On Aggression

I can’t help but notice that lately I’m losing every big hand.

I raise big, with cards like: KK, QQ, AK, AQ, AJ, only to see the cards defy me and I miss the board with my high broadway unpaired cards, while someone calling with a hand like A9, end up pairing their garbage card and win on a pair of 9s.

The usual response to this complaint is “you’re not raising big enough if you’re getting called by that hand.” Maybe so. But to raise much higher than I do, I’d have to put in so much of my stack that I might as well shove. And when you do that, you either get the blinds, or you get stupid-calls that suck out, and while I don’t mind shoving certain hands in certain places, I don’t know that I should be doing it quite so frequently.

Or I raise a big pair, QQ KK, and get calls from people who play Aces, and the board invariably gives them an Ace, usually on the flop. So, I can either c-bet here and hope no one has an Ace, but Aces are all over a player’s range who would call the kind of raise I make with QQ KK. So mostly they’ll call, and so c-betting isn’t super profitable here. And if I check, you just know there’s a strong bet coming whether they have hit the flop or not, because there’s a lot of chips out there and they sense weakness.

Or I shove on someone while ahead, they call me with something that miracle rivers and I get beat. And I’m not talking someone calling on a monster draw, I’m talking they take A2 into my AK when I flop Aces and shove, and they end up rivering a 2.

Particularly this is true of the early stages of a SNG, when there’s still 6+ seated, and the blinds are at 50/100 or below. When the blinds go above 100/200, even just 3BB raises can be enough to steal a pot, particularly once the table is 4-handed or less.

When I play super cautious, betting small, limping more preflop, I can get away from these hands, last longer, win more in the long run, but without taking the big pots from these fast, aggressive hands, I’m not getting a big stack advantage to win these games, and am only able to hold on for a 3rd place win.

So my question is, what’s a proper level of aggression in the early stages of a tournament where you have big hole cards and you’re in position and supposed to open with them? What can you afford to put in preflop that you can back away from postflop if the flop is an absolute disaster for you?

Or is it better to just run hot, and bust out on those hands, playing an all or nothing strategy where the hands you win will put you on a path to win the whole game?

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For example, this is the way you hope these hands run:


Dealt AJo in the SB, I raise 3BB. UTG is short-stacked and tries to jam me here, and I consider folding but I’m just annoyed enough that I decide to call. Of course, then the BB decides they have to jam me, and now it’s on, I don’t care if I get crippled here, I’m all in too.

Fortunately, UTG’s jam is a desperation shove, Q6-suited, and not a monster, and BB’s shove is KJ. I manage to pair my Ace right on the flop, and it’s a high enough Ace that it wins the hand, while both players miss the board, Q6s coming up one club short of the flush, and KJ coming a Queen short of a straight. The losing hands block each other just enough that my Aces stand up.

But for me this seems to happen maybe 1-in-20 of the open raises I try. And 3BB was not a big open, but it was what I was comfortable making in early position.

Should I have opened wider here, would that have caused either of these players to fold? I kinda doubt it. More likely, a higher open just makes them call, and then when the flop hits I get to wonder who has better than AJ, and maybe psyched myself out of staying in the hand after someone shoved, and I could have guessed that they had my Ace beat, or had flopped 2 pair or a set.

It didn’t matter; I won, but I wasn’t real confident on this hand, I half expected to see the first shover flip up a pair, maybe even a high pair, and I thought for sure that the second shover was running a higher Ace, or else KK/AA, and it was just my luck that they all decided to check-raise their monsters because they were in early position.

Note also that if we look at the above hand from the perspective of the shover, “aggression” fails here for them, and loses them their entire stack.

Now, contrast “the fantasy” hand from above, with “the reality” of the following hands. Despite “the odds” this is the sort of outcome I see by and large, the vast majority of the hands I try to play with two high cards that I raise big:


It’s late in the game, we’re 3-up, and I have the big stack, dominating the two smaller stacks for a while, but the #2 wins a few hands and starts pulling up close to even with me. I’m dealt AA in the SB, the small stack limps from the Button, I raise 2BB, the BB folds, the Button calls.

Any bigger raise doesn’t accomplish my goal, which is to get a player to come all-in on me so I can beat them. If I raise 3BB here, more than likely they’re folding their hand. Which would have been a better outcome, as it turns out.

The flop is Th3hQd, and I haven’t improved, but I am still ahead of anything but a set here, so I expect the way the get the small stack to get me here is to check, induce them to bet, and then come over the top of them with a check-raise. This is what I do and it works perfectly; he bets, I raise, he shoves, I call. Exactly what I wanted. Played perfectly, every decision correct, predictable actions by my opponent that I’m all set to exploit.

