by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
There’s a big difference between passive and aggressive play, but it’s important to realize that very likely when playing tournaments you’ll need to come up with a mix of both styles to succeed. These two styles aren’t mutually exclusive; in fact, they tend to compliment each other. If you’re playing passively, you’re spring-loaded to make an aggressive play (possibly a bluff) with a higher chance of pulling the move off successfully. If you’re playing aggressively, you’re primed to be able to enter into pots cheaply and hit a hand. If you make a big hand, due to your previous aggressive streak, you’re more likely to get paid off on the hand now.
There’s no magic formula for what ratio of passive plays and aggressive plays are needed to make a final table or win a tournament. The main key to this entire discussion revolves around adapting to the table conditions present—as well as your table image (relative to your prior play and the hands you’ve shown down). Don’t define yourself as one type of player or another— simply approach each table with an open mind and be the chameleon; adapt to the situation.
Don’t mistake the word “aggressive” with “loose”— there are many loose players that are still passive. In fact, it’s very likely that the majority of loose players are actually passive. If you’re going to play loose, per se, you’ll need to have a healthy mix of passive and aggressive plays mixed together. Most uber-tight players are overly aggressive with their premium hands (while simply folding the vast majority of their marginal holdings). Both extremes of super tight and super loose players are easy to play against—as they’re very predictable. It’s like going into a fight and only throwing punches with one arm. Don’t let what is comfortable get in the way of what is profitable when playing tournaments.
Be sure not to over-prioritize the importance of your hand relative to all of the other factors in play at the table. We might find ourselves calling in position preflop against one player and re-raising against another player. We might also be willing to passively over-limp with a 100 big blind stack—where we would likely consider going all in if we only had 15 blinds. The deeper the average stack at the table, the more limping and over-limping we’ll see going on. On the same note, it’s much harder to “thin the crowd” earlier in tournaments when the stacks are larger. This is one reason why some players tend to open-raise a full three times the big blind early in the tournament and scale it down to a min-raise towards the end of the tournament.
When players don’t know what to do, especially mediocre players, they have a tendency to call. This adds an extra level of passivity to the tournament world we play in. My recommendation to you is as a general rule, if you don’t know what to do—re-raise or fold. Try to get out of the habit of calling as a last resort; many times it’s better to just fold your hand in these situations. Also throw into the equation the fact that players’ curiosity gets in the way of them hitting the fold button.
The next time you sit down and play a tournament, keep a simple ledger of how many times you are passive or aggressive pre-flop and post-flop. You’re able to use this passive: aggressive ratio to calibrate whether you think you could have swayed one way or the other in order to improve your chances of doing better in the next tournament.
David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and a former No. 1 ranked online tournament poker player. He is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at TheMavenTraining.com.