There's no question that aggressive poker
is winning poker. If the world's top players
have only one thing in common, it's that
they take control of the hands they play
with bets and raises. Usually, among the
world's poker elite, calling is the least
For this tip, however, I thought I'd talk
about a couple of instances when playing
passively - just checking and calling bets -
may be the preferred option.
Top Pair, Favorable Board
Say I'm in the early stages of a
tournament and I have an ample stack. I find
Ace-Jack in middle position and raise to
three times the big blind. A player in late
position, who I know to be solid but fairly
aggressive, calls my raise, and everyone
else folds. The flop comes As-4d-8h. I've
got top-pair, with a decent kicker.
First, I want to think about the hands my
opponent might hold. It's likely he called
my raise with an Ace or a pocket pair, maybe
in the range of 66-99. He may have also
called with two high cards like KQ, KJ or QJ.
In this situation, I'm likely very far
ahead or hopelessly behind if my opponent
hit a set or has a bigger Ace. If he's got
an Ace with a worse kicker, he's drawing to
only three outs. If he's got a pocket pair
like 77, he has only two outs. With just two
face cards, he's almost drawing dead. And on
this board (As-4d-8h), I don't need to be
especially worried about straight or flush
draws. Because of this, I don't mind giving
my opponent a free card.
If I bet my top pair and my opponent
holds a pocket pair, he's likely to fold,
and I'll have failed to get any additional
value out of my hand. If I check, however, I
give this player the chance to bluff or bet
his lesser Ace, and I can then call.
Ideally, I want to get one decent-sized
bet in over the course of this hand and by
checking, I prevent my opponent from giving
me more action than my hand can handle.
Say the turn is 3c. The situation hasn't
changed much. I'm still either way ahead or
very far behind. I can check again, and
allow my opponent to bluff.
On most river cards, if we have checked
the hand down, I will generally bet. If
we've put one bet in, I'll probably
check-call, and if we've put in two, I'll
likely check and fold. Playing the hand in
this manner provides three advantages. It
allows me to get good value out of a strong
hand, and it also keeps me from losing more
than I need to against a hand that has mine
beat without too much risk. Additionally,
playing this way gives my opponent the
opportunity to bluff, which is the only way
to get any money out of him if he holds a
hand like QJ.
Decent Hand, Scary Board
Here's another early tournament situation
where my opponents and I have relatively
deep stacks. Say I'm holding pocket 8s in
middle position and a player has raised
pre-flop from early position. I call the
raise and a player in late position calls as
well. The three of us see a flop of
There's a decent chance that my 8s are
good, but I want to proceed cautiously, as
either of the other players in the hand
could hold a Jack.
Say that all three of us check this flop.
I really haven't learned too much, because
someone could be slow playing trip Jacks.
The turn comes 6h. This doesn't look like
it would have helped anyone's hand, but the
pre-flop raiser bets from early position.
This is a spot where I'd likely just call.
There are a couple of advantages to just
calling in this situation. First, it doesn't
over-commit me to the pot. If the player in
late position raises, I can muck having lost
a minimum number of chips. Secondly, the
call is going to look very scary to my
opponents. They might be thinking that I'm
the one slow playing trip Jacks. So, even if
the early position player holds a higher
pocket pair, he's likely to check on the
river no matter what card hits. At that
point, I can show down my 8s and see if they
are in fact the best hand.
The problem with this play relative to
the last one is that I am probably giving my
opponent six outs to catch up and beat my
hand if he has two over-cards, as opposed to
two or three outs in the previous example.
I don't play passively often, but under
the right circumstances, just calling bets
can provide good value while minimizing
For another perspective on passive play,
be sure to read the lesson entitled In
Defense of the Call by Gavin Smith.