Except, as soon as the turn card flips up, they’ve got two pair, and I lose about half my chips. Womp womp.


I’m far from dead here, but this is so typical of what has happened to me all week to cost me SNG wins and convert 1st place finishes to 3rd.

Here’s my death hand from that game:


I’ve been whittled down to my last BB, when I’m dealt KJo, in the SB, there’s no question I have to play here, I shove, my opponent only needs to throw in another 200-odd chips to call, so obviously they’re calling with no matter what they have, which in this case is 52s.

They flop a straight. I turn a pair of useless Kings, and am out.

Now, this last hand, it’s not really a good example of “aggression” – there’s nothing aggressive about having your back to the wall and shoving because you’re already committed. This move isn’t going to intimidate anyone, and just about anyone is going to call here, out-stacking you 10:1. So this isn’t an example of how aggression backfires, but it is an example of how when I stake my tournament life on two high cards, again and again they lose, way more often than they should. In this hand, 52 is a 62% loser, but not here! Nope, not for me. Not to keep me alive for maybe one more orbit.

So here’s how I’m doing on the week:

Entry fees 2,900,000
Winnings 3,847,500
Profit 947,500
Profit % 33%
Wins - losses 17 - 13
ITM% 57%
Wins 2
2nd place 5
3rd place 10
4th 0
5th 2
6th 1
7th 8
8th 1
9th 1

I managed to get ITM very reliably, almost 60% (!) of the time this week, and then can’t close the deal, always getting screwed somehow out of the win.

When I come into the 3-up phase with the big stack I run a monster into a disaster and then quickly fade out due to the giant blinds.

Also sometimes I just barely squeeze into 3rd by outlasting the 5th and 4th place finishers by folding every hand I don’t have to play no matter how good the cards are, sometimes watching junk hands flop monsters to taunt me, while I let the rest of the field beat each other up, and when the bubble pops I’m shortstacked and forced to play my next hand for all the chips and lose.

Either way 3rd place is infinitely better than 4th, but all these 3rd place wins suck, and I should be converting wins more than I am, only I can’t because the cards simply don’t allow it. I go cold, or get dealt mirages, or an opponent rivers a miracle, or they slow play me, and one way or another I find ways to lose when I should be ahead.

33% profit on 57% ITM is not bad, I guess. I shouldn’t be mad, and I’m not really mad; it’s been a much better week than my tilt week of 21 losses in a row. But I want to figure out how to do better.

At no time has anyone said “this game is easy” and been right. On the other hand, every one of us has had days where every stupid thing we’ve done turns out to be perfect–for that moment. You can try offering the dealer a bribe, but it’s not likely to work. Neither is sacrificing a chicken or goat. Simply accept that a lot of the time, you’re going to be beaten by unexpected cards in unexpected hands. Your mind will rest much easier that way and the game will be more fun for you. We “play” poker, we shouldn’t “work” at it.


Alan25main, I take your comment to mean that there’s nothing really I can do about it, but if I keep playing the same way, some weeks I’ll convert those 3rd place finishes to wins, and other weeks I’ll lose them all, and in the long run it’ll all balance out. Is that it?

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Pretty much, yeah. If you’re trying to make a living playing cards, you–like the vast majority of us–will likely fail to prosper. If you’re playing to enjoy the competition, then have some fun. Even most of the pros have interests away from the table; they take the game seriously, but don’t obsess about it… We call these activities “games” because that’s how they evolved: they were fun activities that we could live without. We play them to enrich our lives emotionally, not to put bread on our tables every day.
If I never played poker again, I’d miss it, but it wouldn’t kill me. But, I suspect my life would be poorer from its lack.

That, my friend, is exactly it. Make +EV plays and you win in the long run.


Typical game for me:

Rolling along happy with a nice big stack, about 40 minutes of fairly cautious play, except for one hand where I jammed a player who was trying to bluff me off of 2nd pair with air, and got them to call, taking most of their chips for an early lead. So, OK that was one big hand where I prevailed. But it was obvious they didn’t have anything when they tried to raise me – I’m in late position betting 2nd pair, and if anyone ahead of me had had top pair, they would have bet it. Clearly they didn’t suddenly improve to better than that with the turn card being a 2, and they didn’t have a pocket pair higher than Tens here, either.


When all of a sudden, I screw everything up when I turn a straight, opponent rivers a nut flush that I never saw coming, and tried to raise them off of: https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/516200752

Two hands later…

On a comeback, flop a flush draw, try to semi-bluff steal the pot or else if I win I’ll double up, I lose and go out on the bubble: https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/516201033

I can win small pots all day and lose every single big one.

