How to Become a More Aggressive Tournament Poker Player

Poker favors aggressive players. When you’re aggressive you get more value for your hands, build larger pots, win more hands or games and put your opponents in more awkward situations.

The point? If you want to consistently cash, let alone win more tournaments, you need to become an aggressive player.

That can be easier said than done, though. Especially if you’re a passive player by nature. I should know. I’m writing this article based on my own experiences. And I can tell you that trying to pick up the aggression in spots like shoving any two cards blind versus blind, abusing the bubble or reshoving on someone’s open is very awkward –even scary- to do. What if your opponents calls? What if they re-raise me? That’s what you’re thinking about before you make the play.

Surprisingly, I got more folds and picked up more pots than I thought I would. As a result I built stacks and went deeper in tournaments more often. Ultimately, becoming more aggressive, and it working, increased my confidence. I became a better poker player. A more profitable, tournament, poker player.

So let me ask you – are you a passive tournament player? Would you like to become more aggressive? Cash more often? Maybe win once in a while?

Then I suggest following my handful of tips below. I have some ideas that can help change you from a mouse, into a lion, at the poker tables.

5 Ways to Become More Aggressive in Tournaments

1. Reshove Often (Look for Dead Money Opportunities)

Any situation where there is dead money (any money in the pot) that makes up a large portion of your stack, say 10-20 percent or more, is a good spot to consider getting aggressive.

One such situation is whenever antes come into play. When you factor in antes and blinds, there is something like 700 or 800 chips in the pot. Then when you add in a player’s open, there’s probably something like 1200-1400 chips in the pot. This many chips would make a positive difference to anyone’s stack of 14,000 chips or less.

So when you come across a situation like this, with a stack that’s 5x the pot or less, I recommend shoving all in. The reason why it works is because you only need to win so many times for the play to break even, let alone profit, which if you choose your spots carefully will be the case most of the time. You want to reshove against players that open (relatively) often, you have fold equity against and a stack they can still maneuver with, even if they fold.

Another spot to look for is when you have a family pot of limpers. The idea is the same here; you don’t need to win very often for the play to be mathematically correct, and since so many players limped, no one is likely to have that strong of hand.

A couple of things to keep in mind, though. One, make sure you have fold equity. And two, I prefer to shove with hands that aren’t likely to be dominated when/if called, or have other kinds of equity in terms of flush/straight value.

2. 3-Bet More Preflop

Being passive your natural reaction to a raise is to call if you have a so-so hand, and to raise only with hands that are the nuts (or close to it). But this is leaving money on the table, simply because it makes your actions transparent (you re-raise good hands, call with mediocre hands) and you’re not re-stealing to pick up quick and easy pots.

So what I recommend doing on occasion, is taking a hand like KJo or 98s and 3-betting a player’s open. You’ll find that you get folds more often than not, especially if you’ve never done it before and/or you’re viewed as a tighter player at your table.

To ensure that you’re successful more often than not, I would target players that are good enough to fold, and open often enough that they don’t only show up with QQ, KK or AA. I would also 3-bet in position, so that you can see what your opponent does post flop. If he doesn’t do anything at all, you’ll have initiative and can continuation bet, picking up a sizeable pot.

Definitely be sure to include this into your playbook. Especially if you’re tight. Picking up the aggression here will help to get paid off on your stronger hands later on.

3. Don’t Tense Up On The Bubble

A mistake that many (passive) players make in a tournament or sng is tense up on the bubble. They’re afraid to bust out of the tournament when they’re so close to the money, screwing up hours of work.

However, in being so tight and folding every orbit, you’re actually losing a lot of chips / big blinds. This puts you at a great disadvantage once the bubble bursts.

What I recommend doing is finding stacks that you have covered, or can do a sizeable amount of damage to, and start attacking them. If they’re in the blinds, start stealing them. If they open, and you have position, start 3-betting them. Put these players in an awkward spot, where they’re fearful for their tournament life. Especially if they’re just a random I-play-poker-for-fun type of player.

You’ll find that, more often than not, you actually build your stack on the bubble and when it bursts, you’re in a good position to not only min-cash, but finish strong for a good payout. Maybe even make the final table. And you managed to do this during one of the most tense levels of a tournament.

4. Avoid Passive Plays

Obvious. But I thought it was worth mentioning. If you want to become a more aggressive player, you need to eliminate many of the passive plays you make. So instead of checking, calling or folding, you should be betting, raising and 3-betting. Don’t even try to trap players (with the rare exception of LAGs and dry flops). Spend more of your time betting and you’ll find that building your stack isn’t terribly difficult to do.

5. Steal the Blinds Frequently

My last tip – steal the blinds (more often). This is really one of the easiest ways to build your stack. Your opponents, if smart, will fold more often than not. It’s not just because they’re likely to have a garbage hand. It’s because you’ll have position. So take advantage of your position and raise the blinds. Even with skeptical hands. Because even if one or both of the blinds call, you can still continuation bet the flop. And if your opponents continue to bet and raise, then you can always dump it and try again the next orbit.

And one other thing; don’t just steal the blinds from the button. That becomes obvious, and puts you in a position to be played back at more often than we want, even if we do have position. Instead, try to steal the blinds from the cutoff and hijack, too. This looks more like a strong hand than a steal. Just make sure the cutoff and button is capable of folding before doing so.

Remember: There’s a Difference Between Aggressive and Loose, Reckless or Stupid

With all of this talk about increasing the aggression, I do want to stress that it’s important to be selective about when you increase the aggression. You don’t want to force the action and put yourself in an awkward spot. This costs you more chips than it will ever make you.

You want to be selective. Choose the right players. Choose the right spots or scenarios. Choose the right times, like when antes come into play or when you’re on the money bubble. Just make sure you’re in position and that you have a plan for what you’ll do if your aggressive attempt backfires. That way you can be sure your aggression, in the long run, is always productive and well-rewarded. Most of the time, at least.