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The The Right Hand Ranges Make Aggressive Play Profitable

by Rep Porter |  Published: Apr 13, 2016


In my last column, I compared passive and aggressive players. I firmly believe that playing poker aggressively is the correct path to long term success at both limit and no-limit hold’em. I also pointed out the biggest pitfall aggressive players face is hand selection. As a newer player realizes they can win lots of pots simply by betting, they often try to win more and more pots. This is natural. Everyone likes to win. A lot of newer players who have found the aggressive approach think, Why not play more hands and just win by betting?

This is where the pitfall comes in. When you play too many hands, the average value of your hand quickly deteriorates. When you start showing up at showdown with weaker hands, your more astute opponents notice. When you start having to say “nice call, you win” too often, even your weaker opponents notice.

So what happens next? They all start calling or raising you more often. If you’re getting three-bet preflop, you play a lot of hands heads-up from out of position. If you are raised on the flop or turn, it isn’t really the end of the world, you can fold. Mind you, it isn’t good. The worst thing is when they just call. Then you bet again. Then they call again. Then you bet the river and lose the maximum. The tar baby approach has destroyed you. You are just spewing chips.

So how does an aggressive player win at poker? They win because they play the right amount of hands for the situation. In early position, this is a very conservative amount of hands. Wouldn’t it be nice to always have a pair or, at a minimum, two overcards on the flop? Well, if your early position range is something like pocket eights or better, A-K, A-Q, K-Q, and a few other suited hands, you almost always will. Now when you bet the flop, your opponents will have a tougher time just calling you down profitably. They will run into the overpairs more often. They will run into the two overcards or a draw more often. Even when you have missed, you still have real chances to win the pot. You will still have showdown value. When you have a tighter range, you can use aggression to win the pots when you have all missed, and still have adequate value on average to play on in hands. This combination is what makes aggressive play profitable.

As you move to middle position, you can add hands into your range. There are a couple differences here that allow you to play more hands. You have fewer opponents who may have a really strong hand and reraise you. This means you will get to play more hands with post-flop position against the blinds. These are profitable situations. You have position, the tempo, and a stronger hand on average. The blinds should be defending a wider range on average than you are opening in middle position.

This ties into the other big reason you can play more hands: you have a better chance of winning the pot preflop. In a no-limit tournament, there is a lot of reward for winning preflop. The antes are significant. In cash games, the reward isn’t as big, but winning is winning. These extra perks mean you can have weaker average hand strength post-flop and still be profitable. You will still have to play some pots after you are three-bet. These are spots to play conservatively post-flop. You will still have to use some judgement in some situations where you have some of your weaker hands. Aggressive play doesn’t require betting on every street. Understanding your opponents will allow you to make better choices for betting the later streets.

Overall, if you limit the amount of hands you add into your range, your opponents will still have a tough time gauging what your hand strength is. Combining this with winning preflop and getting to play a higher percentage of your pots against the blinds still makes aggressive play optimal.

Then when you get to late position—the cutoff and the button, you can add a lot of hands into your range and still be profitable. The two big factors are the same. Fewer opponents mean fewer good hands, so you win the pot preflop a lot more often. When you do play a hand, it is almost always against one of the blinds. You get position. You should still have a stronger hand on average than the big blind, and if not, you are winning at a much higher rate preflop.

The key to becoming a more profitable aggressive player is to maintain the right hand range for the position you are in. You need to make sure that you are balancing preflop profitability with post-flop strength. ♠

Rep Porter is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner and is the lead instructor at, whose mission is to help poker players achieve better results through better decisions and that is done by teaching poker in a way that makes learning easy and enjoyable with high quality courses taught by professional players.

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