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Paying Off ‘The Senator’

The value of aggression

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Jan 08, 2010


The world’s best poker players have an aggressive gear in their game, and they utilize it only when the situation is right. Their aggression enables them to play many more hands correctly, giving them greater money volume bet per hour and a greater expectation per hour than their more passive opponents. Back in the old days, aggressive players were few and far between. But in the modern era, aggression is the norm. Indeed, many players have only one speed in their game — fast. And while, as a general principle, it is probably better to be too aggressive than too passive, the real trick is knowing when to speed up your game and when to slow it down.

What really enables good, aggressive players to play more hands is that they read their situations and opponents’ hands well, and their aggressive plays are made in positive-expectation situations. Players who read hands badly find that many of their aggressive plays put them in large-pot situations with inferior holdings against opponents who are reading their hands better than they are reading their opponents’ hands. Part of the value of aggression is putting your opponents to difficult decisions, so that they are likely to make errors. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are the one facing the tough decision.

I was in the big blind in a seven-handed $30-$60 limit hold’em game. The field folded to a very aggressive local pro — whom I call “The Senator” — who, not surprisingly, raised from the button. Another local pro in the small blind, who routinely three-bets from that spot against a late-position raiser, flat-called, to my surprise.

I thought about what the small blind’s flat-call might mean. Typically, the value of the three-bet play in that spot is to blow out the big blind and take the lead against an opponent who is likely to be on a steal. I suspected that the small blind held a big mitt, and he wanted me in the pot to give him action. Caution lights flashed before my eyes as I looked down at the QHeart Suit 10Club Suit, and I called the raise, apprehensively.

The flop came QSpade Suit JHeart Suit 10Spade Suit, giving me top and bottom pair. I was pretty confident that my hand was the best, since The Senator was highly aggressive and his button raise could have been made with a wide range of hands, of which only a small percentage would beat my holding. The small blind checked, and I checked behind him with the intent of check-raising. The Senator didn’t disappoint me, as he fired a wager forward. The small blind called, and I check-raised. They both called.

The worst card in the deck came on the turn — the JSpade Suit! It counterfeited my two pair, completed the flush, and made trips. That said, because my opponents were aggressive and would have played a flush draw aggressively, I didn’t read either one of them as having a flush. There was still a good chance that I had the best hand, and with the texture of the board, I didn’t want to give any of their draws a free card, and they might fold if I bet. So, I bet, and they both called.

The river was a blank, the 4Heart Suit. I didn’t think I would get called by a 10, and I split with any queen. If I bet, I would get called by only an equal or better hand, so there was no value in making a bet! But if The Senator bluffed, I would benefit from a call. I checked, The Senator bet, the small blind folded, and I called. The Senator showed me the QClub Suit JClub Suit, having flopped top two pair and turned a full house. I tossed my porker into the muck.

I was surprised at The Senator’s holding, as I had not read him for having that hand. He played it in a very sneaky manner. Inasmuch as I play a lot with him, I thought about his thought process in an effort to get a line on his thinking in a future hand. On the turn, I really liked the manner in which he trapped us for extra value/bets. Those were dead bets that he earned, and the value of dead bets is 100 percent, something that is obvious but overlooked by many players.

That said, I think The Senator made a mental error on the flop by not three-betting me. His hand was a big favorite over my range, and a large portion of the third player’s hand range would contain a straight draw — which might not want to get trapped in the middle of two raisers, and fold. And a fold is what The Senator would want the small blind to do in that situation on the flop, as the small blind would be getting the correct price to draw to a straight. If The Senator held A-K, the situation would be different, as The Senator would relish the small blind calling with a king or 9. Also, because The Senator is aggressive and he’s playing against two opponents who read well and know that he’s aggressive, his reraise would not give away much in the way of information, as his three-betting range is also very wide.

This hand speaks to how playing aggressively can benefit you, and also how to use the image of aggression correctly to increase the value of your hands. Part of the advantage of aggression is that you widen your range, and opponents cannot read you as effectively. That enables you to play your strong hands faster, acquire weaker calls, and fold opponents. Of course, to use aggression effectively, you need to recognize when to use it, and what you are trying to accomplish.

And that means that you must conceptually understand the game of poker and become a good reader of hands in order to become a great player. Spade Suit

Longtime poker pro and author Roy Cooke’s Card Player column has appeared since 1992. A successful Las Vegas real estate broker since 1990, his website is Should you wish to inquire regarding real-estate matters — including purchase, sale, or mortgage — his phone number is (702) 396-6575. Roy’s longtime collaborator John Bond’s website is Find John and Roy on Facebook.