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Poker Initiative

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Inciativa en el poker

Poker books and forums tend to talk about initiative and "taking the initiative". What does it mean and how can it be advantageous to you?

Having the initiative in a poker hand has the same influence as your current position at the poker table.

What does initiative mean?

The definition of initiative is: "An introductory act or step; leading action." How does it relate to poker Texas Hold'em?

When we talk about initiative in poker we refer to the situation in which a player is the most aggressive at the table in any betting round. This player "has the initiative in the hand" and represents the strongest hand.

The player who has the "initiative" will be the center of most of the play on future betting rounds.

How to take the initiative

In order to take the initiative, you just have to make the last aggressive play in the betting round, which means you either have to bet or raise. Let's see a few examples of this:

  • A bets and B calls. - Player A has the initiative.
  • A bets, B raises and A calls. - Player B has the initiative.
  • A checks, B bets, A check-raises and B calls. - Player A has the initiative.
  • A bets, B calls, C raises, A calls and B calls. - Player C has the initiative.
  • A check and B checks. - Neither player has the initiative.

Basically, if you are the player who calls or checks in order to close the action, you are not the player taking the initiative in the hand. These examples are a way to illustrate what was said before: the player who shows the "most aggression" is the one who takes the initiative in the hand.

When can you take the initiative?

Usually the initiative is taken before the flop, because usually someone who raises is followed by a caller or more before the flop is dealt.

However, the initiative can also be taken during future betting rounds like the flop, turn or river. If no player calls or raises before the flop, then no player has the initiative. The poker hold'em player who is most aggressive on the flop, will be the one taking the initiative.

Besides, initiative can go from one player to the other depending on the betting round. The initiative can easily switch to the player who shows he is more aggressive in future betting rounds. For example:

  • Preflop: A raises and B calls. Player A has the initiative.
  • Flop: A bets, B raises and A calls. Player B has the initiative.

The advantages of initiative

When you call a raise before the flop, the action revolves around the preflop raiser, why is this? This happens before the other players try to see how the preflop raiser acts on the flop before making their next move. This has several advantages:

  • When you take the initiative you are in the drivers seat in the hand. The other players will check to you and wait for you to make the first move.
  • When you bet and raise your hand acquires unlimited strength in the eyes of the other players.
  • When you take the initiative, you make it much more difficult for the other players to assign you to a specific range of poker hands.
  • When you are aggressive you are forcing other players to make difficult decisions, and as a result they have less control over the hand and have the risk of making more -EV plays.

Continuation bets are so effective thanks to initiative, which is also the reason why relative position is so important and should be aware of it at poker Texas Hold'em tables. Initiative also gives you more chances to pick up uncontested pots which another player would normally win.

Taking the initiative is as important as your position at the table and you shouldn't underestimate the importance of initiative in the hands you play.

How to use initiative in poker

There is not a guide to know when and where you should take the initiative. This article is about how being aggressive by betting and raising is more profitable in general than checking and calling.

If you want to have more information, you should read the article about the importance of aggression in poker.

An example of taking the initiative:

Here is an example of a hand that shows how taking the initiative before the flop will allow you to win the hand on the flop.

$1/$2 No Limit Hold'em cash game - 6 Players
SB: $200
BB: $200
UTG: $200
MP: $200
CO: $200
Hero (BTN): $200
Pre Flop: ($3) Hero is BTN with JClover JHeart
1 fold, MP raises to $8, 1 fold, Hero raises to $25, 2 folds, MP calls $17
Flop: ($53) ASpades 9Heart 5Diamond (2 players)
MP checks, Hero bets $40, MP folds

If you had just called before the flop, you would not be taking the initiative in the hand. Then, you would probably check to your opponent and he would then make a continuation bet, and you would have to fold, unless you had a strong reason not to.

Just before you 3-bet before the flop with your pocket Jacks, you turned the hand on its head and your opponent will find themselves folding hands like QQ, KK to your continuation bet on the flop. You put the power back in your hand when you took the initiative and won a pot that could just as easily gone to other player.

Evaluation of initiative in poker

The initiative is part of the "aggressive poker is winning poker" philosophy and is as important as table position.

When you are aggressive and you raise more often instead of calling, you are the player taking the initiative and you are winning an extra advantage for the time when you hit the flop. This does not imply that you should bet and raise in every hand, use your common sense.

All you need now is to practice and see how much initiative influences your hands.

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