Very often, you'll read things like there's two different types of players: weak ones and aggressive ones. They'll also tell you that of the two, you definitely want to be aggressive. Aggression is seen and portrayed as the path to righteousness, almost religiously. Isn't this true though?
Well not exactly, and in fact this type of thinking can be very harmful to your bankroll if not properly understood. And a great many the poker world don't have a very good understanding of this. Which is going to be to our great benefit in fact.
Being too aggressive is the main reason players lose money in fact. This involves overplaying your cards, and in some cases, to alarming degrees. And overplaying your cards is by far the norm, especially online. While aggression is very important, it has to be used properly, and kept to situations where it will be profitable to do so.
So how does aggression get so overrated? There are a number of reasons. First, people tend to read material that is designed for a different type of game than they normally play. There's a big difference, for instance, between a fairly tight high stakes casino game, and a loose online one. You simply can't play the same way or you will drop a lot of money over time.
Another is over-applying the principle of fold equity. Fold equity is the advantage you have by betting and raising instead of just calling, since this gives you an additional way to win - by your opponent folding. This can only be applied properly though in strict reference to the folding tendencies of your opponents. If they don't fold a lot, you can easily over-apply this.
Third, people just generally like to bet. They envision themselves as a strong player, and to them this means running people out of their hands. They take delight in doing so, and this may blind them to the fact that many of their moves just simply aren't profitable over time.
Isn't it said though that it's far better to bet and raise than check and call? In some circumstances, yes. But in some, definitely not. We need to have reasons behind our actions, and not follow platitudes blindly that we may have read somewhere.
So, what defines when we should be aggressive and when we should not? Well, there are indeed two legitimate reasons to be aggressive in poker. The first is going to be in proportion to the strength of our hand, that is, the likelihood that we will have the best hand at showdown. If we have the best hand that will be possible, the nuts, then obviously we can be as aggressive as we want. And the level of aggression we're entitled to use is going to be in proportion to this strength.
The second reason is to take advantage of fold equity. This may be in terms of a bluff, when we probably don't have the best hand; a semi-bluff, where we may not have the best hand now but have the possibility of drawing to it, or it may be with a hand that's close to the best and we want to take advantage of possibly winning by our opponent or opponents folding.
Where folding equity is concerned, again, we want to be careful here. We're going to have to assess the likelihood of this being successful. In a tight game, that may be significant. In the loose online games that we are seeking to play, it will be quite a bit less so, thus we will have to be a lot more careful in using this rationale.
The biggest way to lose money in poker is to play inferior hands that were overplayed to the point where they have to be abandoned prior to showdown AFTER putting extra money in the pot you shouldn't have, or to take these inferior hands to showdown and lose there. So, as you can see, both involve overplaying your cards. This is what our typical opponents will do, and we will take advantage by playing our cards more properly, thereby having better hands than they do in confrontations.
When we go off the beaten path and overplay OUR cards, we need a very good reason to do so. In other words, this will have to be kept to circumstances when it is profitable for us to do so. And to determine this, we'll have to look at the typical fold rates of our opponents.
The first thing you need to look at is the percentage of hands that get shown down. The more that do, obviously the less effective this will be. The fold rates of particular opponents will also have to be kept in mind.
Beginning players are encouraged to play fairly straightforward while learning the game though. It takes experience and good observation to know when to use fold equity as a main reason for staying in the hand. Once you master this, this can add additional profits to your game, but if you don't know enough about what you're doing, this can cost you a LOT of profits, to the point of turning you into a losing player, since most money that is lost is lost by overplaying.
Remember, the games which we will typically be playing are going to be loose, and very loose in a lot of cases. This means opponents will be calling us down a lot, and if we don't have the best hand at the end, we will lose. If you're going to use fold equity to your advantage, it's going to be in cases where you have a marginally good hand and there's preferably one and two opponents at the most in the hand, and they aren't the type to call everything down. They could fold, we could actually even have the best hand without improving, or we could hit our outs and win that way.
This is one of the main reasons why it pays to be observant when not in a hand. We want to know what kinds of cards our opponents play, and how likely they are to play them to the end.
Another thing to pay attention to is the draw rate of players. In our games, players love to play draws. A lot of times they will call until they get to the river, and lay it down to a bet when they don't hit anything. If we have a decent hand, this is going to be to our advantage to always bet it out at the river against these players.
Let's get back to situations where we actually do have something good. We can't be overaggressive with these hands as well. Often, it's best to delay our aggression to later rounds in order to maximize our profit potential. A lot of players simply bet it out. particularly with raises, when it would be wiser to wait. This may be from lack of creativity, or more often, from a fear of getting drawn out. If we let that fear rule us too much, we will cut our profits significantly.
Delaying our aggression also has the advantage of putting a lot more deception in our game. Opponents will be a lot less sure of our holdings in these rounds, and it will make us a lot harder to read as well, since we're not always acting on the card that just hit the board.
One of the things we need to be careful with though is not being too aggressive with hands that may be the best now, but probably won't hold up later in a showdown, when having to go to a showdown is likely. An example would be top pair on the flop when the pair isn't very high. In a loose game, there's going to be a lot of times where you may actually fold this, even though it probably would be the best hand at the time, simply because the chances of it showing down well are very low.
Obviously, all these areas are going to be discussed in much further detail in future lessons. This is designed to give you an introduction to some of the key things we need to be thinking about in terms of the when and how of using aggression to our advantage.
The best approach to poker is thought to be tight/aggressive. However, an element which is even more important is prudence. This is ensuring that we seek the proper plays in a given situation, and rather than subscribing to a certain style without due consideration to its desirability in each circumstance, we avoid making plays which tend to risk our money unnecessarily.
Aggression is often seen as fighting to be the king of the hill, by ruling the game. It's whoever has the most money at the end of the day who is king though, and we'd rather be a rich king than a poor one.