The Value Of Aggression At The Poker Table

If you read our previous poker theory blog Harnessing The Power Of Position, you may understandably believe position to be the most important aspect of succeeding at poker, but the reality of the matter is that if Position is King, Aggression is Supreme Overlord. Because while understanding the power of position is an essential aspect of winning money at poker, it is unlikely to make a significant positive impact on your results if you are not applying that knowledge effectively.

And while it is tough to overstate the power of positional awareness, for recreational and low-stake poker players a lack of aggression consistently shows up as being the single greatest impediment to their success at the tables. Most amateur players simply do not play wide enough ranges (meaning, they are not playing enough hands) both in and out of position, and preflop as well as postflop.

Of course the range you should be playing is relative to the game-type you’re in as well as your position at the table (for example, you should be playing a much wider range when playing heads up or a three-handed Jackpot Sit and Go tournaments than you should when playing from UTG in a 10-handed tournament). However…

Aggression at the poker table doesn’t end with hand selection but rather continues throughout the course of the hand.

For example, raising at or near 100% of hands on the button in a heads-up game can definitely be defined as aggressive, but it is also a pretty awful strategy if the raiser proceeds to cbet every flop and give up whenever their opponent calls and their hand doesn’t improve. Attempting to do so against a perceptive opponent will likely result in them calling nearly all c-bets regardless of hand strength (known as “floating”) and betting the river at an extremely high frequency when the original raiser checks back the turn (a bet known as a “probe”).

Similarly, calling 70% of hands from the BB in a heads-up SNG might be optimal in theory, but will end up being an incredibly expensive strategy if only continuing when flopping a strong pair or draw. Attempting to do this will likely result in an opponent who will c-bet blindly and safely give up all bluffs when called, knowing that the caller’s range in that spot is composed almost entirely of value hands.

This brings up another important point, which is that the vast majority of recreational players play a style predicated on minimizing their losses rather than maximizing their profits, which is generally a sure-fire way to lose money, even if it takes a while longer to play itself out.

As well-known poker player Amir Vahedi once famously said:

If you truly want to live, you can’t be afraid to die!

Of course, the key is to find that balance between being too tight and passive (aka nitty) and being overly aggressive in all the wrong situations (aka spewy). And while finding that balanced level of aggression at the poker table can take some players years (or decades!) to master, by working on your game using tools such as icmizer or studying at a poker training site such as Upswing Poker, adding the appropriate amount of aggression to your game is simpler today than it’s ever been before!