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Excessive Aggression

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[vital]Myth    United States. Apr 12 2007 14:31. Posts 12157

Excessive Aggression
by Corwin Cole

"Remember: your goal is always to win the pot." These words ring in my head from time to time, from a conversation I once had with former Liquidpoker member Pokerintheface. And they hold a pretty significant, self-evident truth in poker: at all times, you should be trying to find a way to win the pot you’re playing.

But the nature of the game has two components: reward, which comes obviously in the form of pots won, and also risk, which comes in the form of money lost trying to win pots. And in reality, both risk and reward are equally important, equally complex factors we must consider in our decision-making at the table. However, many people overestimate the importance of the reward, and they develop some serious leaks.

We often call these types of players “monkeys,” and I personally note them as “over-aggressive.” They are the ones who try to win every pot they play, who never give up, who refuse to be outplayed at all costs. In essence, if they can find any conceivable excuse to be aggressive right now, they attack, no matter how poor an excuse it might be in the long run.

How do we identify these monkeys? They are the type with outrageous aggression factors, like 6.4 overall or 15.8 on the flop with 8.7 on the turn, and so on. They are the ones who check-raise incessantly, who bet 100% of flops under all conditions, who are always willing to get all-in on the flop with any draw, and who play in far too many pots that are 3-bet or even 4-bet preflop.

The bottom line is that you simply aren’t dealt great hands very often. You’re lucky if a large pot, in which you have a great hand, happens a few times per session. And for a multi-tabling online player, that means that only a fraction of a percent of the pots you play really deserve to be large ones with stacks flying around. So, why do people even play this way? And if it’s so inconsistent with the cards they have, how do they not go broke?

Pros of the Style

There are a few explanations. The first is that this maniacal style actually works in certain games, namely the ones where players are very weak-tight. When your opponents are constantly surrendering pot after pot to you, and only getting involved with really big hands, then even the craziest players avoid bad situations, while picking up tons of small and medium pots.

Secondly, this style also crushes opponents who try to be aggressive but crumble under the pressure of a fearless player. These are basically the same players as the weak-tights in the previous example, except they usually throw in one or two more bets before folding, which just makes them all the more profitable to the maniac.

Finally, if properly finessed, this style is actually quite effective, but it requires significant control and major adjustments on later streets. In a recent thread, Ket explained the way TalentedTom employs the over-aggressive style, but uses it to his advantage instead of his demise:

  But luckily for our...hero, there don't exist many players at all at mid-stakes NL who [can] make the correct adjustments to him...They become frustrated by his frequent getting out of line and pounding at them every hand with junk hands on the 'small bet' streets (preflop and flop), so [they] try to adapt by calling him down real light even on the 'big bet' streets (turn and river). In doing so, they get obliterated, because TalentedTom is actually only getting out of line frequently in the small pots and being much tighter and more solid/straightforward on the whole in big pots. When the big bets go in on turn and river, TalentedTom will show up with the best hand and win a big pot from some frustrated donk who got tilted by his preflop ridiculousness. So,what he's doing is purposely making small order to get an image which induces much larger mistakes from weak players later on.

Here are some example scenarios and hands that describe the upside of being an over-aggressive player, when executing the style properly:

1. Sometimes, when you are really running an opponent over, he will make a terrible decision when faced with a huge bet from you. The point is that you want to frustrate him enough by picking on him in small pots, that he does something like call off a 150 BB stack preflop with KJo: You called with king-jack? You’re a terrible player!

2. Other times, opponents will relentlessly try to represent a big hand on a scary board against you, assuming that you never have a real hand. They will pick terrible spots to make moves at you, in situations where they are taking extremely high risks for very small rewards: Somebody tries to represent a monster against MezmerizePLZ.

3. In another manner, people will sometimes go for extremely thin value extraction against you with marginal hands, but they will be too afraid to follow through with their play. In this example, my opponent was very frustrated with my incessant betting and raising in position, but just couldn’t keep up with my relentless aggression, and committed a lot of money before he decided to quit: Steamrolling with relentless aggression

Cons of the Style

Unfortunately, there is a major dark side to the development of the appropriate image to experience perks like those exemplified above. When you are trying to play a super-aggressive style that allows you to get paid off very well on your medium-or-better hands, and also makes people bluff at you stupidly, you can fall into a lot of traps very easily.

The biggest and simplest trap people fall into is that they don’t think of the style in proper EV terms. The basic precept of over-aggression is this: the amount you pay to develop your image must be less than the excess amount you win because of your image. Otherwise, you’re risking more than your reward. And this is the central theme in the profile of mistakes made by novice loose-aggressive players. They seize too many opportunities to make a “crazy” image, and when they choose to do so, they are putting in too much money at a time.

