Author: Nick Laurrell
If you’ve ever looked into prevailing poker expertise, one word seems to pop up over and over again – aggression. From Doyle Brunson to Barry Greenstein, from Wild Bill Hickok to Stu Ungar, an aggressive poker player is a good poker player. The rationale behind this is easy enough to follow – if you are going to make money playing poker than you have to win without the best hand. The only way to do that is to push people off better hands with strategically aggressive bets.
Of course, there is a problem when you bet with the worst hand – you can get called by the best one. The following are a few bits of advice to help you become a more aggressive player all the way to the flop, without falling into the trap of recklessness.
Know Your Opponent: Every time I write anything having to do with poker strategy the first thing that I write is that you must know your opponent. Every last thing that you ever do at the poker table comes down to knowing who it is that you are playing against and taking advantage of them. Someone who seems to get involved in every hand (loose) tends to be vulnerable to big bets on the turn and river while someone who seldom gets involved (tight) tends to be vulnerable to check raises and re-raises on the flop. The basis of aggressive poker is knowing what your opponent is likely to have then measuring out the right bet to push them out. So with that in mind, let’s talk about what exactly the right bet is.
The Right Bet: All too often people go all-in when a smaller bet could have accomplished the same thing. Especially in no re-buy tournament play, going all-in is an extremely dangerous move. And more often than not, it’s an unnecessary move as well. Just like in business, the idea behind bets at the poker table is to minimize risk and maximize rewards – the smallest bet you can make to take the pot. The first thing to understand when figuring out the right size of a bet is relative stack sizes. How many big blinds do you have in your stack (if the big blind is $100 and you have $1000 then you have 10 big blinds) and how many big blinds does your opponent have? As a side note, in tournament play, you want to try and get involved in pots with people who have less chips than you so that when push comes to shove, you can send them out of the tournament but they can’t send you out. Anyway, let’s start at the beginning:
Pre-Flop: If you want to pull off a bluff, then you usually have to start betting pre-flop. You should be looking to take substantial chunks of chips in your bluffs, so you have to get chips into the pot. Bluffing at a pot between the Small and Big Blinds is worth exactly one big blind – not exactly a major heist. There are three ways to get involved pre-flop with the intention to steal and for my money, they are contingent on the type of circumstance you are in:
1. An Opening Raise: An opening raise is the first bet made into the pot. Most opening raises are somewhere between 2.5 and 4 times the big blind. The best circumstance to consider issuing an opening raise with a weak hand is when no one has raised or called before you, you are in late position (on the button or near it) and there is a tight player on the big blind. But before you go ahead and make the raise, here is where relative stack size becomes important. If the Big Blind is also a big stack and has a lot more chips than you, then you have to proceed with caution because if they get testy and re-raise, then you are in a heap of trouble. Likewise, if the Big Blind has less than ten times the big blind left in chips, there is a good chance that they will go all-in over the top of you with any two cards. They have to –otherwise they are going to be blinded to death. All of this is part of the circumstance that you are in; players’ playing styles, stack sizes, position – it should all come together to present a more full picture of the right bet.
2. Calling with Position: If you have watched someone raise pre-flop five hands in a row, chances are that they are doing it with some rotten cards. If you are in a later position you can call with every intention of letting the guy hang himself. Be careful with the re-raise here because most of the time loose players are quick to come back over the top for all of their chips with any two cards – most loose players are action junkies. Calling with position on a loose player, especially a loose player with a lot of chips, is the type of play you make to take the pot on the turn or the river (which we’ll get into in a moment.)
3. The Feigned Monster: This is a tricky bet to pull off but it can work every once in a while. First, you have to have at least 25 times the big blind because this is a costly effort. What you do is limp in from early position which broadcasts a message of total weakness to the table. But thoughtful players can subsequently interpret your limping from early position as great strength. Confusing, I know, but what some players will do when they pick up pocket Aces, Kings and sometimes even AK or Queens is to limp in and lure other players to come over the top of them. So what you have to do is limp in, hope for someone to raise you pre-flop, then re-raise them in an attempt to make them think that you have pocket rockets. That said, proceed with extreme caution when coming over the top of someone who either A, has more chips than you or B, has re-raised with more than one third of their total stack. If someone puts half of their stack into the pot and then you come over the top, they have been priced in – they basically have to call with any two cards. Also, you really don’t want to see a flop when you are pretending to have a monster because the Big Blind gets to see the flop for free and the Small Blind is likely to be tagging along as well – that gives at least two players a chance to be drawing at, in their mind, a chance to crack Aces. This then puts you in a difficult position once the action is to you post flop as you’ll feel inclined to bet at the pot because you have already initiated a bluff pre-flop. But someone could be trapping with two pair thinking that you have Aces because that’s what you want them to think. Tricky. Whenever you are trying to make players think that you have a specific hand, it can get complicated.
About the Author:
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