Poker Coverage: Poker Legislation Poker Tournaments U.S. Poker Markets Sports Betting

Poker Strategy With Greg Raymer: Patience Vs. Aggression In Tournaments

Raymer Explains What It Takes To Make A Deep Run In A Tournament


Card Player Magazine, available in print and online, covers poker strategy, poker news, online and casino poker, and poker legislation. Sign up today for a digital subscription to access more than 800 magazine issues and get 26 new issues per year!

Greg Raymer Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at

I received this email recently, and thought this was a topic that many readers would relate to.

Hi Greg,

I just finished your book. I liked it! Well written. I liked the examples provided to clarify/emphasize your point. Is it better to be patient or to be aggressive to make it deep into a tournament? Which strategy will take your further?

Thanks, John

I’m pleased you liked my book, and thank you for the kind words. Now to dig into your question. My answer, in its simplest form, is you are asking the wrong question.

You pose the question as if we are talking about a greyscale, with pure white at one end, pure black at the other, and shades of grey in-between. For your question, it presupposes that being more aggressive means being less patient, and vice versa. It is kind of like asking me if I like my Thai curry to be creamier, or spicier? You can change one without affecting the other. In poker, you can be both more patient and more aggressive, at the same time.

The real trick is figuring out when it is a good time to be more patient, in the sense of folding the current hand and waiting for something better. And figuring out when it is a good time to play the hand you are dealt, and take some risk in doing so.

Overall, whenever you choose to play a hand, it is almost always better to play the hand aggressively. One of my favorite training exercises I teach my students is the “No-Call” game. When doing this, you enter a low buy-in game, preferably a tournament, and the rule for this training exercise is you are never allowed to call. Even though there are many situations where calling is the better choice, for training purposes, you never call. The only exception is when raising is not an option.

For example, if you are heads-up and the opponent goes all-in, you are allowed to call, since raising is not an option. However, if there is a third player in the pot who also has more chips than the all-in player, raising is an option, and you must raise or fold.

This exercise teaches the student to be more aggressive, as they no longer have the passive option of calling. They can still check, fold, bet or raise. They just can’t call. Most players are surprised at the numerous times they normally would have called, now raise instead, and take down the pot immediately.

Another big factor in this exercise is that many players are much too loose, and should be playing fewer hands. This exercise forces them to fold all those mediocre and weak hands. And if not, then they must raise with those hands, and try to bluff with them!

As for patience, all the best players have it in abundance. Those who don’t are not really as good as their reputation would suggest. The only exceptions I can think of are some great short-handed players who play way too many hands in a full-ring game, but know they do so. Their solution is to only play in short-handed games. In truth, they ought to be able to become good players at a full table, but for some reason don’t have it in them to fold so often.

For the rest of us, we do need to learn to wait and only play starting hands that are going to be +EV (positive expected value) for us to play. Another factor here is that this is not a fixed and rigid range of hands. You can correctly play many more hands from late position than early position. You can play many more hands in certain situations, such as being a big stack near the bubble. Learn all you can to recognize all the +EV spots you are dealt, play most of those aggressively, and just fold all the rest. ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.