I mentioned before that some people are always willing to get all-in on the flop with any draw, so they are shoving in stack after stack with a little less than 30% equity on average. We can clearly see how this is wrong! For one, you flop so many draws that, if you do this, then when your stack goes in on the flop, you’ll infrequently have a good hand, and that’s just bad poker. Secondly, the whole point of getting out-of-line aggressive with your draws is because you think you have fold equity. For the most part, you will see over-aggressive players getting all-in with zero fold equity, and purely for the chance to suck out. Again, this is awful.

Other times, hyper-aggressive players simply will not let go of a pot, no matter how much it costs them to fight for it, and no matter how little respect they are getting from their opponents. Even though they play so aggressively and wind up getting so little respect from their opponents, they continue to bluff at almost every opportunity.

Another major, terrible pitfall that over-aggressive players experience is the paranoia of being bluffed by other players like themselves. When they are constantly bluffing, they start to think that every aggressive move is a bluff. This leads to them calling down big bets with really marginal or flat-out terrible hands, because they are so scared of being outplayed. Their mind becomes obsessed with outplaying their opponents, and they call all-in check-raises with middle pair or open-shove overbets with ace high.

Finally, these types of aggressors get far too out-of-line preflop, when the play is the most straight-forward and the easiest for thinking players to exploit. They are frequently making squeeze plays, even with total garbage hands, and they 3-bet raisers incessantly. Even though their opponents only have to play two cards correctly (which is a much easier game than having to play 5, 6, or 7!), they continue to be far too aggressive on a betting round requiring little finesse.

Here are some more examples of the mistakes over-aggressive players tend to make:

1. MezmerizePLZ tries to represent a hand that just got less likely, picking a bad spot to try and push his opponent off of a marginal hand: Why bluff again when the scary card pairs?

2. In this example, I had been playing an extremely hyper-aggressive, high-bluff frequency style for a long time, and had fallen into the habit of reading other people as being the same type of player. I vastly overplayed a semi-bluff with no fold equity and very little showdown value against a range of calling hands, and I should have been able to see that he was obviously calling anyway. But as a super-aggressive player, I was in a state of almost constant rage, throwing my stack in for any reason: Semi-bluffing with no fold equity and little showdown value.

3. In the final example, one of the most maniacally over-aggressive regulars at $1/2 6-max on PokerStars, carrotsnake made an astonishing all-in bluff on a scary flop, with almost no outs and certainly no fold equity. This is a good example of bluffing somebody just for the sake of bluffing them, forgetting that your opponent is pot committed and that you have almost no showdown value: carrotsnake bluffs off a stack in the worst possible spot.

Combating the Style

And now, we reach the most important and valuable part of this article, where I will address the question: if our opponents overvalue reward and scoff at risk, how can we exploit that mistake? When players are being far too aggressive and picking too many spots (and bad ones at that) to bluff and develop a crazy image, how should we respond?

The most important thing to remember when playing against super-aggressive players is that you yourself should almost never bluff. If he is bluffing all the time, then your good and medium hands go way up in value, and your bluffs become very ineffective, because “you can’t bluff a bluffer.” That is, if you try to bluff against someone who bluffs too much, you’ll just try too hard and eventually you’ll end up playing the same way, which by definition means you have no edge and you lose slowly to the rake. The excess value in your medium and good hands comes from the fact that your monkey opponent is willing to put in a lot of bets to push you off of them, if you just let him.

When discussing this with Baal not long ago, he said, “I’ve become a big fan of the ‘check top pair out of position’ style.” Normally, when you think of having top pair out of position, your instinct should be to bet in order to protect your hand. I mean, tons of cards can kill your one-pair, and you should get value out of it now, while you still can. But when your opponent will always bet every flop anyway, you have no need to bet at all. Let them bet your hands for you most of the time. When you’ve got something medium, don’t bet if he’s going to bluff at you!

Unless, of course, you can bet and still make him bluff. Many times, you can make a bet that represents weakness, something that looks like a “feeler bet” or a “blocking bet,” which you are fairly certain your super-aggressive opponent will raise. But mostly, you can just check out of position if you have any kind of hand, and your ultra-monkey opponents will bet religiously. From there, you can check-raise, or check-call, or whatever you want to do, so long as you don’t fold any hand with value.

