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Why Taking the Advice to Play More Aggressively Can Be Dangerous

Ben Yu


  • Ben Yu discusses an interesting WPT final table hand and the advice to "play more aggressively."

  • Poker pro Ben Yu addresses the challenge to "get inside the heads of your opponents."

When it comes to poker strategy — be it for tournaments or cash games — we often hear the generic advice to "play more aggressively."

Betting and raising often puts pressure on your opponents and puts them in uncomfortable spots, whereas checking and calling usually doesn't. That's one reason why an aggressive style is often recommended over a passive one. There's also the fact that by betting you give yourself two ways to win a pot — either at a showdown with the best hand, or by forcing an opponent to fold — whereas just calling or checking down to the end requires you to have the best hand to win.

Poker pro Ben Yu offered some interesting insight about this advice to play more aggressively in a conversation with our Sarah Herring near the end of the summer at the 2016 World Series of Poker.

It was a successful WSOP for Yu as he picked up 11 cashes, including a third-place finish in the $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em Top Up Turbo event, bringing his career tournament earnings over $1.7 million.

A player of all variants, Yu earned a bracelet in 2015 in the $10,000 Limit Hold'em Championship. His largest career cash, however, came last December when he final-tabled the World Poker Tour Five Diamond World Poker Classic, finishing third in a 639-entry field for a $607,433.

It was a hand from early on that WPT Five Diamond final table that prompted Yu's thoughts about the advice to play more aggressively.

As he explains below, during the first orbit of the final table Yu had opened with {A-}{10-}-offsuit and it folded around to Bill Jennings in the big blind. Jennings, a recreational player with whom Yu had played the previous couple of days, had earlier demonstrated a relatively tight style, and so when he jammed all in from the BB, Yu thought for a while before letting his hand go.

Yu figured Jennings to have been very strong to reraise-push his stack of 15-16 big blinds, and says he might have even folded better hands like {A-}{Q-}, {A-}{J-}, or {10-}{10-}. As it happened, Jennings had worse — queen-jack suited* — which coupled with some cheering for Jennings from poker pro Matt Stout on the rail caused Yu to think about whether Jennings might have been coached to approach the final table more aggressively than he had been playing before.

From there comes some interesting thought from Yu about that advice to "play more aggressively." If Jennings had been encouraged to be more aggressive at that final table, would such advice entail?

Perhaps (thinks Yu) the advice would include such suggestions as defending your big blind more often, playing more hands generally speaking, and/or not sticking with the "snug" game that had gotten Jennings to the final table (where the stacks were becoming increasingly shallow). Then again, such advice can be dangerous, too, as Yu explored in a post on his blog in which he discussed the hand further.

Hear what Yu had to say about the specific test he faced playing against Jennings at the WPT Five Diamond final table, as well as the more general challenge always to try to "get inside the heads of your opponents":

*Yu says QJ-suited in the video, though notes Jennings had KQ-suited in his blog post. In either case, Yu would have been similarly ahead had he called the reraise-shove from Jennings.

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