Most novice poker players act in a passive manner designed to ensure they do not lose too much money without a premium hand. While this sounds like a great idea, it also means they will rarely win a lot of money. To succeed at poker, you must learn to win (steal) pots that do not belong to you based on the strength of your hand.
In this article, I will explain common situations where you can make more money at the poker table by increasing your level of aggression.
A major mistake many beginner players make is they limp too often. When someone limps (by putting in an amount equal to the big blind before the flop) it is usually with a hand they think has some potential, but isn’t good enough to raise. If your opponents realise that you primarily limp with marginal hands, they can raise and force you to play a sizable pot, which is the exact opposite of what you want to happen.
A typical hand where a novice player limps may play out like this à
With $200 stacks at $1/$2, everyone folds to you in middle position, and you limp with Qc-Js because you think Q-J is a decent hand, but not strong enough to raise. A player on the button raises to $9. The blinds fold, and the action is on you.
At this point, you could call $7 more. But unless you improve to at least a pair or a strong straight draw on the flop, which will happen 35.9% of the time, you will probably fold after the flop if your opponent makes a bet, which you can expect to happen most of the time.
If you are fortunate enough to improve to a pair, you will often have the second-best hand when your opponent has a better pair. If you flop a draw, you will only improve to a premium hand by the river roughly 40% of the time. This situation is not an enviable one to be in.
Hands like A-4, K-10 and 9s-8s all play out in a similar manner if you limp and numerous other players limp. You will have to play a pot from out of position with what will usually be a marginal hand. When many players see the flop, often at least one player will flop a strong hand. If you don’t flop well, you will have an incredibly difficult time stealing the pot with a bluff, and if you do flop well, there is no guarantee you will get paid off.
So, instead of being the first person to limp, you should raise all hands you think are playable unless the rest of the players are incredibly passive, which will rarely be the case in today’s environment. Hands such as A-4, K-10 and Q-J should often be folded from early position. It is simply too likely that someone yet to act will have a hand that has you dominated. While you may think folding “good” hands like these is too tight, from early and middle position, doing so will save you significant money.
From late position, you should raise all of these hands. This strategy will allow you to take control of the pot, meaning you will win the pot when everyone fails to improve to a strong hand.
For example, suppose you raise to $6 at $1/$2 with A-4 from the cutoff (the seat to the right of the button) and only the button calls. The flop comes K-7-3. You bet $8 and your opponent folds. If you had limped instead, perhaps your opponent would raise to $8, you would call, and then check-fold to your opponent’s $10 bet on the flop. By raising instead of limping, you will have the opportunity to steal a huge number of pots.
Stop Calling Raises
Just as limping is a significant error, calling preflop raises with a wide range of hands that are thought to not be good enough to re-raise is also a major leak of beginning players. Marginal hands just don’t improve to premium hands often enough to justify the amount of money you must invest in order to see a flop.
Using an online poker calculator, you will find that a suited-gapped hand, such as 10s-7s, will flop a flush, straight, trips, or two pair only 4.9% of the time. It will flop a one pair hand, which will often not be too strong, 8.7% of the time. It will flop reasonable draw 18% of the time.
While it may be enticing to flop a draw, you must realise that these draws will only turn into premium hands by the river roughly 40% of the time. Quite often, when you complete your draw, you will find your opponent doesn’t have a strong enough hand to give you action, meaning you will rarely get paid off.
Unless you are very deep stacked, meaning you have a large number of big blinds in front of you, these hands are difficult to profit from by calling. The same goes for most hands that are easily dominated, such as A-8, K-9, and Q-J. Calling raises from decent players with these hands is an easy way to incinerate your bankroll.
Instead of calling with these hands, you should usually fold. While folding certainly isn’t sexy, it will keep you from playing large pots with dominated holdings. If you constantly open yourself up to making errors, you should expect to experience huge swings to your bankroll, mostly in the negative direction. You simply must learn to fold decent, but not great, hands if you want to succeed at poker.
Alternatively, if you think the preflop raiser is a particularly loose player, or someone who will assume that you must have a premium hand if you show aggression, you can re-raise with some hands that are not good enough to call with, but still have potential. Hands like 10s-7s are great to 3bet because when you don’t steal the pot preflop, which will happen a decent amount of the time, you will frequently be able to steal the pot with a continuation bet on the flop or make an incredibly disguised premium hand when middle cards come.
For example, someone raises, and you call in position with 10s-7s. If you miss the flop and face a bet, you should usually fold. However, if you re-raise your opponent before the flop, you may win the pot before the flop with no contest. If your opponent calls and the flop comes A-8-5 or K-9-5, you can continuation bet and steal the pot after your opponent checks.
If you continuation bet when you miss, and your straightforward opponent doesn’t fold, it is a good idea to assume they flopped a strong hand. If you flop well, such as a two-pair or better, you should bet the same amount. This play will ensure that you are difficult to read by playing both your premium and weak hands in the same manner. You will find that some aggressive opponents will assume middle-card flops are bad for the preflop re-raiser, which may lead them to check-raise you on these types of boards – a nice treat when you have 10-7 on a 10-7-4 or 9-8-6 flop.
By adding aggression to your strategy, you will be able to steal pots that do not belong to you. As long as you are capable of figuring out when your opponent actually has a strong hand that they don’t plan on folding, you will slowly accumulate a mountain of chips.
Be sure to check out my next one where we will discuss how to decide how much to bet in most common situations.