How To Play Against Aggressive Players
The importance of aggression in poker
Many players struggle at least somewhat against aggressive players and end up playing too weakly in the face of such aggression. It certainly is normal to find aggressive play more difficult than passive play, and one of the big reasons is that against passive players we certainly do have the ability to exercise more control.
However, this doesn't mean that we should wimp out too much against more aggressive opponents, and especially since there are so many of them in today's games, it certainly pays for us to work hard on improving this aspect of our game.
Aggression can be a powerful tool indeed, however a lot of its power is derived from its ability to get opponents to fold too much to it. If we commit this sin, then we are subject to being exploited pretty easily. So the first thing to learn is what the ideal frequency of folding is going to be for us against specific aggressive opponents.
This will differ depending on how often an opponent bets, so we can't just speak of aggression in a vacuum without considering what sort of hand strength or range that an opponent tends to bet with. We always need to look to determine this regardless of how a player plays, and its by looking at a player's tendencies along with the specifics of the hand that we decide what the best approach is going to be.
How often we stay in hands against aggression though will be fundamentally determined by whether it is profitable or not for us to do so. This takes into account our expected showdown value against our opponent's perceived range and average hand strength, along with any opportunities we may have to play back and take down the pot ourselves.
So provided that we don't fold too much, and use aggression ourselves when it is appropriate to do so, we can put ourselves in a pretty good spot here overall. Our own ability to use aggression to counter aggression in fact can turn the tables, especially against opponents who tend to get out of line too much and will be willing to back off more times than not when they do.
One of the reasons why players worry about being aggressive out of position is that they risk getting played back at, and then end up folding too much to the opponent's aggression, and losing their bet too often. There isn't anything particular about having position that makes this so, and this is why check raising out of position can be a strong move against a lot of players. We always have the option to throw things back in their face by raising, although we do need to be selective when we do so in order to prevent ourselves from getting into too many tight spots when the opponent continues with his or her aggression and raises us, and we have to fold too often.
So this can sometimes be a game of chicken, but the better our understanding of an opponent, the better we can fashion our play to look to take advantage of whatever weaknesses that he or she may have here.
Depending on the opponent, we may also choose more passive lines with a view of showing down better hands. This tactic works better against looser aggressive players, although any opponent who will continue to fire, especially with weaker hands, are subject to this exploit. We do need to consider alternative lines though such as putting in a raise at some point, when it would build the pot better and still put us at an advantage overall, or where taking it down regardless of our being ahead would be the better option.
So the bottom line here is to look to either push them around more than they are pushing us around, where this aggression on our part would have a positive expected value, or to look to show down hands which would be superior given the tendencies of our opponents and the lines that have been taken.
We've all heard the line that it is more difficult to play against aggression, and that's used as an excuse to fold. In spite of hearing this from some otherwise very good players, this is horrible reasoning, and a play either is profitable or it is not, and this is no reason whatsoever to be reticent about being up to it when challenged. Perhaps your skills need to be improved here, but this will never happen when you avoid situations where they need to be used and give up a lot of equity along the way.
There are significant opportunities for pretty much all players to become more proficient in handling aggression, although once again the first step is to not just give up too often, but to consider the viability of different options that we could take to counter it, and to make sure that we aren't missing these opportunities by being too lazy and just folding without enough thought being put into the move.