Poker books and television commentators constantly preach to players about the importance of aggressive play.
However, playing cautiously is often equally important.
It’s critical that you’re able to figure out both styles of play. Let’s look at various scenarios and decide where aggressive play is best used.
Playing a Big Stack against another Big Stack
If you find yourself with a big stack of chips playing against another chip leader, common sense should tell you to proceed cautiously. In this situation, protecting your stack is more important than playing aggressively.
Playing an opponent who can put a huge dent in your stack is fraught with danger; your big stack can suddenly become the short stack.
Playing From the Dealer Button
This is a position of power. It’s also a good time to be aggressive. As a rule, you can get away with playing more hands in the later positions than you can in earlier positions. You have more information at your disposal to make good decisions because your opponents always have to act first.
In fact, when you’re in position, the quality of your hand is often meaningless since you’ll be playing the players rather than the cards.
A good way to practice is to play the button without even looking at your cards. Instead, focus on your opponents and try to figure out if they’re strong or weak. If you sense weakness, make a bet and they’ll likely fold.
Of course if you think someone has a strong hand, forget the practice. Now would be a good time to take a look at your cards.
Playing Top Pair After the Flop
This is the one situation where many players go wrong. They play too aggressively when they flop top pair or have an overpair to the board. Top pair is often a strong hand in small pots, but if the pot gets large and opponents are playing aggressively — slow down! You should certainly bet on the flop, but be cautious if you get any resistance.
Playing Monster Draws After the Flop
Monster draws include a pair and flush draw, a straight and flush draw, a straight flush draw, and flush or straight draws with overcards. These are usually powerful hands. Even when you’re forced into playing a big pot, your odds of winning are still very good. For that reason, you can afford to be aggressive with monster draws after the flop.
Aggressive play gives you two ways to win the pot: Your bet gets everyone to fold, or you end up improving your hand and winning the pot anyway.
Near the Money Payouts
In a tournament with 300 players, usually the top 27 will finish in the prize money. Because of this, when there are about 30 competitors left, play becomes extremely cautious as many are hoping to hang on for a money finish.
It’s at this precise moment that you should seize the opportunity to steal as many chips as possible.
Play aggressively against those players trying to squeak into the money. Yes, this does increase the possibility that you’ll knock yourself out of the money, but in the long-run it pays off. You give yourself a chance to hit one of the top three spots, and that’s where the lion’s share of the money is in tournament poker.
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