This post was originally published on 20 March 2020 and updated on 16 March 2021.
There’s nothing worse than that player at your table who relentlessly bullies everyone else, especially you.
These aggro types can turn a fun game into a nightmare. Worst of all they can swiftly bring your own tournament ambitions to a halt.
Either they force you into making a mistake that costs you your stack. Or you freeze up, limiting yourself to a handful of illusive premium hands.
It can be enough to stop you playing events like the Sunday Million.
What if instead of being the victim to this table bullies, you could quickly analyse their playing style, and develop an easy strategy that neutralised their power over you?
Suddenly you would not only survive an encounter with them, you might even benefit.
This article will show you how to do just that.
It will start by explaining the four different types of bully you’re likely to encounter, before giving you simple, easy to use tips to take each of them on.
You’ll soon realise that rather than them being players to worry about, you’ll find yourself taking them on.
So, let’s get started. Read on to find out more.
As you’re about to discover, there are four main types of bully to look out for (we mean the poker term, they’re likely lovely people in real life!)
You may even be familiar with the terms:
Smart LAG. Bad LAGs. Maniac, and TAG Bullies.
(A quick reminder. LAG = Loose Aggressive. TAG = Tight Aggressive. Maniac = well, you know).
By spotting the type of player you’re up against, you can remove some of the mystery behind them. What might seem unpredictable will make more sense once you work this out.
Then, using the tips that follow here, you can undo the worst of it.
It’ll take the fear out of your game and give you confidence to make it through the early stages of a tournament.
And posting these different types will gradually become second nature.
There’s something else that you’ll benefit from too.
Once you learn how to defend yourself against these four types of hyper-aggressive players, you’ll uncover how to turn the tables yourself and use the best of what they know in your own game.
But we’ll save that for the next chapter.
For now, you could think of what we’re about to show you as being like a martial art.
A way to use the strength of your opponent against them. Call it poker Judo.
Our plan is to make you a black belt. Let’s start by getting in the ring.
There are four types of player to look out for. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not. As you’ll see, we’re going to go through each of them individually and give you the tools to defend yourself.
We start with the characteristics of each kind of player. Then, we arm you with some simple adjustments to make.
There’s nothing complicated about this, and very little guess work. There would be no point teaching you anything that required years of practice, or a super-knowledge of everything poker.
You don’t need any of that. In fact, you’ll likely find these descriptions familiar.
Annoyingly familiar come to think of it.
Let’s start with how to identify these Smart, Loose Aggressive players.
- They play a lot of hands, and they play them well post flop too
- They’re only really looking to play a big pot with a big hand
- They’re good enough to change that definition depending on the opponent
- Their aim is to win small pots. Lots of them. And get big value with their big hands.
Let’s be clear. These Smart LAGs are good players. And there’s lots to learn from them. Just watching them as they beat up on another poor soul will turn these descriptions into eye-watering practical demonstrations.
So, here’s how to adjust your game to take them on.
- When they go for their small pot victories, attack them. Check raise the flop more. Call the flop then raise on the turn. They’re looking for easy wins. Push back.
- There’s not reason to look for a fight. So, avoid playing big pots against them without a big hand. Especially when you both have a deep stack.
- If they’re playing small ball poker – playing a wide range of starting hands but with much small bet sizes – try some long ball poker when you get involved.
What does that look like? Here’s an example from PokerStars School…
“This means you may look to put in some larger than normal 3-bets pre-flop against their opens, or large bet or raise sizings after the flop to attack them.”
That comes with a warning not to go overboard though. You don’t want to end up in a big pot without a real hand.
“But the idea here is to take away their ability to successfully stab and manoeuvre in smaller pots by applying bigger bets, against ranges that are necessarily weaker than normal because they started wide to begin with.”
In short: flip their aggressive small ball strategy against them.
That helps with Smart LAGs, but what about the opposite type of LAG. The Bad kind. That’s who we’ll deal with next…
Again, let’s start by identifying them by their playing style.
- The players will play a lot of hands, but not always well after the flop
- They bluff too much, and go too far with weak hands trying to wear you down by brute force alone
- They don’t adjust well either. They don’t always spot how players are reacting to their own aggression
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Well here are some adjustments that will not only lift you out of your misery but put them out of theirs.
- Start by getting a bit more speculative, especially with a deep stack. Sooner or later you’ll hit your hand and get value from theirs.
- Value bet your hands a little harder. That means making them bigger than you normally would. Bad LAGs are less likely to adjust to this and will give you greater value with their poorer hands
- Some hands, like top pair with top kicker, or big overpairs, are worth playing bigger pots with than you would against other types of player.
- And if you go get a monster, you can slow play if the villain figures to be bluffing. Or simply play them fast. Bad LAGs will tend to overplay their made hands and give you action with less convincing values.
The bonus adjustment to make is not to look too smug when their tournament comes to a premature end.
But they might not be the worse type. Because next up are the Maniacs.
You might have guessed this, but these players are easiest to spot. Here’s how to pick them out.
- And endless pattern of bets and raises almost at every opportunity
- Having entered so many hands pre-flop, they are often playing marginal hands post flop.
- Often presses the action with weak hands and total air, the result of bluffing too often
You might not have needed those reminders. But let’s get to how you can make the most from these unpredictable encounters with some simple adjustments.
- Maniacs are looking to attack weakness. So, encourage them to make more of their favourite mistake (bluffing) by showing weakness when your hand has showdown value.
- Call them down lighter. That means becoming a bit more of a calling station. Because think about it: when you’re playing against someone who calls too easily your plan should be to value bet at every opportunity, but to never bluff (they’ll call you). Apply the reverse thought process instead.
- Raise your monster hands on the river if they’re driving the action. Maniacs will bluff more than most. So, give them room to do so as much as possible. There’s one exception though. If they’re super-Maniacs, the type who re-raise with garbage, then get raising with your big hands before the river. You plan should be to get them pot committed as soon as you can.
You’ve survived the Maniacs. Now onto the last type…
Of all the aggressive players you’ll encounter, you’re likely to see this one less often than most. But when you do find them, here’s what you can expect.
- They will hardly ever be passive when playing a pot
- They use “push” tactics a lot (never “pull”)
- They’re tougher to adjust to. They tend to play a stronger range so will be bluffing at a more reasonable frequency to their legitimate value bets
But like others there are adjustments you can make to deal with this.
- Start by bluffing or semi-bluffing when it’s appropriate. If TAG bullies have weaknesses, it’s that they’re susceptible to bluffs on board that look good for your range (and bad for theirs).
- Good non-monster hands usually do better keeping the TAG bully’s range wide. In conjunction with the point above, raising or re-raising them will narrow their range to stronger hands and draws, which isn’t necessarily desirable when we have a good but not great made hand.
- Lastly, there’s nothing wrong with some good old fashioned avoidance. TAG bullies are a tough opponent to adjust too – tougher than the other types we’ve listed here. Thankfully you won’t see them as often.
So, we’ve identified the four different types of aggressive player who you will inevitably run into an any tournament.
But we’ve also outlined how to identify them, as well as how to adjust to their style of play – and maybe even turn the tables a little bit.
If you stop seeing them as there to ruin your chances, and instead as player you’re well equipped to take on, your confidence will improve, as will your chances of progressing well.
You won’t win every time. But you’ll start to feel less intimidated.
You’ll also start to see how your tournament chances are not down to luck but are in your own hands. Which is what we talk about in the next chapter…