I’ve said elsewhere in these forums recently that aggression is overrated. It is good, necessary, and important, but it is also overrated. It is not the tool for every situation.
Some recent examples:
2-seat SNG, I am holding 75s and flop a flush with it, J24 -spades. I have no way of knowing whether my opponent is holding a better flush, or a draw to a better flush, and a 7-high holding in a flush isn’t great, but I figure odds are pretty good I’m holding the best hand at the moment.
I wouldn’t mind closing the hand early, to avoid a 4th spade showing up and ruining my day, but I’m also willing to be beaten here if I don’t end up with the best hand at showdown. I bet pot at the flop and turn, and my opponent calls me.
Turn’s a brick, Td, and then the board pairs on the river when the 4c comes up. He then shoves the river at me, and I call; caught him bluffing with 8s6o; he was drawing to a better flush, and missed it.
Here, I was aggressive on the flop and turn; v was aggressive on the river. Sometimes you can bluff on the river, but on a flush board facing two pot-sized bets post-flop is probably not the time.
V’s mistakes: Chasing a flush draw with nothing more than the 8s, calling two pot-sized bets to do so.
My calling the shove isn’t all that great of a move, either; I’m beaten by a lot of flushes, and at the river I could also be beat by JJ, J4, T4, 42, TT, 22. Of those possibilities, the strongest likelihood would be J4 – all pocket pairs would raise preflop (with the possible exception of 22).
But when you play suited rag gappers and you flop a flush, you’ve pretty much hit for the best hand you were possibly playing for, and if you’re playing hands like this, you’re accepting being beaten by bigger flushes; you are going to pay them off if they’re out there. When you play 75s, you’re dumping the hand on the flop a lot, and dumping the hand to a lot of re-raises a lot. So when you do hit a flush with it, you don’t want to fold.
My aggression failed: I wanted V to fold, and he refused to do it. V’s aggression failed; he needed me to fold, and I wouldn’t do it.
The result: A great big pot, and a costly one for V, who lost the lead, and went on to lose the game a few hands later. I would have been pretty satisfied taking 160, or 480 chips with this hand, I was willing to go bust if he had it, and instead I take nearly 5000.
Same game, a couple of hands later. V is dealt A6, I’m holding T5s. We both flop a pair; I get top pair, Tens, he gets bottom pair, 66. This is a precarious top pair for me, and again I’d like to just close the action on the flop if I can; I put out another pot-size bet and figure if I get called here, probably I’m up against top pair, better kicker. I get called.
Turn is a 5, improving me to Top/Bottom Two Pair. V shoves, “needing” to win a hand, and needing me to fold in order to do it. I just made two pair, but 89 would have a straight if it’s out there. I accept that it’s a possibility, but I have my opponent covered, and I’d like his entire stack if he’s playing ATo against me and thinks he really has it with Top Pair, Top Kicker. I call; he shows A6, a J on the river seals it, and I get the last of his chips.
Responding aggressively when your opponent is showing aggression themselves may sometimes work, but usually isn’t a great plan unless you’re holding a hand that’s better than 4th pair. Pots tend to get big when two players both think they have it, or both don’t think the other one has it, or when one of them is desperate and feels like they “need” to win a hand in order to get back into it, or feels like they “need” to come back aggressively after taking a big hit to their stack or losing the lead.
Here’s a different game, vs the same player.
I’m holding 98o, and limp, V raises to 2BB, I call.
The flop is good to me, Q98 for middle-bottom two pair. Not a great holding, I’ve fond. It’s probably the best hand at the moment, but is vulnerable to top pair when the board pairs, and as well Q98 is a JT away form being beaten by a straight.
V checks to me; I let out a half-pot bet, v raises me again to 120, I call. I figure they raised small preflop, and raising me again here probably means they’ve hit the flop, probably only for top pair, which means for now I’m still ahead, but if the board pairs, I’m done with the hand, and if I see either a T or J, I’m playing very cautiously, unless they both show up and make me a straight. In general if you’re on two pair, without top pair, and the board pairs, it’s bad news for you, whether top pair just made two pair, or someone else made trips or better.
V is holding QJ, and has Top pair, decent kicker, and an inside straight draw. Of course they’re not folding to me. The Turn card, a 6s, does nothing for either of us. V min-bets, feigning weak, hoping to get raised, and I oblige, taking it up to 240, which is about 2/3 the pot. I’m not being super-aggressive, trying to stack him; I just think a 2/3 bet size is reasonable for what I’m holding. It probably would discourage a purely drawing hand from continuing, but not pair + draw, and almost certainly not top pair + draw.
V calls. I’m curious about this move; since he called here, I’m assuming he is confident in his top pair, so I’m probably looking at QJ, and possibly but not likely QK or QA, although I expect V to raise AQ and KQ higher than 2BB preflop a lot of the time, so probably not holding those, and hopefully not QQ, Q9, Q8, or Q6, all of which are ahead of me right now.
