Aggressive play in poker will pay dividends

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According to Michael Wiesenberg’s Official Dictionary of Poker (Amazon Digital Services, Kindle Edition), aggressive play is “characterized by much betting, raising, and re-raising. This is not the same as loose play.

Some of the best players are very selective about the cards they play, but when they do get into a pot, play those cards aggressively.”

Aggressive play can build big pots and help to bluff out opponents. Most recreational players (the majority of us) tend to be quite conservative; they bet/raise only with strong hands. The problem with that strategy is your opponents soon realize this, and are less likely to call when you have big hands, limiting the size of your pots.

As a consequence, you cannot be a consistent winner in casinos because your wins are not sufficient to make up for the “cost-to-play.”

Cost: $20 per hour

With nine conservative players of equal skill at the table, in the long run each will win one out of nine hands – breaking even except for the casino rake, the Bad Beat Jackpot drop and tip to the dealer when you win the hand.

In a low/middle limit hold’em game that costs you, on average, over $20 per hour. After five hours of play, you would be more than $100 behind – unless you win enough to cover the cost-to-play.

The only way to overcome this burden is to play aggressively. But, it’s not quite that simple. There are some basic rules to follow if you decide to play aggressively. Most important, be selective when you play aggressively. Do so only when it is in your best interests.

Squeeze Play

For example, in a recent column we wrote about the “Squeeze Play” that “First Lady of Poker,” Linda Johnson described in her chapter in the Winning Women of Poker book. (www.seasidepublishing.com). An opponent raises preflop; and is called by another player. Now, in late position, playing aggressively, you reraise. Everyone folds to your three-bet and you gain a small but significant pot to add to your chip stacks.

If your re-raise is called, then an aggressive semi-bluff continuation-bet may well be in order, using (of course) the Esther Bluff to get into your opponent’s head. Now, he “knows” you have the superior hand, and mucks his cards.

You win another modest pot!

Cautions/suggestions

Don’t do this too often, or your opponents will get wise to you – or, at least, suspicious – and more apt to call your bluff. The Squeeze Play is best when you have position over your opponents, especially if you are on the button. But, you can even do it preflop from one of the blinds.

Most important is that you have a decent playing hand – not necessarily a made hand (A-A, K-K, Q-Q) or a premium drawing hand (A-K, A-Q, A-J, K-Q, K-J suited, J-J, 10-10), but good enough that you can continue to play and even semi-bluff if an opponent calls. I would suggest your hand should meet the criteria of the Hold’em Algorithm.

Also, consider the type of player your opponent is. If he is timid and/or tight, your Bluff Raise may be more than enough to get him to fold. Never try to bluff out a calling-station; once he has invested in the pot, he is prepared to go all the way.

Look for tells

Tells can be helpful too. Did your opponent pick up his holecards in his right hand, as if planning to toss them into the muck? Or is he picking up a bunch of chips, preparing to bet or raise after you act?

Most important is that if the hand advances to the next round of betting after the flop, study the cards on the board. Most players prefer to play honor cards.

Be cautious if the flop contains two or more honor cards. If the flop didn’t give you a powerful hand, chances are one of your opponents has connected.

Checking is your best bet; see the turn as cheap as possible.

On the other hand, if the flop consists of small and middle cards, continue your aggression with a semi-bluff.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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