Combating Aggression Out Of Position

Guide To Winning Poker (24)

  • Most players these days have a natural fear of aggression
  • These fears arise out of a lack of understanding on how to handle it
  • Once we get better at handling aggression, we will see that there is little to fear

Players Tend To Be Afraid Of Aggression When Out Of Position

The main reason, by far, that players play too passively out of position is that they fear the aggression of their opponents who have position on them. So in this lesson I want to talk more about that, since if you're playing scared here out of position you are bound to mess things up and lose a bunch of money by letting your opponents exploit you instead of you looking to exploit them. Even though we're out of position, we're the ones looking to do the exploiting, and as you will see, there are definitely opportunities for us to do so.

So let's first look more closely at how things go wrong when we're out of position. If you remember way back, in my initial discussions on position, I started out by saying that it's very odd that players out of position not only lose money on balance, they also lose more hands as well, and often quite a few more hands. Now, given that out of position players play better hands overall than people in position, we would expect the opposite, which we would see if we just played all the hands out to showdown from the flop onward with no betting or folding.

Most Players Don't Need Help Messing This All Up

So what has happened here to cause this twist of reality? Well the out of position player has managed to mess things up by folding the best hand way too much. This isn't just a matter of being bluffed here, it's also a matter of both players having good hands in a lot of cases, and the out of position player getting intimidated into folding more of them. So the first thing we need to do in order to correct this is to ensure that we're not playing scared here and that we in fact always look to take measures to look to exploit and not be the ones being exploited. This requires that we ensure that it is reason and not fear that is the driving force behind all of our decisions.

As a starting point, we need to properly assess our relative standing in a hand, meaning the chances we are ahead or not. This is something we need to do in position as well, and in fact do it regularly, or at least we should be doing it regularly. We've seen that there isn't anything magical about being in or out of position that causes us to lose more hands out of position. The cause in fact, the only real cause, can be discovered by just looking in the mirror. Whenever this happens, no one is to blame but ourselves, for playing too weakly, and in this case, by folding too often.

The True Sources Of The Power Of Aggression

As we've discussed previously, the power of aggression comes from two sources. The first one is from the player who the aggression is directed toward not folding enough, and therefore paying off better ranges when they didn't have the odds to do so. The second source is players folding too much to aggression. So we need to make sure we're not doing either, and when we get this right, we not only repel the aggression, we can actually turn the tables on it and exploit it.

So this is like the story of the three bears, where Papa Bear doesn't fold enough, Mama Bear folds too often, and the solution lies somewhere in between, which is the one we want to shoot for, which is the right amount, or at least in the right range. Out of position, the newer players and the big fish play too much like Papa Bear, who either are calling stations or aggro-donks. In either case, they just play too many damn hands, and they never will be cheated out of pots, but will lose too much when they do lose, and will lose more than they make.

Fear Is Never A Good Thing

As players get better and start to fear position more, they almost all become like Mama Bear, who loves to fold hands out of position because that's just the thing to do. Mama checks, the opponent bets, Mama folds, even though Mama more often than not has the best hand here. Now Mama should probably be folding at least some of these hands, but not anywhere near as many as she does.

Mama is scared to play on because, being a meek player, she is afraid that if she calls now, she won't have the courage to continue to do so when it's correct to, and she'll end up having her folds cost her even more money than if she just does it now. So in that sense it's certainly better that she just check fold the flop rather than put in more money to give away later when she gives up and folds. Mama in fact is thinking that there is a monster under the bed called being out of position, but as long as she thinks that this monster is real, it certainly will be for her.

If you think that only fish play like Mama Bear, think again. There are even pros who need to pay a lot of attention to this bedtime story as well. I've watched videos of very accomplished players playing each other, some of the top players on the internet, with all the cards exposed and you see both players playing way too much like Mama when out of position. Neither player questions this though even seeing how many of these folds have been wrong. The cult of position is so strong that if you even question it you are seen as a poker heretic. Whenever I've tried to educate people in poker forums this is all seen as purely the work of the Devil and people start screaming at you while at the same time breaking out their crosses. I do not want any of you to fall into the same trap.

