What’s your role: aggro or control?
When you’re playing poker, do you like to set the pace of the game, or do you prefer to cautiously react until it’s time to make your move? Perhaps a mix of both is best for your strategy.
In games where players play, fight, duel or otherwise try to conquer an opponent, many strategists talk about which player is the “aggro” and which is the “control“.
What do they mean?
- Aggro means aggression — carrying out direct attacks on an opponent’s resources.
- Control means reactive play in an attempt to stop your opponent establishing a winning position, then seeking opportunities to hit back once your opponent begins to run out of options.
In some games, like chess, the first player initially acts as the Aggro, while the second player takes the Control. They have little choice but to respond to the first player’s actions, and have reduced chances to launch an initiative of their own.
Of course, there are many interim strategies, depending on the game you’re playing, like tempo, combo, mid-range, fatigue, time control and others.
How could knowing this be useful to poker?
Poker is a game where you do not bring your own pre-built deck (no, you are not supposed to!). That means you don’t have the option to introduce surprise elements to the game, and you have full knowledge of your opponents’ resources.
Many poker players unconsciously resign themselves to playing one way or the other for the majority of the time and rarely stop to wonder if they should mix up their game. Players who are able to switch gears between immediate aggression and long-term planning ahead will usually be more successful than those who are unable to react to evolving scenarios in a flexible and optimal way.
Good players will have a plan to follow throughout the game, but importantly, will be able to change it if the opening stages don’t go well.
During the battle, they will pause to ask themselves: “What is my win condition?” or “How do I play optimally here?”
Tournament play has aspects which help Aggro players be more successful. Control players will not always have the resources to wait until they have a strong hand to play, and hands they do win might not be enough to swing the game in their favor.
However, when you have a large stack, you could choose either role:
Control: You might sit back and wait for someone to overexpose themselves by raising when you enter a pot with a strong hand.
Aggro: You might like to dominate proceedings by entering many pots with a raise.
When nearing the prize money, you have more choices:
Control: You can try to guarantee a prize at all costs by not busting, but sacrifice opportunities to build up your stack
Aggro: You can try to exploit other players’ fear of being eliminated by stealing blinds and bluff more often.
In rebuy tournaments, you might choose a strategy which suits your style:
Control: Keep rebuys to a minimum and capitalize on good cards in the infrequent cashes you have.
Aggro: Embrace variance and try to build a big stack early at the risk of needing to regularly run deep.
Ring game play might be more suited to the Control player because each hand only differs from the last because the button moves and stack sizes might change. Control players are able to reload their chips to a full stack after every hand.
That said, once you have identified other players strategies, strengths and weaknesses …
Control: You can lay traps like a check-raise for over-aggressive opponents and call their bluffs with hands they would love for you to fold.
Aggro: In a game where everyone else is over-cautious and you yourself are perceived as tight, you might be able to pick up easy pots by representing hands with aggressive play.