Show your strength

Aggressive play may not be everyone’s natural game, but, says Tony G, taking the game to
your opponents in cash games often earns you a decisive edge – and some big pots

You need to be an aggressive player to have a chance in poker. While it’s not impossible to win playing passively, it’s much, much more difficult. However, aggression isn’t just about raising every single hand and stealing the blinds. It can be a matter of raising for value, or to get a free card. It can also mean playing strongly when you need to defend your poker life.

As you probably know, I’m an aggressive player. I enjoy raising and re-raising, but it’s not something I do blindly, and there’s always a solid reason for doing so. Often, it’s because I want to bluff my opponent off a hand, but sometimes it’s because I want to see a free card on the turn.

Say you’re playing in a $3/$6 limit game. The flop is 2-3-7 and you’ve got 4-5. The small blind bets, a player in mid-position calls and you’re next to act. So you make it $12 to go. They both call and the turn comes a 9. It’s checked to you since you’re the aggressor, and your aggression has produced the desired result – you get to see a free card. You check it. You’re not going to bet now, as there’s no chance to pick up the pot because you made it so big by raising. You’ve always got to keep that in mind. If you raise to get a free card, make sure you don’t bet at the situation – stay with your plan.

This is especially important when you have more than one opponent in the pot. Check it, and see what happens on the river because you could still win a lot of these hands. It’s possible that these guys have A-K or A-Q, so a 4-5 or an A-6 could win this pot.

The river comes a 4. Now, the guy in first position has checked, the guy in second position has bet and you’re tempted to fold. Don’t panic. If you raise, the bettor might fold. That’s an important distinction cautious players often forget. They look at their cards, and say ‘I can’t even call with these, much less raise’. But when you raise, you always give your opponent a chance to fold his hand. So let’s give the bettor in this hand a raise and see what happens. We raise with a pair of 4s. The first player is looking at his A-Q; it doesn’t look pretty. He’s folding. The bettor now may be looking at his A-K, or even a pair of 7s or 8s, and thinking twice. Your aggression may just get him to fold.


Aggression can be the key to forcing players with the best hands out of a pot when no-one has hit the flop. You’ve got to be very lucky, but when the pot has 15 to 20 big bets in it, it can still make sense to raise. I don’t mind raising if I feel I have the second-best hand. This is my rule: watch out for the guy betting who’s got no hand. Let’s see if we can raise the best hand out of the pot. I’ve done this a few times with massive pots, and people have been so angry and upset with me – it’s unbelievable. People hate me for doing that. They have the best hand and no way to call on the river because the hand is marginal and they feel they can’t win. Their instincts say fold to get out of the hand.

I also love raising for a free card. If I have a nice draw on the flop, I’ll raise a lot, and if they reraise, I’ll cap it. Don’t be afraid to cap it, because the pot’s getting so big that you’re getting really good odds now to hit your hand. And the remaining players will often check the turn to your brazen show of aggression. The key in poker is to understand where you are in the hand and understand the correct value. If there are six people in the pot and you have a nice suited, connected hand, you’re not making a mistake by capping it.

However, I’m not saying aggression is everything; it’s also finding yourself within the game and playing in a style that’s comfortable for you. Don’t panic and try to become someone you’re not. Don’t become a John Juanda, a Phil Hellmuth or even a Tony G. Just be yourself. The beauty of online poker, which is where most of the money is made these days, is you can log onto a website such as PartyPoker and use the hand histories to analyse your play and find what works for you. If you’re any good, you should be making money within a year.

But what works for me is aggression. My general recommendation is either raise or fold; calling isn’t a very good option in poker if you want to make money. Raising or folding are the two choices that you should make 80% of the time. In a cash game, the last thing you want is to get into a position where people think you’re very tight and just waiting for big hands. Make them think you can do some crazy moves sometimes. Always let people understand that you’re an aggressive player and you’re not afraid. The key is keeping people off balance – taking them out of that comfort zone.

Raising with the worst hand on the river to force the best hand out is a simple but effective way of showing you’re not to be messed with. It’s the golden rule for me, and you put so much pressure on people when you do it. Even if people call you, they do so with a really bad feeling. They’ll remember that feeling, even if they wind up taking that one pot. They hate calling with a medium hand on the river. They hate it. Do this to them all the time. Don’t be afraid to put two bets in on the river. It’s much better than calling and getting another guy to call you. Be aggressive on the end, and be aggressive at the start. That’s winning poker.

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