There seems to be a lack of literature on the subject of initiative. This is unfortunate since, after position, playing with initiative is the most important strategic thing we can do as a poker player. It comes down to a matter of control. Once you give up initiative, you are at the mercy of your opponents.

Having initiative means that you were the pre-flop aggressor on the prior street or that someone has checked to you after the flop. If you raised pre-flop or post-flop and were called, you have
initiative. The only way you can get initiative after not seizing it pre-flop is to raise post-flop or have someone give up their initiative by checking to you.

You want to be the aggressor and have initiative throughout almost every hand you play. There are very specific situations where this is not the case, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of your hands should be played in position with you as the pre-flop aggressor.

The reason having initiative is so powerful is that it always keeps fold equity on your side and gives youawaytowinhandsevenifyourholdingisnotstrong. Andifyougetraisedatanypointduring the hand, you almost always have the final decision on whether that last bet goes in. If you were just calling bets all along, the only way you could win is by making the best hand at showdown. When you have initiative, you always get the last word.

Playing without initiative also lowers the relative hand strength of any holding. This is mostly due to c-betbluffearnings,whicharenon-existentwithoutinitiative. Byopeningahandpre-flop,youare giving yourself multiple chances to win the pot. First, everyone can fold, and you take down the blinds uncontested. Second, you can usually make a profitable c-bet on the flop and take down the pot often enough that you never need to actually make a hand.

If you call a raise, this can never happen, and you must play a flop. Furthermore, as a short stack, you will usually not have the implied odds to try to make a hand and extract enough money to compensate for the times you whiff. On the flip side of the coin, when your opponents call your pre-flop raises, they are making an error as well. And trust me, your opponents will make this error quite frequently.

The reason going to the flop without control of the pot is generally bad, especially for a short stack, is because it forces you to play fit or fold poker. You simply will not make enough hands to overcome the times you miss the flop and are compelled to fold. But perhaps the worst part of playing without initiative is you will be forced to give up the best hand very often when you check and fold a marginal holding.

Except for a few specific situations, it is always more profitable to be the one controlling the hand. Most of the time, if you cannot maintain the initiative because you get raised or the board texture is not conducive to continuing, your best play is to give up and check and/or fold.

My strategy will have you going to the flop without initiative only in specific situations. Most commonly, this will happen when you complete the small blind. Less frequently, you will call a pre- flop raise with significant implied odds, but generally this is only after there has been a raise and at least one other caller. Except for limping, my charts do not define when you should or should not make pre-flop calls. Because a number of factors weigh in when making such a decision, I will cover these instances separately in Chapter 10.

Ultimately, poker without initiative is poker without aggression, and passive play is highly unprofitable in No’Limit Hold-em. A game based upon position and initiative gives you the ability to apply constant pressure to your opponents.

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