To Know: Initiative In Poker
|It's a term that's seen a lot in
poker articles and in books, but never defined to our satisfaction, so let's take a few
minutes and help you understand what initiative is at the poker table and how it can help
you win more often. The dictionary defines initiative as "an introductory act or
step; a leading action." In poker terms, that translates to the actions that a player
takes to represent that they have the best hand at the poker table.
Taking the initiative in a hand of poker is fairly simple: it means you have to make the
last aggressive play in a betting round. This means that you'll either bet or raise
following the bets that other players have made. Here are some examples of how initiative
works in a hand of poker.
Example One: A bets and B calls.
Player A has the initiative, as they bet and player B's play was a reaction to that.
Example Two: A bets, B raises and A calls.
Player B has the initiative as they raised the bet and player A's next move was a response
Example Three: A checks, B bets, A check-raises and B calls.
Player A has the initiative as their check-raise defines how player B acts.
Example Four: Player A bets, B calls and C rises. A then calls and B calls.
Player C has the initiative because they were the last person to raise and the other
players responded to them.
Example Five: Player A checks and B checks.
Neither player has the initiative.
As you can see, initiative is pretty straightforward. Basically, if you are calling or
checking to close the action, you are not taking the initiative in the hand. These
examples show that the player with the most aggression takes the initiative in any given
The most common place that players get the initiative is in the preflop betting round, as
there is generally a raiser that is followed by callers before the flop is dealt. That
said, there is absolutely no reason that the initiative can't be taken on future betting
rounds. If there are no calls and raises before the flop, as seen in the fifth example
above, then no player has the initiative and the player that shows the most aggression on
the flop will be taking the initiative.
By seizing the initiative, you are in the driver's seat of any given hand of poker. Other
players are going to wait to see your next move and you can keep that initiative through
subsequent betting rounds with some strategy. If you bet and raise, opponents are forced
to follow your lead and operate under the presumption that you have a strong hand. Being
aggressive forces other players to make tough decisions, which means that they have less
control over the hand and are more susceptible to making plays with negative expected
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