me on a much wider range than I would actually make this raise with because (a) I was on the button and she was auto-raising buttons and aware of stealing and (b) she was aware I was willing to fight for pots with her and had seen me 3-bet pre-flop a few times before, which at $1/$2 can stand out.
The flop came A 4 2 rainbow. I have been doing a lot of thinking about these ace-high flops when holding high pocket pairs like 99-KK. It’s a situation that comes up often enough, I thought i’d think about it away from the table. Based on what I observed at $1/$2, my motto in this spot became, “They will tell you if they have an ace.”
This motto has turned out to be very profitable, because I no longer auto-fear the ace when it flops over my premium pre-flop hand. How you get them to tell you whether or not they have an ace depends on the flop, your positions, and other factors, but the vast majority of these low stakes players are very predictable in playing their top pair hands. You can often pick up how big their kicker is, their play is so predictable.
And that is, I suppose, what exploiting aggression is all about. You are predicting that a player will act aggressively in certain circumstances and passive-aggressive in others. By predicting that your opponent will do this, you can do things like get a 3-bet called, have the flop come off ace high, and then call a $40 bet, which she made out of position versus me.
As we’ve discussed in the past, bet sizing is a huge information tell, and one mistake I see over and over again at $1/$2 is the weak donk bet. This was a weak donk bet if I ever saw one.
First of all, is she even considering what I might have? If I 3-bet her pre-flop, I’m often going to show up here with AK, AQ, AJ, maybe even worse aces, considering she knows I know she’s betting light.
Likewise, I can see AQ and worse in her holding, but I think she could have any two paint cards, almost any pair, and some high suited connector hands. She is obviously playing to just raise people out of the pot, or hit something and exploit her loose-aggressive image by getting paid off. Apparently it had worked to the tune of $1500. It was about to stop working.
I called her $60 bet because it telegraphed, “I don’t have an ace.” The pot was about $130, her bet wasn’t even half-pot. If she was betting with an ace, perhaps with a strong ace trying to string along a worse ace, she would have bet more. She may have even checked to get me to throw in a c-bet.
However, once she bets the $60 as a bluff, I’m sure she’s barreling turn, whereas a re-raise here probably gets her to fold any worse hands.
The turn dropped a brick 7 and didn’t suit the board, and the pot was now $250. I had about $250 behind. Sure enough, out came the turn barrel, and it demonstrated another super-weak tendency I see all the time at $1/$2: making a turn bet of identical size to a flop bet. Yes, she actually pushed out $60 into a pot of $250 on a brick turn.
Now a picture was beginning to form of her exact range. This is not something she’s doing with absolute air. And there is no draw to be had here. She must have something like 88, 99, TT or JJ. So often you see this kind of weak bet sizing with middle-pair type hands. It’s almost like the small bet sizing is just insurance against running into a bigger hand that calls you down.
Again, I felt a raise here on the turn would probably send her packing, because any aggression from me would likely be interpreted as slow-playing an ace. However, if I just called here, I would continue to look weak, and she would possibly fire a third barrel. At that point I would be a little queasy at the idea of her actually holding that rare ace, but if it were another weak bet, I could snap call.
The river came a Q and she checked. My instinct was to shove, because I had a single pot-sized bet left. But again, she’s only calling my shove with a hand that beats me… not that I thought she actually had a hand that beats me. I wanted more value from her. Then it dawned on me: Fight fire with fire.
I thought that if I slid out my own weak bet, it would look like a steal attempt, and I could actually get her to call with 88-JJ. I slid $100 into a pot of $370. She tanked for about a minute — the longest I had seen her tank — and called. When I flipped kings, I was delighted to see TT, right smack in the middle of the range I had put her on. I boosted my stack by almost another buy-in, and felt pretty good about the way I played the hand. (If you have any constructive strategic criticism on how I played the hand, I would love to hear it in the comments.)
