Increasing Your Aggression at the Poker Table

Gus Hansen
Gus Hansen: He's more aggressive than you.

Take a look at all of the top-earning poker pros in the world. The most common trait among all of these players is their hyperaggressive style of play.

Even the pros who are considered rocks, or tight, are still far more aggressive than the average player.

The mistake many beginners make is confusing aggression with looseness. Playing loose, reckless, gambling poker is a sure path to ridiculous swings and, more often than not, substantial losses.

But if you only play aces, you're never going to get paid when you get them. And you're going to lose your stack when other players crack you.

You want use your aggression and image to put reasonable doubt into your opponents. If they can believe you're making a move with A-K, there is a much better chance of you making money than if they rightly believe you're only ever making the bet with the nuts.

Appearing Reckless Instead of Actually Being Reckless

The definition of reckless (according to the American Heritage Dictionary) is "Indifferent to or disregardful of consequences." It is simply not possible to be a long-term winner in poker if you're reckless. You need to care about the game and your results to have positive results ... or you have to be insurmountably lucky.

If you want to get action and the ability to pull down large wins at the table, you're going to need a table image to suit.

Nothing drums up more action than the belief that you're throwing it all to the wind. If you can convince the other players you're having a bankroll fire sale, they'll line up down the street for a piece.

Dan Harrington
Dan Harrington: One of the biggest pros with a "rock" image.

Obviously you want to appear to just be this crazed reckless gambler. You want people to believe you're an action player, only interested in big pots. You want to do all of this, while at the same time getting your chips in with the odds in your favor.

The Power of Suited Connectors/Suited One-Gappers

The simplest hands to get this farce under way with are suited one-gappers, such as 6 8 or 7 9. These hands look like rags, and are almost impossible for your opponents to get a read on when you hit with them.

They are similar to suited connectors, with more camouflage, more firepower and more image-building potential to make up for the lowered equity.

These are the kind of hands you want to be calling pre-flop raises with when there is big multiway action. Here's a chart of a best-case scenario going four-handed from flop to river:

Hand % to win
A K 35
A Q 18
K T 17
8 6 30

In this pot, you got 3-1 on your money, with 30% of the equity (2.3-1 dog). Your call is already profitable. If you change A-K to AA, your percentage drops to 20%. You're now calling with -EV pot odds, while your implied odds are through the roof.

You will take the stack of AA (barring a resuck) on any flop that hits you hard. Any flop with all spades, a straight, two sixes, two eights, or one of each (all without an ace of course) will get you paid.

It's almost impossible to lose your stack, and very possible to win a stack.

As you can see by the numbers, playing hands of this sort is actually a profitable play according to the odds (assuming you're playing in multiway pots, with players willing to bet their big hands heavy). At the same time, they look as if you're playing loose trash.

If you're at an action-intense table, I'm a big fan of betting with big draws with these types of hands. Flopping either the straight or the flush draw is enough; flopping both is ideal.

At an action-crazed table, you can be almost sure that you'll get three or four callers by betting out. You build big pots with the proper odds for your draw.

This will add more variance to your game, as opposed to working at pot control to draw for cheap, but it will help prevent players from pricing you out and will give you the action you need for large wins, while also shaping your reckless image.

Stop Playing High-Marginal Hands

If you take the exact same principle as for the suited one-gappers, and apply it to high-marginal hands, you'll see that playing these types of hands into a raise is a very bad idea.

Look at the chart above again, this time with you holding A-Q. You have 12% less equity in the pot compared to 8 6, and you're going to lose your stack if you hit the ace.

If a player who only raises big hands raises, you have to put them on a big hand. Calling with an easily dominated hand will be very bad for your health.

The last hand you want to be calling A-K with is a hand like K-Q. You're better off playing 7-9 into A-K than K-Q, K-J, A-Q, A-J, A-T or K-T. All of these hands look better pre-flop, but will do nothing but get you into trouble.

Calling raises with these hands is reckless; calling the raise with a suited one-gapper appears reckless.

Now raising, on the other hand, is a different story. It's absolutely OK to raise K-Q or A-Q; just be wary if an uber tight player makes a call.

To maintain a reckless image without actually becoming reckless you need to give action while keeping a strict mental record of odds and reads. You should always be putting your money in with the best odds, pot or implied.

Tom Dwan
Tom "durrrr" Dwan has more than his share of aggression.

One tactic for playing huge pots without much risk is by sussing out coin flips. Taking coin flips for large pots will increase your variance, but can really help to shape your image.

I don't encourage going out to look for pre-flop coin flips, but when they happen it's not always a mistake to take them. Just be sure you're actually in a coin flip, not running into the nuts.

Typically I try to avoid all possible coin-flip all-in scenarios pre-flop. I'd rather wait till the flop where I know I have a flip, such as flopping an open-ended straight flush draw against someone with an overpair.

I will gladly get it all-in here, knowing it's only a very marginal profit long-term (in this situation you're 56% with a small amount of dead money), but the image you get from pushing, or calling a push on "a draw" will help players put in their stacks against you down the road.

Just look at Gus Hansen: there is absolutely no shortage of players willing to move their stacks in against him. He has the universal image of being a ridiculous gambler, and will get paid on that image for the rest of his life.

Rock-tight ABC poker will make you money, but never as much as you could make with a more aggressive approach.

Build a roll, play within it, allow for the swings and make a killing in the end. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

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