Lastly, when you have a great hand against an opponent who is far too aggressive, try to play it exactly the same way that he would make a big bluff. The times when your opponent gets paranoid and pays you off, because your line looks the same as his bluff line, will bring you massive profits quickly.

So, your overall style against players who try far too hard to be insane aggressors should be the following: tight preflop, passive with medium and good hands postflop, and extremely aggressive with great hands at all times, while rarely bluffing. Your superior hand selection preflop will allow you to have a significant advantage going to flop in the vast majority of pots you play. Your passivity with medium and good hands will induce your opponent to make tons of mistakes when bluffing against you. Your aggression that looks like insanity with great hands will get you paid off by paranoid aggressors often. And finally, your infrequent bluffing will prevent you from making the same mistakes your target opponents are making.

Here are some examples of spots where you can use the mistakes that over-aggressive players make against them.

1. When people raise far too many hands preflop, and you don’t raise very many, you can start re-raising them preflop in position all the time, forcing them into tough spots out of position when they have garbage hands on average. Here, I abused shaneOmac249 a few times in a session with some exploitative 3-betting: A7 is probably best, so this isn’t really a bluff; Honestly, K9s is probably best, too.

2. If your opponent, sortof like I was in the previous example, is getting way too frisky with his preflop 3-betting, you can just 4-bet him with your good hands, even ones like AKs, which would be very vulnerable against a tight reraiser: 4-betting for value without KK+.

3. When you are facing an opponent who literally tries to win every single pot, sometimes he will make a series of mistakes. In this hand, my opponent most likely raised a bad hand preflop, then made the mistake of betting huge on the flop as a bluff or very thin bet, and then made yet another mistake of being paranoid that I was bluffing him with a check-raise, so he decided to call. Finally, he made yet another mistake by trying again to steal the pot from me when I represented weakness a second time on the turn, and risked a huge amount of money to steal a pot where he obviously did not have much of a hand at all: Colombo218 gets double check-raised and folds getting more than 5:1.

4. Finally, sometimes you can bet to induce a raise from a super-aggressive player, and if you can safely re-raise it, you can get him to put in more chips on a bluff than he would if you checked. Here, although my hand was not made, it was protected by huge equity, and I got my over-aggressive opponent to raise my lead bet, which I could confidently re-raise: Dazarath puts in 1/5 of a buy-in to push me off of a “weak” bet.

Concluding Thoughts

After all that, you might be pretty confused as to what’s the best way to play, or at least what’s right for you. The answer, as always, is that it depends. When you have the experience and finesse of TalentedTom, you can pull off the super aggressive style correctly, and you can achieve enormous sustainable winrates. But, if you’re even reading this, you probably don’t.

Luckily for those of us who can’t live the boss life of TalentedTom, there are plenty of players around who are trying to do so. In typical 6-max games on PokerStars, the majority of regulars are the type of monkeys who make the mistakes outlined in the “cons” section above. And these players can be crushed by the recommendations I made about playing against this style. So, unless you have a perfect understanding of how TalentedTom does what he does, and, more importantly, what you could do to beat it, then you shouldn’t try to be the super-aggressive type.

Instead, play a standard, solid, tight-aggressive game against half-witted half-stacks, and play a style that exploits the mistakes of bad loose-aggressive players when facing them. Pinpoint the types of mistakes that the monkeys are making, and exploit them appropriately. And most importantly, don’t become the type of monkey who spews against thinking players.


Roman made some excellent points in the discussion thread below this article - so good, in fact, that I am going to include them as an addendum. PoorUser also made a brief comment in response, which I don't think I fully articulated in my article. Read below for Roman and PoorUser's thoughts on my advice that you should hardly ever bluff a bluffer:

  Roman: How can almost never bluffing over aggro monkeys be right? it makes no logical sense to me. One of the main reasons that bluffing bluffers is avoided by most is because it is very scary. If the guy has anything half decent, you're getting stacked usually, and if he doesn't, you're winning a medium-sized pot. However, you can't deny how many opportunities exist to pick up free money where the guy would have to be a psychic to put you on a bluff. If you are finding it impossible to bluff a LAG, it is because either you don't know him well enough, or your metagame is off. The one dangerous thing you advocated is the "rarely bluff, slowplay big hand" method of beating LAGs. The truth is, that strategy will only work against the worst and 'monkiest' LAGs. There are a lot of pitfalls associated with that style, including becoming too predictabe, not being able to bluff almost ever without floating (which is the worst against LAGs because they just keep firing), and often losing action versus top pair and two-pair hands because you failed to make the pot bigger on earlier streets.

