Aggressive vs Assertive ; Skill Sways Luck

Aggressive vs. assertive in poker

by George Epstein
A clenched fist would fall into the aggressive categoryIn poker, it is generally accepted that aggressive play is the opposite of passive play. The passive player rarely raises; whereas, the “aggressive” player often raises and even re-raises when he feels it appropriate.

The player may be raising to build the size of the pot or to encourage opponents to fold their hands – to protect his vulnerable hand or perhaps in a bluff attempt. He may be raising to gain position by forcing out opponents behind him. There are many good reasons for raising; but, is this really being aggressive? Perhaps, it’s actually being assertive.

I recently attended a very interesting group discussion on assertiveness and aggressiveness at the VA in West Los Angeles. Dr. Stacy Eisenberg, a psychology postdoctoral fellow at the VA, led the discussion. She noted that aggressive behavior is likely to lead to anger, which often results in stress that can harm the individual mentally and health-wise.

It can also lead to inappropriate behavior at the poker table. We have all seen a player violently throw his cards at the dealer when his great starting-hand failed to materialize. That got me thinking about the applicability to the game of poker.

In poker, when we speak of playing aggressively, perhaps we should be calling it assertiveness. Assertive people have the skills to state their opinions – verbally or by actions – to others in a respectful manner, while those who are aggressive attack others and force their opinions on them, according to the article “Assertive Versus Unassertive and Aggressive Behavior,” published by the Mountain State Centers for Independent Living.

Assertive people usually gain the respect of those around them as they are able to stand up for themselves while considering the views of others. On the other hand, according to a recent article in “Psychology Today” on “How to Be Assertive, Not Aggressive,” aggressive people can be intimidating; others may begin to avoid them. Is this your intent at the poker table? In that regard, note that top poker players like Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu seek a more pleasant and friendly environment.
Let’s reflect on some of the characteristics of aggressiveness:

• Tending toward unprovoked offensives, attacks, invasions, or the like; militantly forward or menacing. Consider: Aggressive acts against a neighboring country.

• Vigorously energetic, especially in the use of initiative and forcefulness. Consider: An aggressive salesperson.

• Boldly assertive and forward; pushy. Consider: An aggressive automobile driver.

In the game of poker, perhaps “maniacs” who bet and raise and re-raise almost every hand would best fit into the category of aggressive. But, the player who raises when it’s to his best interests would better seem to satisfy the definition of being assertive. Let’s further explore this issue.

According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. Expressing confidence is a key element of the Esther Bluff, when you seek to convince your opponent you have a much better hand than he does. In that case, aggressiveness is more likely to challenge him to strike back at you – to get angry!

The textbook “Cognitive Behavior Therapy” (2008), states: “Assertive communication (is) the behavioral middle ground, lying between ineffective passive and aggressive responses.” Such communication “emphasizes expressing feelings forthrightly, but in a way that will not spiral into aggression.”

In contrast, “aggressive communication judges, threatens, lies, breaks confidences, stonewalls, and violates others’ boundaries.” Is this what we fully intend when we raise the bet?
Assertiveness is a learnable skill and mode of communication. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines assertiveness as: “a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof.” Isn’t that exactly what we intended when we made that raise?

I realize this topic may well be debatable. What’s your opinion – and why?
“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at


skill luck

Skilled poker players can sway luck
by Irene Edith
Not much bluffing or luck needed here.Lucy and I were discussing Good vs. Bad Luck. The problem is no one can control luck. On the other hand, skilled players can sway it in their favor.

For example, you could influence luck to avoid an almost certain loss by folding to a better hand. In today’s column, lets explore luck as it applies to bluffing.

A bluff is betting a weak hand, hoping to force out your opponent who holds a better hand. It’s a form of deception; poker is a game of deception. By far the most exciting and profitable form is semi-bluffing. You bluff bet, usually on the turn, while holding a reasonable drawing hand.

It gives you two ways of winning: Your opponent folds; or, if he calls, you make your hand on the river. The semi-bluff on the turn also helps to make your bluff on the river (if needed) all the more credible. After all, your big bet (bluff) on the turn had suggested you might have a strong hand; now, on the river, your big bet confirms your opponent’s suspicion.

Betting (bluffing) on the turn to encourage your opponents to fold, thereby leaving the pot for you, is sometimes referred to as “fold equity.” I recommend using the semi-bluff only if you have six outs or more, in case an opponent calls your bluff bet. (Actually, I much prefer eight or more outs.) If your semi-bluff is called, you still have a decent chance of connecting on the river.

You are “in glory” if you do connect on the river, and can now bet for value. But, the odds are against making your hand. Then, the only way you can win this pot is by bluffing again.

Skill is essential: A well-skilled player knows how to use the Esther Bluff tactic, reinforced by the Richard B. Reverse Tell. In so doing, you are betting (bluffing) with confidence; this sends a powerful message to your opponent, and he folds his small/medium pair, certain your hand has his beaten. Let him think he saved himself a big bet!

If he had called your bluff bet, you might be inclined to call it “bad luck.” By the same token, label it “good luck” when your opponent folds, and you win the pot with your missed flush. Very likely, had you not used the Esther Bluff tactic, he probably would have called. Credit your poker skill.

Of course, it’s much easier to pull off a bluff against a single opponent; and the higher the stakes (limits), the more likely it will have the desired effect. But, I can assure you that you can use it against several opponents at the same time. Personally, I have been successful against as many as four opponents in a low-limit game.

There is one caution that should be mentioned. I am assuming you are carefully evaluating your opponents at the table. Never try to bluff out a calling-station; once invested in a hand, he is determined to see it all the way to the end. On the other hand, tight and timid opponents are ideal targets.

Lucy and I agree that a player must bluff on occasion if he really wants to go home a winner. As indicated above, the most skilled players – those who win most often and the most money – use their skills to sway luck in their favor. Toward that end, there are some things you can do when bluffing:

• Use the Esther Bluff tactic, reinforced by the Richard B. Reverse Tell.

• Avoid trying to bluff out a calling-station. (Know your opponents.) It’s so much easier to bluff out timid and tight opponents.

• Judge when the situation is “right” for a bluff.

• Have at least 6 (better, 8) outs before attempting a semi-bluff.

• It’s easier to bluff out a single opponent. But it can be done against several opponents; think twice before attempting that feat.

Bottom line

By being skilled – having the requisite expertise to be successful at bluffing – you are effectively influencing Luck in your favor. Try it, you’ll like it.

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