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Early Aggression in Poker Tournaments

January 14, 2009

Deciding how active you want to be at the beginning of a tournament depends heavily on what type of tournament youíre playing in.

If itís a standard Sit & Go, I always recommend playing tight and conserving chips early. If itís a Multi-Table Tournament or a Shootout Tournament then you should consider a more active style in the early phase.

Part of the goal in doing this is to accumulate chips. But another part of the goal is to establish an image that will help get you chips later.

It can be a rewarding way to play, but you need to understand that thereís also a downside to the image this type of play will create

When you put constant pressure on other players, itís eventually going to make them fight back. You donít have to raise large amounts and you donít have to get involved in huge pots, but by raising with a lot of hands, your opponents are going to play back at you with a wider and wider range of hands.

Theyíre going to start calling and three-betting with more marginal hands, and thatís going to open them up and make them susceptible to giving you their chips more often.

If youíre looking to accumulate chips, you donít want your table locked down in super-tight mode. You donít want to have to grind out a few chips every orbit Ė you want to get into your opponentsí heads and provoke them into spewing chips.

Youíll find that once one player at the table does it, it tends to have a domino effect and lead other people to start making mistakes.

The downside, however, is that your bluffs wonít work very often, and thatís something you have to be aware of. For example, letís say Iíve been playing a lot of pots and developed a loose image in a six-handed table, and Iím dealt A-Q suited under the gun. Thatís a good hand at a full table, and itís even better six-handed.

So I make a pot-sized raise, and the big blind calls. The flop is J-10-6, which isnít exactly a hit for me, but it isnít a total miss; I have a straight draw and two over cards.

Iím going to make a normal continuation bet and I figure my opponent canít call me without a decent hand. In this case, I bet, he calls and the turn is a three, so I decide to give it one more shot and raise my bet a little bit because I want him to fold. Instead, he calls.

A four now falls on the river. I didnít hit anything and heís clearly shown that heís ready to call anything; I canít expect to bet him off the hand. In my mind, Iím putting him on a hand possibly as weak as 10-2, but I donít think I can get him to lay that down, so I check, give up the pot and he wins with 6-7.

Of course Iím going to be a little frustrated to learn that he called twice with third pair. He had to have put me on A-K or A-Q or thought I was raising under the gun with rags and, the truth is, people will begin to think that way because Iíve raised a lot of pots. Because of this, people are going to start calling me extremely light.

In the short-term, that can be a bad thing; but in the long-term, it should be good. If the same hand happens later but I have A-J or Aces or Kings, or even some trash hand that connects, Iím going to get paid off.

This is why the positives of playing an active style early ultimately outweigh the negatives. Even if you lose a pot because your image keeps people hanging around, it can set you up to win an even bigger pot later on.

- Aaron Bartley | Full Tilt Poker

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