If you read the blogs of the rock star poker players, you'll notice that there seems to be some difference of opinion about whether it's better to play conservatively or aggressively. If you read past the blogs to the comments, you'll see that things can get quite heated, with a fair amount of name calling going on.
But regardless of what the forum trolls think, there's actually something to be said for both positions. The key, in this writer's opinion, is knowing when to use each, and that depends on the type of game.
I'm gonna rip your freakin' heads off
The extreme aggressive play tends to yield good financial results. If your intention is to win bundles of cash, then playing like a maniac has it's benefits. But for this to work most effectively, you need to get a good read on your opponents. The last thing you need when attempting this play is to be sat at a table with a group of fellow maniacs. Things will get messy quickly.
The aim here is to ascertain whether the players around you are feeling timid. Try throwing in a couple of big pre-flop raises and see what they do. Are you getting called a lot? Then you're dealing with some stone cold killers, watch yourself. Are they folding like a stack of dominoes? Then it's time to bring out the big guns.
Bully them. Badger them. Terrorize the living daylights out of them. You'll be collecting the blinds every time the first round of betting happens. Let's give you some examples of classic aggressive play.
For a few hands you fold everything, appearing to brood. Then out of the blue you start making big raises. Maybe you have a king in your hand. Maybe you've got absolutely nothing – but they don't know that. Since you've started off folding, they think you must have something big. You take the blinds.
After a while this gets boring. So you limp into the flop, and you pretend like it looks terrible. In fact it doesn't matter at all what cards are down, because by this stage your brutal pre-flop raises have made everyone edgy. They've noted that you're not raising, so they're hoping that this will be a hand that they can do something with.
So, what you're doing is waiting for some poor chump to raise. If everyone checks, so do you. But the moment some poor quivering fool risks a raise, you instantly double their bet. Depending on how evil you are feeling, you might even go all in. This makes everyone at the table think you were just slow playing them. Once again terror sweeps through the ranks, and they fold out. This time you get away with not only the blinds, but also that sucker's raise money.
And you continue to dominate the board.
Of course, there is a downside to this strategy. It can go horribly wrong if someone at the table grows a pair, and calls you when you don't have anything. You can't really rule by fear alone. Every once in a while, you need to actually have the nuts, or you'll fall on your face.
I say, do you have any grey poupon?
The conservative approach, by comparison, means that you're going to be playing a tight game across the board. You fold every hand that's no good. You watch the flop like a hawk, working out not only what is possible with your hole cards but what could be made if the right cards were available – helping you predict your opponents' moves.
Now, playing close to the chest and making tidy raises, and staying the course when you have the nuts, and very carefully slow playing without drawing attention to yourself – this is actually going to get noticed. People will start taking their cue off what you're doing. If they see you raise, they'll fold.
This works to your advantage, because every now and then you can throw in a sneaky raise on a weaker hand – and quite likely you will be able to steal the blinds with it, simply because everyone assumes you're playing conservatively.