In poker, the best offense is a good offense

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There are many common sports phrases that often serve as accepted wisdom. For instance, “defense wins championships” or “the best offense is a good defense.” Longtime readers will know I often use analogies from sports and business to make a relevant poker point. With that said, in poker the best offense is a good offense.

What do I mean by that? A friend of mine lost a big pot when he went all-in postflop with top two pair and was called by an opponent holding bottom pair with a flush draw. In a $1-$2 no-limit hold’em cash game, our friend opened-raised to $5 in early position with K-J at a six-handed table. He was called in three spots. The flop came K-J-8 with two spades. The big blind led out for $15. Our friend had $100 behind and went all-in. He was called by the big blind with {8-Spades}{6-Spades}.

The turn was a spade and our friend lamented his play. Specifically, he thought he should have played defense and just called the flop. Now, there are a few things wrong with that way of thinking but I see it all of the time at the poker table. Players think they can limit losses by not committing too many chips until all of the cards are dealt and they know they have a winner. They believe by playing “defense” they’ll decrease their variance in a game notorious for fluctuations.

This way of thinking will only serve to increase losses and variances. The best offense is a good offense. I asked my friend if he would’ve been lamenting his decision if his hand held. Next, I asked him what if he played defense, just called the flop and then his opponent bets the turn? Are you going to fold because a potential flush has hit? By playing defense, you have shifted the burden of decision-making from your opponent to yourself.

When you have the opportunity, you want to be the one to exert pressure on your opponent and not vice-versa. By taking the offense, you maximize your ability to control the outcome and limit variance.

Yes, you will get called sometimes and lose but that’s okay if you have forced your opponent into making a call in the first place by pricing him out of his draw. The alternative is not to price your opponent out and give him free or cheap cards where it is correct for him to continue in the hand. That will increase your variance overall and makes for losing play. In poker, the best offense is the best offense.

— David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker strategy books including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. His latest, You are the Variable is available on Kindle. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.