top corner

How to Beat Aggressive Heads Up Poker Players

Playing versus an aggressive opponent heads up is extremely annoying. These players like to constantly apply pressure by raising, 3-betting and pulling off plays like check-raises or bluffs. These players just don't give us a break.

Many players, myself included, tend to react to this in a negative way. Instead of trying to figure out a strategy to overcome this opponent, we will be counterproductive in our actions. An action I've been guilty of taking (and I'm sure I'm not alone) is becoming frustrated or tilted. Often times my first response once I reached this point is to fight fire with fire - or aggression with aggression.

The problem with this more often than not is that it is blind aggression. We're being aggressive simply for the sake of being aggressive. This eventually leads to further irritation, spewing of our stacks and possibly even damage to our bankroll and/or confidence.

In my experience, albeit it's very short, the best approach to facing these players is to remain calm and make tiny adjustments in your strategy. I prefer to make one adjustment at a time. A few of these adjustments include how wide I open or defend post flop, my overall bluffing strategy and the thinness of my calls or value bets post flop.

Preflop Adjustments for Aggressive Heads Up Players

The adjustment I make for aggressive players is to adapt an opposite style of play. In other words, I will be more passive and calling station-y. This is actually common advice (to do the opposite of what the other player is doing). The most popular example of this advice in action is versus a tight opponent. It's often suggested that versus a tight player you loosen up and steal his or her blinds since they'll only play strong hands. All other pots are up for grabs.

I take a similar approach when playing against aggressive players. But the thoughts behind my adjustments vary slightly depending on whether I'm opening or calling (defending). Let me explain further.

When I'm opening versus an aggressive opponent, the first question I ask myself is, "can I call a 3-bet?" I mean, I'm playing verses an aggressive player. I have to expect that he'll 3-bet me often. If I can't continue to a 3-bet, I'll generally fold my hand or in other words, I'll narrow my opening range. My range will only include hands I can 4-bet (and call 5-bets) with or defend to 3-bets with. All of these hands should more or less be for value. So my "thought" behind my action here is more or less based on his aggressive tendency.

Defending opens, on the other hand, I actually look at what I perceive my opponent's opening range to be. I know if my opponent is aggressive, he's likely to be loose too (this is heads up after all). So, my opponent's range will have a lot of "air" or "bluffs" in it. My strategy for countering this is to have a wider defending range. I'm going to defend a lot with raggedy aces, my medium kings and queens. Again, this is all from a value perspective. I'm defending with a wider range, but it's still narrower than what I perceive his opening range to be.

Bluff Adjustments for Aggressive Players

The bluff adjustment that I make is to avoid bluffing with a high frequency - if I choose to bluff at all. My reasoning simply boils down to what I outlined previously. Most of my actions versus an aggressive player are going to be for value. If I can't withstand a check-raise, 3-bet or shove, then I shouldn't be doing anything that can provoke that action.

I realize that probably sounds extremely passive or even fishy. But hear me out. To me, it doesn't make a lot of sense to c-bet a flop if you know that 9 times out of 10 you're going to get check-raised or shoved on. Most times, because c-bets are bluffs a large portion of the time, you're going to have to fold. That adds up to a lot of money only to give up. So instead, I choose to avoid it altogether and come up with an alternative strategy. Either I'll go for a delayed c-bet (c-bet the turn) or just check behind since I should expect to have showdown value a majority of the time.

Versus some aggressive players, you might be able to get away with an occasional bluff in the form of a check-raise, c-bet on a super dry board or something to that effect. As with anything poker related, it's player dependent.

Postflop Adjustments for Aggressive Players - Thinner Calls/Value Bets

I think one of the hardest adjustments to make in regards to playing verses aggressive players is making thinner value bets or calls. At least it was for me.

A "thin" value bet is making a bet with a hand like second or third pair. The bet is for "value" because you expect worse to call. It's thin because there isn't much worse that can call you. For example, say you have KT on an A-J-T-4-2 board. The action is check/check on the flop, your opponent bets the turn and you call and on the river your opponent checks. You can make a small bet here and get value from a pair of 9s or worse or even king high.

Another good example would be KT on a Th-9h-6c-5h-2d board. This board is pretty gross with a flush draw, straight draw and a few two pair combos. But you can still make a bet here and get value from worse tens, pairs or even ace high. Many players would pass on this spot because of how texture the flop is. But the thing is, is that an aggressive player will have a much wider range that consist of more than just the hands that make up the scary draws on that board texture. This is what we're getting "thin" value from.

Making thin calls is the same idea as making this value bets. You are making a call with a hand such as 2nd or 3rd pair, or even ace high. I've called all-in shoves on a dry flop with ace high verses some players because of how aggressive they are. What is so sick about these calls (except for the fact that I was able to make them ;) ) is the fact that my call was for value - they had a much worse hand than I did.

I'm not trying to say that you should be making hero calls with ace high every time the situation presents itself. What I am saying though is to analyze the situation and if the aggressor's line doesn't make sense and he makes an odd river bet, than a thin call might be in order. You don't have to have "A" high either - I've made thin calls as light as "J" high knowing my opponent was capable of showing up with worse and turning his hand into a bluff.

Summary of How to Play HU Poker Verses an Aggressive Opponent

Playing versus an aggressive player can become frustrating, tilting even. The most important thing you can do is to remain calm, analyze the situation and come up with a strategy to overcome your specific opponent. You'll find that by doing this and coming up with minor adjustments on the fly that you can tame even the most aggressive of players.

More Heads Up Poker Strategy
bottom corner