  PoorUser: Also, I think one thing to be weary about when you bluff bluffers is to not get pulled out of your game and start playing their way. I think that's half of what LAG players are looking for in general.


I’d like to give special thanks to PoorUser and Roman for their input into the article, MezmerizePLZ and JonnyCosMo for their contribution of example hands, Nazgul and Daut for editing, and to Ket, Baal, and Pokerintheface for the quotes I used from them. Furthermore, PoorUser is an absolute monster gentleman and should be held in the highest esteem by all living things.

Eh, I can go a few more orbits in life, before taxes blind me out - PoorUserLast edit: 14/08/2008 19:18

Refrain[FriZ]   Canada. Apr 12 2007 14:46. Posts 1395

It's been a long time since your last article Myth, thanks.

Click the mouse, lose the house. 

The72o   Zimbabwe. Apr 12 2007 14:53. Posts 6107


A Hard Way to Make an Easy Living 

Golden Ghost   Netherlands. Apr 12 2007 15:00. Posts 285

  On April 12 2007 14:53 The72o wrote:

But we at Liquidpoker don’t care about that. Our players are nutjobs, maniacs, psychics, and unstoppable beasts at the poker tables, crushing the highest limits around -[vital]Myth 

Tazza   United States. Apr 12 2007 15:03. Posts 33

nice article, thanks

XeliN   United Kingdom. Apr 12 2007 15:04. Posts 2365

brilliantly written and detailed article and also on a subject on poker that i find most interesting i think your a monster gentlemen myth

Steal City: if u want to get good at sex u need to read books. Its just like poker, u need to readLast edit: 12/04/2007 15:04

mrwongie   Canada. Apr 12 2007 15:05. Posts 1710

SO long got to 1/3 of it and WOW. Some great advice but i will finsih after some poker.

tae-g   United States. Apr 12 2007 15:08. Posts 1782

You're beautiful.

p.s. I like the soot icons and their usage as bullets

Diagonals: oh hai guise wats goin on at this table 

Logiabs~   Colombia. Apr 12 2007 15:08. Posts 9133

its not nice, its sick

Roald   Tuvalu. Apr 12 2007 15:10. Posts 2679

  On April 12 2007 15:08 tae-g wrote:
You're beautiful.

p.s. I like the soot icons and their usage as bullets

I agree with the second point. Ah, fuck it I agree with the first point as well

drugs, animals, children are welcome -Xavier 

BalloonFight   United States. Apr 12 2007 15:14. Posts 1380

Awesome article. Much <3 to all the contributors.

AleKSei   Mexico. Apr 12 2007 15:17. Posts 1261

  On April 12 2007 15:14 BalloonFight wrote:
Awesome article. Much <3 to all the contributors.

TimDawg: wtf are you doing sitting at 5kNL? gives me alone time to think about the world. 

HeRoS)eNGagE   Canada. Apr 12 2007 15:39. Posts 10871

you are freaking crazy
i wish you get paid for that

FrinkX   United States. Apr 12 2007 15:52. Posts 7204

god i love columbo

bitch on a pension suck my dong 

twotimesopt   United States. Apr 12 2007 16:03. Posts 2393

Dear Corwin/myth,

This article rocked. Keep the good stuff coming. Thanks!

quit tryin to be a repo man - definitely -EV and negative expectancy - AvidGambler 

Loco   Canada. Apr 12 2007 16:05. Posts 18044

  On April 12 2007 15:39 HeRoS)eNGagE wrote:
you are freaking crazy
i wish you get paid for that

He does.

Nice article Corwin.

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. - Solomon 

dbl_j_22   United States. Apr 12 2007 16:23. Posts 23

Wow, that was a great article.

After a couple years of grinding micro limits to varying success, (enough to sustain my meager existence), I've decided to jump into the game deeper and search out information while I'm not playing as well. (yes, Im dumb enough to go that long without really caring much, but just gathering experience at the tables)

Long story short, I ran across this article, and it is dead on.

Thank you for taking the time to post such a well articulated article and to share it with the public.

blunt_smokr   United States. Apr 12 2007 16:24. Posts 1314

once again good stuff

[vital]Myth    United States. Apr 12 2007 16:25. Posts 12157


thanks everyone! glad this got such good responses. i suspect there may be some weak points, but i hope ket/pooruser/naz/daut/rhaegar/roman/all gosu bastards will point them out.

Eh, I can go a few more orbits in life, before taxes blind me out - PoorUser 

HeRoS)eNGagE   Canada. Apr 12 2007 16:48. Posts 10871

Nazgul, dont lose this guy as an admin


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