The Answer Lies Between These Two Styles

So of course we're out to play like Baby Bear who doesn't fold too much or not enough, Baby Bear prefers things just right, meaning just the right amount of folds, as we do. Just right sounds nice, and in fact poker is a game of players doing this or that too much, and what we want to do and need to do to take advantage of it is to do everything with the correct frequency. This is the secret of poker success in a nutshell in fact.

So if you remember, back during my preliminary series of lessons about the nature of aggression, we used some simple game theory calculations to determine that there is actually a sweet spot, a range, where we can exploit aggression simply by calling. I've never even read this being discussed or even contemplated outside of my own writing, but when you just stop to think about it, it should be fairly intuitive and you shouldn't even have to do the calculations.

Let's Revisit Correct Ranges

However, as a little refresher, let's say our deck has three cards, 1,2, and 3. There's 2 chips in the pot and our opponent bets 1 chip every time. If we fold, we lose a chip. If we call and lose, we lose 2 chips. If we call and win, we win 2 chips. We play 9 hands in total, and each of us gets dealt one of the three cards three times, to take us through all the possible combinations.

So when we have a 1, we fold and lose 3 chips total. When we have a 2, we call, and win one, lose one, and tie one, so that all evens out. When we have a 3, we win two and tie one, and win 4 chips. So in total we come out ahead by a chip, and this method includes the losses from our initial investment of 1 chip that we put in the pot along with our opponent prior to the cards being dealt. If you don't count the ante, well it's going to distort our profit and have us up 4 chips, which isn't the case at all, since we're counting the chip we threw in as an ante as profit, which we can't do, regardless of it belonging to the pot when the cards are dealt.

Folding Correctly Is Indeed A Weapon

So as you can see, by selectively folding, we can gain the advantage, and if you remember, this doesn't require our opponent to bet out every time like in this example, and it holds true regardless of the frequency of our opponents' betting, as I worked out for you in the previous lesson in question. The advantage here in fact comes directly from the folds, as if we called with the 1's we would have lost 4 chips in total and not 3, so our profit comes from our being more selective than our opponent, as we can always choose to do.

So this is in fact a big deal, a real big deal, as we need not fear any form of aggression if we can simply use calling as a means of exploiting it. This will require us to call with the correct frequency though, although there's a simple rule of thumb that will have you doing it if you just take two thirds of the frequency of the opponents' betting and go with that. So for instance if an opponent bets out half the time, you go with two thirds of this half, and so on.

Our Advantage Here Need Not Be Very Big Per Hand

So in our example, one chip in 9 hands may not seem like much, but the point here was to show that it can be done, and given that real poker involves putting in many more chips in the pot on both sides, over multiple betting rounds, the advantage here can be pretty significant, especially when you consider the escalating nature of the betting rounds, which ends up multiplying whatever advantage we have several fold.

Now this isn't even taking into account our countering their aggression with aggression of our own, which in this case would be to raise to both take advantage of fold equity, to build the pot more when we're going for value, or a combination of the two. So this puts a further weapon in our hand, and while it's possible that our opponents can call our aggression with the correct range, our opponents aren't even aware that this advantage even exists, and certainly haven't thought about using it as a weapon as we have.

We Want To Be Aware Of This Being Used Against Us As Well

However, with our being in the know, we're going to be on the lookout for that should it ever occur and prepare counter strategies to it. We need not worry about that at this stage in the game, other than just being aware of the correct non-folding ranges against our aggression and then look to pursue other lines when, even by accident, our opponents tend to play correctly against us.

However, that involves being careful with our aggression, and the whole point of this discussion is to show that you don't have to be afraid of opponents playing aggressively against you, especially as you get better and get a better feel of what the correct play against it consists of. So none of this has anything to do with being in or out of position by the way, and what I want to make clear in this lesson is that if you mess up against aggression, it's not the aggression that messed you up, you messed things up all by yourself.

So as you learn to handle the added aggression you face against players who have position against you, and learn to play more like Baby Bear, you'll go from playing like a donkey to playing like a true bear, which is indeed just right.

Ken's Guide To Winning Poker - Index

Ken's Guide To Winning Poker

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series