Poker Initiative: How To Use It

Initiative in poker simply refers to when a player shows active interest in a round of betting. In this article, I'll teach you how to use initiative in poker to intimidate more opponents, and take down more pots.

When we talk about initiative in any context, we're talking about taking active measures to accomplish something. While definitely more specific in scope, poker initiative is no exception in regards to the basic thrust of this meaning. Initiative in poker simply refers to when a player shows active interest in a round of betting. So, a player will have initiative in a hand if they are displaying aggressive behaviour that would suggest they have the best hand at the table.

What does poker initiative mean for you?

It means that whether you are the player with the initiative or whether you've identified the player with initiative, many of the subsequent rounds of betting will focus on and be driven by that player. This is because it’s the player with poker initiative who is leading the action with active measures, like betting, raising and calling. Everyone else is falling in line or bowing out. 

The Benefits of Taking Poker Initiative

When and where possible (i.e. when you stand a good chance of winning, either by having the better hand or by being in a situation where you can make players think you have the better hand), you should always try to take initiative. 

Most of the time - though certainly not all the time - the player with initiative will establish him or herself early on in the game, usually pre-flop. Just think about it: the player who makes a strong bet pre-flop is usually the centre of the action and all players (whether consciously or not) differ to this player when deciding how they will act. For this reason, the biggest advantage of initiative comes down to control – and this control takes many forms. For example:

♠ Poker initiative increases the perceived strength of your hand in the eyes of your opponents, which can be far more important than the actual strength of your hand.

♠ Poker initiative makes it difficult for your opponents to pin you down to any range of hands because you are leading and therefore creating the action; being able to stick a range of hands to any player depends on being able to follow a pattern of behaviour, which you can’t do (or can only do retrospectively) when a player is in the midst of creating that pattern. 

♠ The aggressive behaviour that’s part and parcel of initiative pushes your opponents into tight spots where they are forced to make tough calls and ultimately, are more likely to make mistakes. The more mistakes your opponents make, the more you stand to win. Simple as that. 

Ideal Initiative

Poker initiative is well-timed aggression that’s used in response to numerous factors, most notably:

Position. It’s easier to take initiative if you are in early position, simply because no one can take it before you. 

Opponent Type. It’s easiest to take initiative over tight, passive players who are less likely to resist.

Your Hand. It’s always safest to use initiative when you have a good hand (or at least a good drawing hand) to back up your actions. 

So, in the end, what’s most important to remember when thinking about poker initiative is that it is invaluable tool if and when you have the resources to back it up. Aggression for aggression’s sake doesn’t cut it, but if you’re playing to win, playing aggressively and with initiative will be your best bet. 

Photo Credit: Yannick Croissant | Flickr