By Alex Fitzgerald, Featured Coach

So, you’ve been killing it at No Limit Hold’em tournaments. You’ve learned which players you can exploit, and tried out some exploitative plays. Now you’re looking for some advanced aggressive plays to round out your game.

I’m proud of you. Staying patient, paying attention, avoiding weak cold calls with short stacks, and hammering value bets is how you make the money 99% of the time in No Limit Hold’em tournaments. Most of the tournaments you will play will have tons of recreational players. If you hammer the fundamentals, you’ll be ahead of the game.

But what do you do if you’re playing against somebody who clearly knows the tricks you do? Perhaps you see another ringer in the game who is clearly studying. How do you take advantage of that guy?

Here are three advanced aggressive plays you can try out (sparingly):

Advanced Aggressive Play #1: Playing Rivers For Thin Value

Let’s give you a situation.

You are up against a tough aggressive player. You raise from the button with A-Qo. He calls from the big blind. The board comes Ah-2h-3d. He checks to you. You bet. He calls. The turn comes the 3c. He checks to you.

If this player were worse, you could certainly fire again here. But this guy is educated enough to know you’re probably not firing many flush draws with the ace out there.

You’ll lose value from weak aces, and he’ll start turning weaker hands into bluffs if he thinks you’re a good hand reader too. If he believes you’re buying showdowns with weak aces, he has a great reason to check-raise and make your life hell with hands like 5-5.

So you check. The river comes the 7d. He leads out.

Good players are always trying to get value. They learn quickly to lead that river, because many players are unable to fold their KK, QQ, JJ, and weaker aces in your position. They’ll even lead some weaker aces thinly hoping you just fixate on the missed flush draw and call down with a rivered 7, if you had something like 9-7s, 8-7o, 7-6o.

This is a good bet versus most players. But you’re not most players.

This is your cue to bomb the pot with a huge raise. Your bet will look exactly like a missed flush draw that got frustrated. If you don’t have a ton of chips behind, almost none of the regs will consider a jam as a bluff. They’ll be stuck there with their decent aces wondering what the hell you have. Wouldn’t you bet a 3 on the turn? How many threes could you really have?

In my experience, most players don’t protect their checking range on that river enough, and they just automatically lead all of their aces and call 100% of the time when they’re raised. Once in a while, they have A-7 (they typically raise the A-2 or A-3 on the flop some percentage of the time). When they have A-7 that sucks, but all the times we win a huge pot more than make up for that.

Advanced Aggressive Play #2: Check-raising Pairs For Thin Value

People always tell me “The check-raise bluff never works from the big blind anymore! I never can get that play to work on PokerStars.”

“Okay, so let me get this straight. Your opponents are calling your check-raises with air then bluffing you when you check the turn?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“So why don’t you just start check/raising your second pairs and check/jamming the turn with them when they fire all their floats?”

No one has a good answer when I ask that question. But I know the answer.

“Well, what if he has an overpair? I’ll look stupid! Everyone at the table will laugh at me! That hurts.”

Look, it’s a human need to want to belong. But we don’t get to have it both ways. If nobody folds to your check-raises then you need to check-raise thin for value, because apparently, they’re paying you off with any high card! This is a gold mine!

If they’re folding their high cards, then you need to check-raise bluff. But they can’t be NOT folding to you and simultaneously NOT allowing you to check-raise thin for value. It’s one or the other. Make your read and stick to your guns. There’s always another tournament booting up somewhere.

Advanced Aggressive Play #3: Check-raising Draws As A River Bluff

You have 7h-8h. The cutoff, an aggressive regular, opens. You call from the big blind.

The board comes 7-9s-Ts. You check. She bets. You call. The turn comes the Kh. You check. She checks. The river comes the 2 of spades. You check. She bets. Your move?

If this player is truly a disciplined reg, your options are folding or raising. Interestingly, however, the most popular play is to call. Most aggressive players will fire again on the turn with a spade draw. They will do so because the king is a scare card to any pair that check/called on the flop. They also know that they are going to miss their flush draw a majority of the time on the river, so they’d rather turn the hand into a semi-bluff.

If she had a king, she would have bet with it most likely to get value from draws. If she had Q-J, she would bet for value. When she checks back the turn, it’s almost always a nine or a ten that’s trying to control the size of the pot, or another mediocre pair that’s in a similar realm.

Once you check again your range becomes a flush that came in or one of many weak pairs that is trying to get a cheap showdown.

She fires for thin value, but you know she doesn’t have the flush, because aggressive players tend to bet that flush draw on the turn as a bluff. In this situation, you should turn your weak pair into a bluff against the disciplined reg.

Now, pay attention to this part: Just because a player is a good reg does not mean this check-raise is a good idea. She needs to be a disciplined reg. There is a difference.

Disciplined regs tend to have tighter stats or look extremely comfortable with making folds when facing resistance. Many of these players bet/fold this river pretty automatically, because they know many players can’t turn a pair into a bluff here. If the player, however, has a bit of gamble in her, or if she really just hates losing, then you’ll get a lot of crying calls. At that point you’ll make her look like a genius. Authentically the river should have been a check/fold for us.

I hope these advanced aggressive plays have been beneficial to you and your game. Good luck to all of you. 

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