Beautiful start to a new game, I flop a straight, and someone else has flopped a better straight.

https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/516206661 :eyeroll:

And just like that, there goes the bonus chips I spent all last week earning.

The lesson, seemingly, is: If you don’t bet a straight hard enough, someone will make a better hand on you, so you should bet your straights hard when you make them. But when you make a straight and bet it hard, someone else already has you beat, so you might as well fold if you get raised.

Of course, that’s not really the lesson. The lesson is: keep playing, this is variance. Just make the same decisions, and eventually you’ll win one.

But I’m still waiting.

And another one. Flopped trips, outkicked. Really not surprised here, 9 is a terribly weak kicker. But just outkicked by 1, to rub it in and taunt me.


And then, another straight, this time beaten by Quads.


Why is VARIANCE just another word for “you lose every time?”
Looks like another 21-loss bender coming on for me.

First hand starting another new game…


Quads over full house. Pretty obvious with the KKK having a cross burning in the middle of the board, but I had flopped two pair with my 78 and just had to see the hand that beat me, and the price wasn’t awful.

It’s just reinforcing that every single hand I will play this week will be 2nd best.

I’ve looked through a few of these hands. Yes, there are some coolers but I see a couple of things you can be doing differently.

  1. You’re playing too many weak starting hands (things like A6o or 98o). This leaves you vulnerable to getting outkicked or holding the low end of a straight instead of the high end. Tighten up.
  2. You are overplaying decent but not invincible hands. It seems like you’re seeing you have a strong hand and betting it big without considering what your opponent can have that will call your bet. When you’re betting, you need to have an answer for the question “which worse hands can my opponent have that will call, and which better ones will fold?” For example, in the last hand you listed where your opponent had quads, the board contained 4 to a straight, 3 to a flush and a pair. There are a ton of potential holdings (straights, flushes, full houses and yes quads) that beat you. When you jam the river which of those do you think are folding? Do you really think you’re getting calls from a single pair hand on that board?

AJs on the button; naturally this is the hand where the entire table loses confidence and decides to fold, I bet the blinds off with a 4BB raise, win 60 chips.


The effect of this hand is to reinforce that when I wait for some good cards to come, if I don’t get beat, either missing the board or someone making a better hand, then I’m going to just win a small pot.

  1. Possibly. I do occasionally play weaker hands. When I tighten up, I end up folding hands that I watch “win” the pot I didn’t play for, and I’ll wait on QQ to come, and when it comes, I raise, and everyone knows I’m raising on a big pair and gets out of my way, making it unprofitable to play that one hand an hour and hope at least one fool will call to make it worthwhile. So sometimes I will play a weaker hand, limping in for a chance to see the flop miss me before I dump it. In that hand, I’m in late position, I flop trip 8s, weak kick. Am I supposed to NOT bet here? When I get called, of course I’m putting my opponent on a better 8. It’s not that I made a bad play (I did); it’s that hey look of course I’m getting beat this week, because that’s what happens even when I hit trips.
  2. This has merit. I need to watch the board more closely, and think about the hands that can beat me. But the main point of “I can always rely on my made hands to lose” still applies. Did I fill any draws that won today? Maybe? I think one or two? Were they for big pots? I don’t remember; don’t think so. The big pots lose, the small ones win. What’s that tell me? Good players call when they are going to win, fold when they’re going to lose. Elementary.

So how do I win with a straight? Fold whenever the board pairs, or there are three of a suit? Even though, so many of the times, my opponent won’t have a flush or a full house, and might only be on a busted draw, two pair, or three of a kind? Should I just assume the only safe straight I can make is with the two top cards? I guess so.

Right, this is unfortunately just holdem for you. Any 2 cards can win, but some are much more likely to do so. If it helps, remember that if you’re going to be upset if you “would have” made a big hand, you also have to remember to celebrate every time you “would have” made nothing at all or “would have” made a second best hand that would’ve cost you your stack.

Look back at the hand one more time. On the turn, the board is 8832 rainbow. Villain bets 80 into 300. This is decision point 1. You raise it up to 540, 1.5x pot. I agree with raising, but not with the amount. What worse hands could he have here that call this bet? Maybe 87 or 86. He could potentially have a weirdly played overpair. But if he can have those, he also could easily have 98, T8, J8, A8, not to mention 33.

Decision point 2. Instead of calling your overbet raise, he snap-jams. When he does this, what does he have that you beat?

