Skill #8. Exploiting Aggression – P1

I’m going to keep the discussion brief in our final three skills. To some extent, beating 5-10 no-limit is beyond the scope of this book. It’s a game big enough that many card rooms don’t even spread it. And when it is spread, it’s often at the top of the food chain.

But I decided to include 5-10 skills for two reasons. One, at this level you’ll learn how to deal with players who want to get rid of extra hands by bluffing with them instead of folding them out, as we discussed earlier. Learning to respond to these bluffs is a vital skill at 5-10. (And this skill can also be necessary at 1-2 and 2-5.) Two, learning how to exploit aggression ties everything together. Once you can handle over-aggressive players, you will have all the skills necessary to take anyone’s money—at least as long as they insist on playing too many hands pre-flop.

Also, this section is aspirational. Many card rooms don’t get a regular 5-10 game going. Since 2-5 is often the biggest game in these casinos, lots of players develop winning 2-5 skills then get

stunted. Many mistakenly believe there isn’t much more to the game beyond what they already know.

This idea is wrong. No-limit hold ’em is a strategy game with a complexity on par with chess. The game is incredibly deep, and no matter how good you are, you’ll always have plenty of room to get even better. These last few skills will reveal even more to the game—and that you’re never done learning it.

Let’s go back to the basic framework presented at the beginning of the book. We have an opponent who’s simply playing too many hands pre-flop. Yet in this case, to get rid of these hands, this player likes to bluff away the bad hands. This bluffing strategy works great against players who also play too many hands, but like to fold out the extra ones. In a perfect world with too many hands pre-flop, the bluffer bluffs, the folder folds, and one player systematically wins from the other.

There are two styles of bluffing. First, you’ll experience the little shots that players take at the pot. “Gee, if I bet here, maybe everyone will fold.” Second, you’ll experience the bigger, stack- sized bluffs where players are trying to apply maximum pressure.

Fundamentally, you deal with both types of aggression in a similar way. I’ll talk first about the small shots, since these are less scary.

Say your opponent bets. You know, based on how the hand went down, that your opponent likely has one of ten different hands. Nine of these hands are strong. The 10th hand is junk. Say your opponent decides to bet all ten hands. What should you do?

You should fold, even though you know he’s sometimes bluffing. He just has too many strong hands out there to risk

trying to pick off a bluff. If you try to get granular, and pick off one or two of his bluff hands from in-between all his good hands, you’re going to pay off good hands too often and lose more than you win the few times you catch him.

Why is trying to pick off bluffs unprofitable in the long run? For the simple reason that your opponent has the correct underlying hand-range strength to justify the bluffs he’s making.

What if we dropped it to eight good hands and two bluffs? It depends on the bet size compared to the pot size. But in most circumstances, you should still fold. Again, there are just too many real hands out there to try to go after a bluff.

Now flip the situation. You have a loose and wild opponent who likes to bet all the time. He bets. You think he’s got one of ten hands, but you think there are two good hands and eight junk hands. What now?

Now you’re welcome to pick the player off—calling every time. The underlying hand range is far too weak to justify the bluffs the player is making.

This is the key idea behind how you exploit your opponents’ aggression. When their underlying hand range is strong, get out of the way and leave the potential bluffs alone. When their underlying hand range is weak, however, you’re welcome to start trying to call the bluffs.

This is the essential problem when you play too many hands. If you want to bluff them away, you’re forced to bluff from some weak hand ranges. You’re essentially hoping your opponents don’t notice the problem and give you undue credit for strength just because you’re willing to put money out there. The key to exploiting aggression, therefore, is to figure out when your opponent is betting from a weak range. These are the bets you start to play back at.

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