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To the non-poker player, aggression connotes violent, destructive behavior, often hostility directed at an adversary. Frequently aggressive behavior is accompanied by a concomitant facial expression – anger!

Picture that!

But to us poker players, aggressive play is much different; it’s nothing more than betting, raising, or re-raising. The more often you do that, the more aggressive you are. If a player uses aggression almost every hand – or even every other hand – he’s a “maniac.”

Certainly, a player can be aggressive without being hostile toward his opponents. He can be calm, displaying little emotion as he raises – with a “poker face.”

Passive Play

Whereas an aggressive player bets/raises more often than the “average” player, the passive player usually just calls a bet, often checking, hardly ever raising. In the ultimate, he might check all the way with the nuts.

What a waste!

Passive players present no threat of a raise after you have bet; so it’s OK to be seated to his right – whereas it is best to be seated to the left of a maniac, so he declares before you must act. Because they fail to take advantage of their good hands, passive players rarely go home winners.

Aggressive, not loose

Don’t confuse aggressiveness with loose play. A “loose” player is one who pays to see the flop much more often than prudence would dictate. If a player goes in preflop one or more hands out of three, he is “loose” – and usually a loser. Obviously he is not using our Hold’em Algorithm. (See poker book offer elsewhere in Gaming Today.) I love having loose players at my table.

Tight and aggressive

Tight players stay in with decent starting hands: “made hands” and those that have a good chance of improving on the flop. (We don’t want too many tight players at our table; you won’t gain many chips from them.)

Tight players also can display an aggressive playing style. If they are not bluffing (many do on occasion) when betting aggressively, they are bound to have a strong starting hand. Usually tight players are “selectively” aggressive. They bet or raise for a good reason.

For example, a tight-selectively-aggressive player might raise preflop from a middle position to force out opponents behind him, thereby gaining position over the remaining players.

From a middle position, he might re-raise preflop with pocket kings to force out opponents holding A-rag, so his K-K is more likely to hold up even if an ace falls on the board. A smart player knows his pocket aces will become underdogs if more than four opponents stay to see the flop.

So a smart tight-aggressive player might very well raise preflop to improve his chances of winning that pot.

Yes, aggressive play is fine so long as you are “selectively” aggressive – careful and discerning when deciding to play aggressively. In my poker classes, I explain that it is best to be “selectively aggressive” only when it is to your advantage.

Your opponents don’t really know why you are raising, but it does cause them to be more cautious and less likely to raise you. If a tight player then re-raises, you can be quite certain he has a monster hand. Prepare to fold unless you hold the nuts or close to it.

On the other hand, if a “maniac” re-raises, let your cards and the pot odds help you decide whether to re-aise or just call. If your cards were good enough to re-raise, don’t let a “maniac” force you to fold.

Shifting gears

Just as you evaluate your opponents, they do the same to you. After you have been playing tight-selectively-aggressive for a period of time, they have learned to respect your aggressiveness.

When raising, you have a powerhouse. Now is the time to change your style – shift gears. Loosen up a bit; do some bluffing (using the Esther Bluff tactic, of course) and win pots you would have passed over previously. Continue in this style until you get caught on a bluff or two; then shift back again to tight-selectively-aggressive play.

(NOTE: For comments, questions contact George “The Engineer” can be reached at [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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