Conservative vs. Aggressive

by Greg Cavouras

Hundreds of players enter, but only one can win! This is how big tournaments work, no matter which game, structure or stakes you choose to play, so I would like to briefly discuss two basic approaches to Poker Tournaments.

The first approach I present is the more conservative of the two; itís essentially based on the premise of survival. Lots of players will play very tight at the onset of the tournament, with the objective being to survive and hopefully catch some cards once the masses have been eliminated. This strategy depends on playing a very tight game at the outset, and requires restraint, because it will come apart at the seams if a player starts calling marginal hands. This is an effective strategy if you want to ensure you donít go out early, but certainly does have its drawbacks. If you donít get involved in the action early on, you face the very real possibility of advancing, but being incredibly shortstacked once you compete with opponents who have been playing more aggressively. To effectively implement this approach, you must be very confident in your play when shortstacked, because itís almost inevitable at a final table you will have a relatively low chip count.

The other, more aggressive strategy is to enter the tournament with an attack mentality. This involves playing more hands than average, and pushing hard for the pot. The objective here is long term success, because if you can survive the first few rounds of play and accumulate some chips, you will be in an advantageous position is later rounds when players working on the passive strategy advance with a low chip count. The real downside of this approach is that there is the very real risk of being knocked out early, especially when playing aggressively against a full table. Without a premium hand, there is always the possibility of one or more players having your hand dominated, which can translate to an early exit. The most difficult time to play the aggression strategy is the first few hands of the tournament, as these can make or break the rest of the game for an aggressive player.

The operative concept here is playing to your strength; clearly these are two quite different approaches to the same game, and as a player you need to identify your strengths. If you are conservative, and play well shortstacked, perhaps survival will prove to be the best tactic. If you donít want to go up against strong players with a relatively small chip count, and feel good about your pure instincts, aggression may do you well.

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