The river is a 4d, a complete brick; V goes for the pot-size bet, I call. I think calling is reasonable here, I don’t have a strong enough hand that I want to raise here. Anything strong enough to bet pot on the river and call a raise is beating 2nd/3rd two pair, and I don’t want to be in the position of raising and then folding here. He could have me beat here, but I’m willing to pay off to see it if he does.
There was a lot of attempted deception here in this hand. V raising me pre and on the flop; then giving me a weak line on the Turn to induce a raise so he could call me. My “mistake” of not making the Turn raise bigger allowed V to think that he could possibly still win the hand, which lead him to put in the big bet on the river, which I was willing to call, and that won me a nice pot – 2520 chips.
Might I have gotten more out of this hand had I raised bigger? Maybe; maybe I get V to fold top pair if I raise to 640 on the turn instead of only 240. Or maybe that puts him all-in on the river, and then I make a nervous call with a fairly mediocre-looking 2 pair. Or maybe it gets to be too much pressure for me and I fold it. I think in this hand, I have a “Goldilocks” thing going on where the pot size is just right for the strength of my hand. Much bigger and I feel like I’m risking too much with only two pair, and I’m probably running two pair into flopped straight.
My final hand of the night, a game-winner playing J3s, making Trip JJJs on a QJJ flop. I’m not crazy about playing this hand, but when it comes to trips, and heads up, kickers often aren’t a factor. I’m allowed to limp the J3, and given that I have such a weak kicker, I’m content to keep this pot small. Which, OK, if we’re talking about useful aggression, a good way to win this hand would have been to raise preflop, because I’m probably not calling with J3s.
I check-call a min-bet Flop and pot-size Turn bet, rather than bet or raise it myself. With a few different opponents, I’ve seen them play this line with me: min-bet the flop, then pot-it at me on the Turn. If I’m on a draw or weak holding like bottom pair, I may call the min-bet, but likely am folding the pot-size bet. It works often enough that you might accuse me of over-folding if you watch me play a lot of hands. I consider whether I possibly am over-folding, or if I shouldn’t try raising back on some flops with weaker pairs and draws when my opponent min-bets. And, well, sometimes I do that. Other times I raise back with stronger stuff, like two pair, trips, or better. So you don’t know when I raise whether I’m holding something strong, and you don’t know when I call whether I’m holding something strong.
V evidently decides this calling means I’m weak, and wants to push me off the pot, so he makes it all-in on the river, overbetting the pot, his remaining 840 going on top of the 360 already in the middle. I decide well I am holding Trips after all, only my kicker is weak, and call, and this ends the game.
I have his stack covered, so if he’s got a better Jack than me, so be it; I can survive it. But he doesn’t, and he doesn’s show what he did have. Apparently I’d had him so annoyed that his previous pot-size bets didn’t force me to lay down that it seems logical that the way to do it is to bet even bigger. It couldn’t possibly be that I’m holding something stronger than what he’s holding.
I think a key to winning all-in hands against a small stack is letting them think they have you on a weak hand, rather than betting aggressively with a strong hand and hoping they’ll be willing to call with a weaker hand.
No doubt here V had Queens again, possibly even Queens and Eights on the river. But once again, their aggression only backfires on them, while I, playing the hand quite passively, take the pot and the game.
Did I play well here, or did I get lucky? I think a bit of both. I’ve certainly been ruined by flopping two pair vs a flopped straight, and not improving, and trying to play it aggressively, as well.
That happened in an MTT tonight, where I, holding KJ, flopped KQJ, and ran it into AT. I tried a pot-size bet on the flop to show that I had a strong hand, trying to dissuade the draws from calling. Of course he’s got it made on the flop, and has no problem calling, and then I put him all-in on the Turn, because Aggression is SO GOOD BRO, and he again has no problem calling. And I fail to make my hand into the full house it needed to be to win on the river. I just love to double up anyone with a smaller stack than me in case they need to go deep into a tournament and are at risk of running out of gas unless they play a hand with me.
I still had plenty of chips left, but decided that I needed to play more hands, more aggressively, in order to get my stack back up to where I had it. Which, of course, naturally had the exact opposite effect. I lose the chips, get deeper into trouble, and then shove A5s into KK to clean myself out. The two previous hands someone shoved and stole the blinds, so it was obviously my turn, but no one told that to KK, who not only called, but then had the nerve to hit a set of Kings on the flop and improve to Kings full of Queens on the Turn. Because there’s nothing the dealer loves more than to see me drawing dead a card after I put myself all-in. It only happens about 75% of the time when I shove and get called.
Because that’s how great aggression is.