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How to Increase Your Aggression (The Right Way) in Poker

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 hyper-aggressive 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.

Use Aggression in Poker Wisely

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

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.

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.

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.

How to Play Suited Connectors & One-Gappers

The simplest hands to get this farce under way with are suited one-gappers, such as


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

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.Get Up to $500 Now!

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

, 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.

Related Reading:

Maintain a Reckless Image w/o Being Reckless

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

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.

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

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All Poker News
2021-05-19 22:29:55

First time i’ve seen texas holdem played with two King of diamonds.

Arved Klöhn
2021-05-21 08:36:02

@michael: Ah. Mistake on our part. The 2nd one should be the 10s. Fixed now, thanks.

ben richardson
2010-02-17 03:19:57

Ha that’s funny because i while back at the casino I ended up having to lay down top pair top kicker when the good lag had….yup, 8 6 (he flopped two pair on a board of 8 j 6, i had AJ). The turn was a 5, which made it easier to get away from, plus there was another guy in the pot behind me, he had king jack. He ended up losing about 80 bucks on the hand, I lost 14.

Sean Lind
2010-02-04 19:43:25

You’re welcome Dylan. Remember, 68s is a WORSE hand than AQo, but 68s is typically easier to play, and much less likely to be dominated.

I’ll take AQo heads up over 68s 100% of the time. But after a raise and three calls, AQo is a hand I’ll consider mucking, while 68s is an easy call.

Straight hand value is only first level poker, you have to consider what hands your opponents are playing, and adapt your calling/raising range to maximize your odds against them.

Plus, you’ll get kicks out of how the whole table will erupt, complaining about how lucky you are when you win a big pot with your “trash” hand. Just smile and say thanks, then laugh in your head.

At least that’s what I do.

Dylan Thurston
2010-02-04 19:09:29

Sean, this is a great article. I’ve been experimenting with these ideas, and it’s really helped me plug some leaks in my game (especially the idea that something like 68s is better to play than AQo against multiple opponents and a big pot going to the flop). Thanks.

Sean Lind
2009-07-09 22:58:00

Hey Gumby, Thanks for that imput. I was assuming that the % was implied for going to the river, I can clearly see where the confusion would set in there.

I made it a little more clear, as I don’t want anyone to think that it’s the % of the hand hitting the flop versus missing.


2009-07-09 20:33:00

I like this article but want to point out that the chart showing how 86s does against 3 other hands is wrong.

The article states the numbers are a “best-case scenario going four-handed to the flop.” They’re not; they’re the %-ages for going to the river. 86s in this situation has 30% equity, but only if you make it to the river, and most flops aren’t going to hit you hard enough to continue.

But, like the article says, you play these hands more for their deceptive value, how easy they are to get away from on the flop, and their Implied Odds.

Good article otherwise.

Sean Lind
2009-03-24 18:45:00

Only five cards make up a poker hand:

Player 1: 7-8
Player 2: A-8

Board: 9-10-J-Q-2

This is a split pot, since they both have a straight 8-Q.

Jay Schmalfeldt
2009-03-20 22:53:00

I am a beginner, I was under the inpression the top five cards were all that counted. If a straight from Q-8, two players have the same only different suites, it would be a split pot. I was not aware the cards were counted below the 8. Should they count below the the 8?

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