When dealing with aggression, the first thing you’re looking for is bloated betting frequencies. After you’ve played no-limit hold ’em for a while, you’ll be attuned to the game’s basic rhythms. He raises, she calls. She checks, he bets. Some of these actions become almost automatic. She calls and checks again. He bets again. Everyone knew he was going to do that.
Certain bets you can easily predict. He’s betting the flop because he raised pre-flop. He’s betting the button because everyone checked to him. He’s betting the turn because she just called the flop.
Whenever your opponents make predictable bets, they’re also exploitable. There are few situations in this game (from a theoretical standpoint) where you should bet almost 100 percent of the time. In the main, you should bet some hands and check others. Your betting frequency should reflect the relative strength of your hand range and your position. With a strong hand range and position, you bet a high percentage of your hands. With a weak hand range out of position, you bet a low percentage of your hands. When these factors are mixed, your betting frequency should be moderate. You’re not betting too much. You’re not betting too little.
You don’t want your opponents to be able to predict accurately when you will bet and when you won’t.
Predictable bets are exploitable bets.
Let’s say you play too many hands pre-flop, and you’re playing against a tight player who doesn’t play that many hands. In this case, your betting frequencies post-flop should go down. You’re starting with a weak set of hands, and you’re up against someone with a tighter, stronger range. You shouldn’t be betting often from weakness and into strength.
But here’s the thing. Many 5-10 players don’t understand this idea—or at least they don’t obey the rule. They will raise pre-flop with a wide range of hands like 6-3 suited, K-7 offsuit, and the like. You, as a tight player following my pre-flop recommendations, call. You have the stronger set of hands— there’s no doubt about it. Yet this player will bet the flop 100 percent of the time anyway. He’s the one who raised pre-flop, so he just thinks of it like it’s a standard C-bet.
But it’s an exploitable mistake, because he’s betting a weak set of hands into a player with a strong set of hands. He should be checking most of the time and deferring to you, the player with the tighter range. At the 5-10 level, over-aggressive mistakes like these are commonplace.
You should not fold often, or at all, to certain of these bets. You should usually call, even if you feel like you don’t have any sort of hand.
Yes, you can call with nothing. Think about the player who can bet all of his hands because he has eight good ones and two junk hands. The couple bluffs are well-hidden amongst the strong hands. The same principle holds for calls as well—at least when you’re calling on an early street like the flop. You can hide some calls with weak hands among all your calls with hands like top pair. When you have the range strength advantage in a pot, it is your right to continue with some weak hands hidden among all the strong ones.
When you have the stronger hand range, it is your right to continue with some weak hands hidden amongst the strong ones.
You can also consider raising with weak hands (weak hands among a generally strong range) when you think your opponent is betting from a position of weakness. Whether to call or raise depends on a several factors. Do you think there’s a chance you’ll pick up live reads if you call and see another card? Do you think your opponent is likely to keep bluffing if you call? Do you think your opponent will react predictably if you raise? What’s the texture of the board on the flop? How much stronger is your range than his? And so forth.
Sorting out these details is complex and beyond the scope of this chapter. But the key point is simple. If your opponent has bet, and you’re thinking, “Of course he bet there,” there’s an excellent chance he’s bluffing too many hands for what his hand range can support. On its own, this is not reason enough to attack the bet. But you should begin to think about the kinds of hands your opponent might have—good and bad.
If you’re able to confirm your initial impression that he has too many weak hands, you should rarely fold to such a bet, and you should challenge the bet with a mixture of calls and raises.
You’ll rely on this line of thinking repeatedly at 5-10. Players are still quite loose pre-flop, just as they are at 1-2 and 2-5. But they’re more aggressive overall. You can peg a lot of loose players’ extra bets and raises as over-aggression and “automatic” bets, based mostly on the situation and not on the strength of their hand range. Once you get a handle on identifying them, these are the bets from which you win money long term—as long as you don’t fold to them.