After I played a few more hands with her pulling similar moves, I made a seat change to her right so I could challenge her for table captain status, and found my stack had grown to $800. In my final hand of the night, I stacked the poker buddy I had come down with, and the table joked, “You’re going to have a real fun ride home together.” It was the largest stack I had ever cashed in the history of playing the game — just a few bucks short of a grand. Granted, I was in for $500, but nonetheless the stack of 30 green chips felt pretty sweet to hand over at the cage.
Red Chip Poker East Coast Meetup
Before the month was out, I had another opportunity to test my aggression exploiting skills, but at the opposite end of the skill spectrum. While the $1/$2 players at the Sands were, to put it charitably, not the most sophisticated players, the $1/$2 players I sat down with at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City were some of the best low-stakes cash game players out there.
I’m talking of the 2nd informal East Coast Red Chip Poker Meetup, organized by ChipXTractor (aka Tugboat Steve), our star community members. We began with a night of hanging out at the bar next to the $500 limit roulette games, where Jersey’s finest rich guys and gals go to see and be seen in their finest Jersey jewelry and formalwear. There is a real chemistry building within this group and a real sense of “a rising tide lifts all boats” in terms of game improvement. Everyone might be at a slightly different spot in their poker journey, and we all come from disparate walks of life, but our common love of poker and strategy means we share a certain mindset that is, in a word, uncommon.
The camaraderie was definitely the highlight of the trip — I would end up busting in a PLO hand I can only be described as ‘PLO fever’, drawing slim with a hand that looked prettier than it was. And I had to leave early due to other commitments. But while my stack lasted, it felt pretty good to hang tough at NL / PLO with players that were so much better than me.
Pretty much every hand I’ve won versus these sharks goes something like this: I get dealt AK, KK or QQ and raise. One of these guys 3-bets me big, like 5x. I shove. They either fold, or call with a hand that is flipping or dominated by one pip, and I hold up.
When I do this and win a pot, Fausto has taken to exclaiming, “Strategy in action!” Actually, Fausto acts with comical disbelief any time I make an aggressive move. I think my image with these guys is that I’m a tight ABC player who occasionally does something crazy just to test my limits, which is pretty accurate. Still, it cracks me up that when I act aggressively, the whole table acts like they just saw a welterweight take a swing at Mike Tyson.
ABC is not the way I play at the Sands. But with aggressive players of a far higher skill level, I understand the conventional poker wisdom is to play tight and aggressively, avoid tricky spots and mostly try to peddle strong hands or the nuts for value by being sticky vs. aggression, while not tipping off the big hand with a huge re-raise. A slight variation on the way I exploited aggression at the Sands, but with the same underlying principle. At the Nugget, this strategy was good enough to build my stack to around $500 over 3 hours, before I lost the epic three-player shove PLO hand.
Since my profit playing NL was canceled out by the PLO loss, I called the whole session a wash and won’t be counting it in my NLHE results, even though technically that is a sixth of my bankroll I just set on fire. I’m going to give myself a mulligan on that and stay away from PLO until I can get more practice online. Kudos to the two best PLO players for convincing a table full of non-PLO players to play half NL, half PLO. How’s that for meta-game strategy?
I’m sure we have not seen the last of the Red Pack.
It has frankly been a miracle that I have been able to make time for poker this month, I have a metric ton of stuff going on in my away-from-table life. It’s quite possible I’ll take a break from playing for a few weeks so I can focus on other things. That said, there are some really exciting poker-related things on the horizon:
- A new casino is opening just over an hour away from me, which cuts my casino travel time in half. It’s ahead of schedule and looks to be opening in February, with a small 12-table poker room. I’m not going to become a regular, but I look forward to playing more and more often.
- The home game is finally returning. Not sure exactly what form it will take, but things look good to have one before the end of the year. I really miss hosting and there are a lot of players looking forward to getting back into the groove of a monthly game.
- I’ll still be heading to Sands every month to play $1/$2, because I’ve gotta stay true to the original mission: make $6,000 playing $1/$2.