Aggression increases your risk, but is it gambling?

by ~ January 3rd, 2009. Filed under: Fear of raising series, Fold equity, aggression and bluffing, Micro level poker.

* Modified June 15th, 2010 *

In order to play winning poker, you need to be appropriately aggressive.

Simple example; you get KK. Two limpers ahead. KK is the second best hand that you can be dealt, but the more hands that you are up against, the lower your chance of winning. You need to raise preflop and narrow the field.

You raise the standard 5 big blinds (3 as a standard raise plus 1 more for each limper ahead of you). The blinds fold, the first limper folds, the second limper calls. Flop comes Jh7h4d. Nice low flop, unlikely to have hit your opponent except for the danger of the flush draw. Again you need to bet, at least 1/2 pot if it’s a tournament, closer to 3/4 pot if it’s a cash game. You need to make a flush draw make a mistake by calling you, while at the same time setting the stage for standard continuation bets in the future when you raise with AK and miss the flop.

So there you go.

  • Bet/raise to protect and to get value from your good hands,

or another way of looking at it,

  • Bet/raise to increase the value of the pot when you’re likely ahead, as well as to make any hand that might be drawing pay to see future cards.

Add to that some standard plays where you may also bet;

  1. Usually bet the flop after you raised preflop to continue to represent strength whether you hit the flop or not (it may still be the best hand, though determining which situations to bet and which not to bet is not always simple)
  2. Often raise in late position if the pot is unopened because you are facing fewer possible hands behind you and because you will have position on the blinds if they choose to call
  3. Often bet at boards where you have a good draw (semi-bluffing) as you may win the pot right there, and if not you may hit your hand and the pot will be already building.
  4. Maybe raise/bet in situations where players ahead of you have shown no strength, eg. limpers preflop or checked around to you in last position on the flop.

(All of these are situation dependant, so there is no “always”)

Pretty standard aggression tactics for poker.

If you’re in a situation without much fold equity (playing against calling stations or against very short stacks) you may want to limit your aggression to situations where you’re pretty sure that you’re ahead. The advantage of playing calling stations is that they will pay you off by playing weak pairs and chasing draws when you are ahead. Get your money in when you are ahead.

If you put in money when you are ahead in a hand, obviously you increase the stakes. But if you believe that you are ahead, that the chances are better than 50/50 that you will win, then you should try to increase the amount of money that you are likely to win. Conversely you would like the stakes be lower when you’re less sure that you’re winning, but you can’t lower the stakes during a hand, so bet/raise when you think that you’re ahead.

When you bet/raise you’re increasing your monetary risk by investing more in the pot, but you believe that you’re likely to win. Would you rather risk $5 when you have a 50/50 chance of winning, or $20 when you have a 60/40 chance of winning, or buy a lottery ticket for $5 when you know that overall your expected value is $2.50 or less?

Of course in poker you never know the specific odds except when you review the hand afterwards and you know all the hole cards, but the principle remains the same even when you are guessing at your opponent’s cards. Get your money in when you’re ahead, slow down when you think that you’re behind. If you think that you’re behind and don’t have enough outs, fold unless you have a plan to outplay your opponent. That philosophy, combined with tight preflop hand selection, is sufficient to make you a winner at the low buyin levels of cash games and tournaments. Don’t worry about bluffing and making big plays.

I may have looked at some of these aspects back when I worked on the first entries in my Fear of Raising series, but the perspective is a little different. Here my main point is, betting/raising will increase your monetary risk, but if you’re ahead (or you have significant fold equity, something not covered in detail here as I’ve looked at fold equity elsewhere) you want to increase your monetary risk in those situations where you think that your odds of winning are best.

I don’t think this is gambling. This is investing, investing more when you believe the situation is such that you are likely to win the pot.

Of course, it’s not that simple. You can’t always be 100% sure what your opponent holds. You can’t be sure if their hand is good enough to call a large bet when you hold the nuts, or if your top pair/top kicker is the best hand. You have to use your best judgement and take chances, but you have a heck of a lot better control of your situations than buying lottery tickets or playing roulette or blackjack.

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1 Response to Aggression increases your risk, but is it gambling?

  1. PokerAnon

    Sorry, I was cleaning the spam filter and accidentally deleted the comment that was here 🙁

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