Passive vs. Aggresive Play in Tourney Play

While there are certainly infinite ways to play a tournament,
there are two basic approaches that tend to apply to the
majority of players. If you take an unbiased look at your play,
you should be able to aptly determine whether you would be
considered a passive or an aggressive player. For example, do
you like to flat call raises with AK, or will you make every
attempt to get it all in pre-flop? There’s nothing that’s
inherently wrong with either style of play, but it’s instead a
matter of combining the two strategies to form one optimal,
winning combination.

The stages of a tournament will always be the biggest factor
in how you should be playing. It makes little sense to be wildly
aggressive just as a tournament begins, just as it makes no
sense to be passive when there’s a significant number of blinds
up for grabs. Shifting gears is perhaps the single biggest thing
that a poker player can do in a tournament. Get caught speeding
in a slow zone and you’ll be busted. Slow down in the fast
lane and you’ll get burned.

Passive Play

Passive play is most ideal when you are in a position to
accumulate a lot of chips without putting yourself in a lot of
danger. As a general rule of thumb, with
turbos and other similar structures being an exception, the
early stages of a tournament will call for the most passive
play. At this point in an event, you should be working with a
large number of big blinds. You’ll also be able to see a
number of flops and will be afforded with the opportunity to
outplay your opponents in post-flop situations. As a tournament
progresses, however, these chances to win based on skillful
plays will be greatly diminished.

It’s important to define exactly what passive play is before
you attempt to implement it into your game. To some people,
passive play is simply playing a hand in a more laid back way
than would normally be advisable. While this is technically
correct, it does not always translate into winning passive play.
You need to be able to pick your spots exceptionally well if you
want to be able to adapt to the passive game plan.

Passive tournament play doesn’t mean that you should call
off every bet. There’s a big difference between seeing lots of
flops with playable hands and seeing lots of flops with any
hands. A lot of tournament players feel the need to get involved
in just about every pot. They will limp in, call raises, check
call bets, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, this is a
perfect illustration of the type of passive tournament play that
will be punished. While you aren’t going to typically lose your
entire stack in one shot with this type of play, you’ll likely
be bleeding off chips at a continuous pace. This is passive
tournament play, but it’s bad passive play.

Winning passive tournament strategy calls for players to get
involved in pots cheaply, but to also put themselves in
positions where their opponents are prone to paying them off. In
other words, look for hands that can allow you to
play in position with an aggressive opponent betting into
you. If you have hands that have lots of value when they hit the
flop, but are useless without improving, you are going to be in
a situation where you effectively apply passive play.

Think about a hand like 8s/9s. If someone raises, a re-raise might
take down the pot. In later stages of tournament play this may
very well be advisable. At most other points, however, calling
off a raise is a much better idea. Your losing nothing if you
brick, you make the most if you hit, and your opponent has
motivation to take the initiative in the hand. Use passive play
as a combatant against overly aggressive players.

Aggressive Play

Just as passive play works wonders against aggressive
players, so too does aggressive play work well against passive
players. There’s no easier way to understand how to instill an
aggressive style of tournament play than to consider what would
most effectively beat a passive player. This isn’t to say that
you should relentlessly be attacking a particular player simply
because they are passive, however. It will almost always be the
case that your style of play is a product of circumstance. Using
aggressive play, you should be looking for spots where you can
push opponents around without much fear of negative reactions.

Think about the mid and later stages of tournaments. When you
are in late position with a small pocket pair, you aren’t going
to have much leverage when you flat call. Against a passive
player, calling off may very well convince them that you are
weak (and rightfully so). If you decide to instead raise,
however, you have now changed everything. You won’t only
change that passive player’s perception of your strategy, but
you’ll also be able to better take down post-flop pots with
further aggression. Aggressive tournament play doesn’t work if
you are going to be aggressive one street, passive the next, and
aggressive on the river.

The most important thing to remember with an aggressive
tournament strategy is that reckless play isn’t the same thing
as aggressive play. There are almost never ending amounts of
tournament players who see some wild play on TV and therefore
think that 4-bet shoving K4 off suit is the right play. Poker isn’t nearly as much of an abstract game as it might seem. Players
who are new to or are unfamiliar with the idea of playing
aggressively will often times become wild and reckless. Before
you start trying to take down every pot, you need to slow down
and think carefully. While passive play can only hurt you so
much at a time, there are a few stacks that aggressive play isn’t capable of imploding.

Passive and aggressive tournament play aren’t so much
specific skills as they are learned mind sets. You need to know
which hand is going to call for what type of play given the
specific circumstances. There’s no blind level where your play
should change, there’s no hand that should later your style of
play. Poker tournaments call for constant adaptations, and the
shift between passive and aggressive play is just one of the
ways that you can capitalize on your opponents’ weaknesses.