In the hand you posted, you were in position on the river so you could simply check back and show down your hand (instead of overbet jamming). If your opponent will fold all their worse hands and call all their better ones then there is no reason to bet.

In general when there are full house or flush possibilities and you have a straight, you need to slow down a bit and not treat your hand like the nuts. It depends on the situation, but checking can be good, or betting a small amount. Sometimes if there is a lot of action then yes you will have to fold.

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Of late, I am losing/notice losing big with pocket pairs, good kickers, draws and one connects.

Variance is all you’re experiencing, and variance is a ■■■■■. The more fish, donkey bad players you have in your game the more profitable it will be but the variance goes up as well. The losses may be big sometimes, put the wins will be so much bigger. Not sure what the fields are you’re playing in but the stats you gave up are pretty good really. If you’re ITM 60% that’s exactly where you want to be in a FR SnG, those 10 3rds out of this 30 may be 10 1st in the next 30. 33% profit is really pretty damn good and fwiw, I think your expectations are what’s out of whack IMHO. You’re crushing, keep doing that.

EDIT: I jumped the gun with this post… should’ve put more thought into this before I posted it.


Also variance.

okay, I assume you want constructive criticism that will help you improve. First this limp from MP2 with A6o is atrocious. This is 100% a fold 100% of the time, no questions asked. Second you’re betting the flop into multiple players in a limp pot with A high and I don’t know if you have any idea what you want this bet accomplish. We have to have plans when we act and good sound reasons for why we do what we do. You have A high with a smidge of showdown value, not enough to be protecting though. The river shove I don’t know what is supposed to call this bet that doesn’t have us in jail. You have the one card str8 on a river that brought two better str8’s in, a flush comes in with clubs and the flop was a paired board. You can’t expect any one to call here with less than a 6 with which you would be chopping.

Honestly I think that you’re in some kind of mental funk or something or you just have more to learn about the game than you think you do. I have seen now, many of your hands and there are some coolers (you are on the right side of some as well, that’s balance) but you’ve posted some pretty bad ones that have to do with your play not variance. Poker doesn’t owe you anything, your opponents do not owe you anything, the dealer, Replay nor the cards owe you anything. Every single player at the table has just as much right to the pot, the first place finish in the money as you do. You have to play better than your opponents and win in the long run. You seem to have entitlement issues like you’re supposed to win every hand you get involved in. Just my observations having gone through a whole ton of your post of which you have many. Cheers bud, hope you run well. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the advice.

It’s true, sometimes I throw away my chips. After so many bad beats, I start looking forward to, and enjoying, seeing the setup: “Here’s AA, you’re gonna win a lot of chips! Here’s the flop, it’s suited against you! You wanna lay down those Aces, right? Well, seeing as how I’ve lost my last 6 hands, I kinda want to lose this one too. It’s more funny that way.” That sort of thing. I post a lot of those in the “ridiculous hands” thread. And they are NOT examples of me trying to win hands, they’re examples of how the RNG starves me for cards for 30 orbits, then the moment I get something playable and raise big with it, the board flips me a middle finger.

I’m sure there’s a ton of holes in my game, but when the game is completely F***ing with my head with these stupid outcomes, I get to where I’m second-guessing myself to death. I’ll underplay strong hands to hopefully suck someone in to play a big pot with me, and they’ll suck out. I’ll overplay strong hands so no one will come in, and win jack squat. I’ll get KK late and watch the entire table fold after they’d been super active for the past several orbits with lots of limping and lots of raising. It’s like the game is mocking me.

Like, right now in Foals league, I’m 14th/19 remaining of the 32-player field, and have been ice cold for about a half hour, maybe 40 minutes. My best hands since turning cold have been losers, 88, 77. I started out this tournament red hot, winning the first 5-6 hands or so, with great cards, for tiny piddly pots that averaged 100 chips/ea, because blinds were small, no one was playing, half the table wasn’t seated yet, and no one was willing to call even a small raise. The moment someone got into a serious pot, they won and were ahead of me from that point on, and I’ve been ice cold ever since. Now I’m sitting at 5000 chips, the leaderboard is topping out at 23k, we’re at the 1-hr break, blinds are 300/600, and I’m going to have to shove any hand I’m going to play because the big stacks at the table will push me off anything else anyway. So after the break, I’m going to get my first playable hand in forever, eventually, and when I do I’ll shove it, and either the table will fold, and I’ll collect about 1000 chips, or I’ll get called and (invariably, 100%) miss the board and get eliminated, where if I had just bled to death slowly, maybe I’d have made the final table.