Inside the Mind of a Pro – Making Sense of Bizarre Aggression

Pete Clarke |

Sometimes you face a line that is so weird and unexpected, that at first glance, it seems like it just has to be a bluff.

‘What is he representing here?’

‘Does he really have X?’

‘This doesn’t make sense’

‘I’m at the top of my range.’

These are the famous last words of my students just before they call a big bet that came totally out of the blue. Usually, they’re showing me the hand because Villain did have that one nutted hand. This leads us to our mantra for the day.

If a line almost never happens, it mainly happens with a rare hand.

Bluffs are certainly not rare hands. It’s very easy to hold one of those. If people used that weird line as a bluff with much of a frequency, you’d see the line all the time. In most spots where Villain’s line is unexpected and overly aggressive, he just has it.

I could have done with heeding this advice myself in a hand I played yesterday. If I’d been following my own advice, I could have saved a stack I was never meant to save in theory by exploitatively folding.


At 100NL ZOOM, A regular opens on the BU for $2.50 and I 3-Bet to $10 in the SB with Q♠️Q♣️. The BB folds and the BU calls. Not much to say here.


The flop ($21.00) is 9♦️8♣️7♣️. This is a flop on which I want to do loads of checking. My range hates this board and no doubt this situation is higher EV for my opponent than it is for me. His strong hands are more concentrated in his range than my strong hands are in mine. For example, although I can have sets and straights here, they are very diluted by JJ-AA AQ AK A5s KQo etc. My opponent is likely to 4-Bet most of these hands: in the case of AA – for value, and in the case of A5s – as a bluff. Moreover, I am out of position and so keeping the pot smaller is my main aim. I decide to simplify things and check with my whole range. This strategy is very close to the GTO solution for the flop anyway.

Sometimes students ask me if this loses value, but it shouldn’t do. Villain is going to be betting most of the hands that would call multiple streets anyway so I can always just check raise my sets and straights.

I check and my opponent bets $10.00, just under half of the pot. I expect people to stab at this board a little more than they should and to bet a few too many medium strength hands. This is because population tends to fold too often after checking here as the out of position player. In theory, hands like 55, 66 and AQo should frequently be checked behind but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many regs defaulted to betting them for protection and to take advantage of what they might perceived to be too weak of a checking range.

Given my read that Villain is likely to be less polarized than he should be, I could happily raise QQ here. In fact, I think I prefer just raising this hand since it’s a little vulnerable and good enough to stack of with, at least in theory. I wasn’t playing well yesterday afternoon after a long day of coaching. I call. Excuses excuses.


The turn ($41.00) was the 7♥️ and I checked. Villain checked behind. This almost always caps my opponents range here. I might see a few slow-played boats which have nothing to fear now, but most players would simply bet again here with strong hands. The hands that become the most likely now are stuff like T9s, 66, AQ etc.


The river ($41.00) came down the 8♠️ and we reach another very interesting juncture in the hand. This card is very unlikely to have changed anything. In theory, 8x is a hand that is far too middling to want to bet the flop for half pot when checked to, however, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a weaker regular bet with it – especially if he has the read that people check too weak of a range on soaking wet flops. Nevertheless, I have to discount hands like A8s at least to some extent after his flop bet. They’re also just now many combinations.

In game theory, the right play is for me to simply over-bet the queens. In general, I am aiming to put lots of money into the pot with a polarised range of overpairs, boats and bluffs. I had a feeling in-game that I was meant to shove but also suspected that people might not bluff catch enough here with a hand like Ace-High or 9x. If they are folding most of these to a jam, then shoving the queens might not be the best play. I opted for a very small bet on those grounds and elected to block bet for $9.35. I’m not sure I like this now. I think the best sizing would be something like three quarters pot. It is very possible that I made it here with some busted broadway clubs, QJs or a counter-fitted pair like 66. I can and should be bluffing here sometimes, but I doubt I’ll get called by non 8x much if I over-bet like my solver wants me to. I should probably just make a good old standard sized bet here.

Then the unexpected happens. Villain shoves for $80.00. It’s another 70 or so for me to call into a pot of 130. My 70 will be 70 / 200 = 35% of the final pot and so I need to win this often to break even (to get my $70 back.) Is Villain bluffing 35% of the time or more or does he almost always just have that weirdly played 8x?

I’m not going to lie. In game, I snapped called this with a disdainful glare.

‘How dare you rep such a narrow value range.’

Was my one and only tilted thought. Needless to say, the session hadn’t been going fantastically by this point…

I called so quickly and combatively that I cannot claim to have analysed the spot in real time. I think a shove like this which looks so preposterous and inconsistent with the nuts is very often just exactly the nuts. Unless Villain is a hyper-aggressive player, I should probably just make a very exploitative fold against the pool. Most regs are too nitty and don’t bluff enough, even in standard spots where they appear to represent lots of good hands. In ones where it looks nearly impossible for them to be beating me, their bluffing frequency is even lower. I like a fold.


Beware the shove you hardly ever expect to face. You’ve probably just ran into the nuts.

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