Taming a Lagtard

Taming a Lagtard

Monday, 10 March 2014

Jeff Kimber why aggression has to be selective and carefully controlled.

One of the most common questions I get asked within the poker world is ‘what makes a good poker player?’

It’s generally accepted that aggression is a good trait for a poker player to possess, but it has to be selective and carefully controlled, or a blow up will soon be on the cards.

If poker was just a matter of raising every time the action was passed to you, a trained monkey would have as much chance as any of winning the WSOP Main Event as anyone else, and Joe Hachem would be fuming about that. I’ve always felt that to make it to the top, it was better to start off mastering the basics before opening up and introducing some controlled aggression to take it to the next level.

In short, I believed it was better to start off as an ABC rock and try and incorporate some aggressive moves, than start as a super aggro hyper active player who is in every pot and try and rein them in an introduce some control.

For years I held the above notion as true – it’s easier to get an ABC player to open up than calm down a LAG – but the reality is that doesn’t seem to be true at all.

Back in 2006, my friend and fellow Bluff columnist Paul Jackson was chasing ranking points in the race to finish the year as European number one. He asked if I fancied coming to play the £500 Main Event of a festival at the now defunct Gutshot Poker Club, a place neither of us had frequented before.

What we found was a mixture of circuit regs and a lot of younger, less experienced but far more aggressive kids, resplendent in wrap around shades and big headphones.

For myself and Paul, this was just another comp, but it soon became obvious that for some of the club regs it was their biggest ever tournament as they froze and played super tight, scared of losing any of their precious chips.

There was one exception to the rule though - a young guy who had moved to my table and started opening every pot, three-betting at every opportunity and generally making himself table captain. A couple of times I played back at him, but any three-bet of his open was met with a four-bet, any four-bet with an all-in, which in 2006 was unheard of!

Just as I was wondering how to deal with this kid, he decided to four-bet all-in against a guy who’d barely played a hand, doing most of his stack when his opponent inevitably flicked over the aces. Two hands later he three-bet all-in over my raise and I called it off with a rag ace, something like A-7. His two picture cards were no good and off he trotted into the north London night.

As he departed I started getting some stick from others at the table. “Call it off with a rag ace?”…“Shoulda passed there mate, he could have anything.”

Rather than explain that’s exactly why I did call, I just stacked the chips as we went on a break. The dealer said to me, “Do you know who that was?” I told him I’d never seen him before. “That’s James Akenhead,” he replied. “He wins everything down here, he’s an absolute boss.”

I told the dealer the only person I’d seen this James kid knock out was himself, but I have to admit I was impressed with most of his play. He just didn’t have a way of slowing down – it was all in fifth gear, every hand, until he busted.

I bumped into James again a few months later at a festival in Brighton. He played exactly the same, built a huge stack and dusted it off just as quick. It felt like every chip in the room had been in his possession at one time or another, yet he was out before the money again.

James was the first young kid I’d seen who was hugely talented, but was never ever going to win at poker unless he learnt to slow down, and he showed no signs of wanting to learn. He felt he was better than everyone else, and to be fair he just about was, yet he was never there when the big prizes were handed out.

Throughout 2007 I saw James around and we became good friends. I’d see him build stacks everywhere, yet be struggling to scrape his next buy-in together, as his hyper aggro tendencies burnt him.

In early 2008, James was travelling to most tournaments with Karl Mahrenholz, Praz Bansi and the Chattha brothers, and he’d come to the realisation that he needed to be a bit more subtle and in control to become a winner.

He worked hard on his game, talked to the other guys about what he was doing wrong and why he wasn’t winning enough. That summer, he won $520k in Event 1 of the World Series of Poker. From then on the world has seen what a great player James is, with beautifully controlled aggression, and impeccable timing – retaining his fearlessness, but only using it when it’s required.

Funnily enough, the friendship I built up with James leads me to another superstar of the game who when he first came on the scene had more gamble in him than just about anyone I’d ever played.

It was August 2009 and I’d made it to day two of the GUKPT Main Event in Luton. I found my table and it just so happened that two of my mates were on it too, James and Nick Gibson. Nick texted us both as we were unbagging, asking if we knew much about the rest of the table as he didn’t really recognise anyone.

I replied saying the young lad in between me and James was a real handful, pretty good but never slows down so pretty easy to catch – just be aware that every time you three-bet he’ll four-bet, every button he’ll three-bet, most pots that are unopened he’d open, so on and so forth.

James started laughing and text a reply to us both along the lines of:
‘The ginger kid? He’s an absolute donk, played with him on day one and never seen anyone get it in so bad so often and get there. He’ll be back working in McDonald’s before the first break.’

That ‘ginger kid’ was Chris Brammer.

I’d played with Chris in a couple of side events on the GUKPT and had seen how ridiculously aggressive he played. He put everyone under pressure, not least himself, by basically raising every time the action was on him. He tried moves that simply couldn’t work, raising rivers representing hands so specific that it would take longer to work out what he was repping than it took the stubborn old boys to say ‘f**k it, I call’.

We thought the Scandinavians were aggressive in those days, but Brammer was like a Scandi who’d been on the ale all night and come home to find his wife had left him. And taken the dog.

Sure enough, Chris soon busted on that day two. Having said that, I often thought of that conversation as I got to know Chris and what a great player he became.

Two or three years later I was on a night out with both James and Chris among others. By then Brammer was tearing it up both live and online, and was and still is one of the most feared tournament players around. I remembered how little James rated Bram’s game back then, and as the three of us shared a beer I told Chris about that text conversation.

“To be fair, the way I played in those days, he was probably right!” he answered, surprisingly honestly. “I was an absolute loon, no idea about bet sizing, live reads, spotting opportunities… just loved getting it in.” To be fair, that’s a pretty reasonable summary.

I’ve seen all the stars of UK poker come through, and remember playing with them all very early in their careers. The likes of Sam Trickett and Toby Lewis were just natural talents, and didn’t seem to need to do any adapting or hone their skills – just started winning tournaments from day one.

Jake Cody and Chris Moorman had played a lot of tournaments online, and came to live poker with the attitude that they’d have to slow down because no one ever folds live, and old guys always have it.

James and Chris aren’t the only two young players I’ve seen come through who play far too wild to make playing poker professionally sustainable. There have been tens of kids who think that aggression equals profit and played as aggro as they can, but most of them fall by the wayside.

What stands them apart is the work they did to rein in their natural aggression. They managed to find the ability to switch down gears rather than playing at 100mph at all times, and a developed a flair for incorporating factors such as live reads and opponents’ tendencies into their thinking before making moves. These two supper aggro players became two of the best tournament players around, but must have come close to being lost to poker if they didn’t change.

So next time someone tells me they play too tight and have trouble sealing the win in tournaments, rather than tell them I think it’s easier to open up a rock then try and tame a LAG, I’m going to tell them that you can’t win at poker without being aggressive. But like everything, there’s a time and a place.

Tags: Jeff Kimber