Don’t let them push you around

poker-bullyingThis hand is from the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Asia Pacific Main Event. I arrived to my seat on time, only to find four other players at my table. Everyone was playing what seemed to be a somewhat tight, aggressive strategy besides one player who was clearly trying to win every pot he entered, which happened to be most of them. Prior to this hand, we only played a few pots together, with him winning a few small ones from me.

I raised to 300 out of my 30,000 stack with 9d-9h from the cutoff seat. My loose, aggressive opponent called from the small blind. The flop came Kh-6s-2d. My opponent bet into me for 500. I was quite unsure what to make out of his bet. I decided to assign him a loose range containing any pair on the board, any gutshot straight draw, and the occasional stone bluff. I decided to call because my hand is in fine shape against that range. When you have a decent idea that your opponent could simply be trying to push you around, you cannot be afraid to call and see what develops, even when you have a hand that could easily be crushed and has only a small chance to improve.

The turn was the (Kh-6s-2d)-8s. My opponent bet 1,500 into the 1,700 pot. At this point, I was convinced that he was trying to make me fold what he perceived to be a marginal made hand. While I didn’t have much to base my read on, I thought he would make a smaller bet, perhaps 1,100 or so, if he wanted me to call. I decided to trust my read and call. Before calling, I decided I didn’t plan to fold if my opponent continued betting on most rivers. If you pay close attention to your opponent, you will occasionally find spots where you are as confident as reasonably possible that he is bluffing. I felt like this was one of those situations.

The river was the (Kh-6s-2d-8s)-4c. My opponent bet 3,500 into the 4,700 pot. While his river bet was not quite as large in portion to the size of the pot as his turn bet, I decided to stick with my read that he was bluffing a large amount of the time. It is worth noting that if he made a larger bet, I would be even more inclined to call. If he made a small bet, perhaps 2,000 or so, I would have been much more concerned that he was trying to get me to call with most of my range, which would likely mean that he was betting for value. I called fairly quickly and was pleasantly surprised to see my opponent’s cards quickly hit the muck, awarding me a sizable pot early in the tournament.

It is important to realize that early in a tournament, there isn’t much of a difference between a 240 big blind stack and a 360 big blind stack. Whether I won or lost this hand, my opponent would get the message that I am not someone he can blindly push around. Ideally, this will result in him playing a somewhat straightforward strategy against me for the rest of the day. As expected, he stayed completely in line against me for the remainder of the day, allowing me to get away with whatever I wanted. Especially when the chips you risk are not worth too much, do not be afraid to get a bit out of line if you think the result will be that your opponents allow you make easier decisions later in the day once the blinds go up.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, please be sure to share it with your friends. For 500 jam-packed pages of content like this, check out my newest book, Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em. Let me know what you think about it! Be sure to check back next week at JonathanLittlePoker.com for another educational blog post.

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8 Comments

  • David Vaughn says:

    Great article Jonathan and good read. Do you find that when people donk bet the usually have a weak pair (maybe top pair on a 10-5-2 rainbow flop), for example? I’ll usually float in this spot and use my position on the turn to my advantage, but I find these players frustrating to play with!

    • Boris says:

      Hi David,

      my experience is that it depends – weaker players do it almost exclusively to find out where they are with their weaker holding (or for protection), while with some board textures (draw heavy) you want to do this for value or to give bad odds for the draws to call. As most of the weaker player also misread the donk bet on such a draw heavy boards and think about it as sign of weakness they may get completely out of line with something like top pair good kicker on boards where they mostly drawing dead. I could give you examples of donk betting 2x of the pot on the flop were good for the villain’s range (in a cash game) and getting raised all in by that weak player with a marginal made hand (where I thought there are good chances he will misread the overbet and go completely out of line).

  • Tommy. Z says:

    Thanks for this great article. Because of you and articles like these. I have been more profitable in tournaments and trust my reads more. I am looking forward to the circuit event coming up in Cherokee next month. Hope you are doing great. !!! Tommy

  • George "The Engineer" Epstein says:

    You were lucky the aggressor was not familiar with the Esther Bluff (It’s Powerful!) the way to get into your opponent’s head.
    Using only the size of the bet as his only bluffing tactic, he is more likely to be called. But we know better. . .

  • Morgan says:

    This is illustrative of Phil Laak’s nostrum: “Why push when you have a donkey doing all the pulling?” The hard part is being able to take a read and follow through with conviction. If you read a stone bluff and call on the flop, be ready to call escalating bets on the turn and river unless a card falls that you can see connected with your opponent. For example, I’d be concerned with a straightening or flushy board, but both missed. It’s hard to play this line given that the donkey is pulling real hard, but as you point out you gain a huge advantage when it pays off (and sometimes even when you lose).

  • Mike Turner says:

    Nice hand, well played! Players like these are hard to play against, because they play such wide hand ranges. They always put pressure on you and because it’s so hard to put them on a narrow range, you’re mostly guessing and having to make tough calls.

    I totally agree that it’s important to send your opponent the message that you can’t be pushed around. Even if he had a set of Kings here, that wouldn’t matter. You’ve still shown him you can’t be bullied and that will benefit you for the rest of the tournament by making him play more straightforward against you. Even had you lost this pot, this play would usually still win you chips in the long run v this opponent.

  • Rich says:

    I understand your thinking on this hand, but have a question: What if aggressor bets 2x pot on river. Are you committed due to initial thought process or would you get away from hand looking to replicate when you have stronger than 2nd pair? Are you worried that aggressor could have K-x & be thrilled that he has top pair, and fold equity by blasting?

    • It would be a tough spot, but against some opponents, an overbet would make me more inclined to call because it will frequently take a large portion of the decent made hands that beat me out of their range.

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