If you’re serious about improving your game of poker and take the time to read about poker strategy, you are bound to come across the term “taking the initiative.” What it means exactly is showing the most aggression at the poker table at various stages or rounds in the hand. By taking the initiative, you are representing to other players that you have the strongest hand at the table.
As an example, let’s suppose pre-flop you raise with only to find a player seated at a later position re-raise your bet. As the action comes around to you again, you raise again, to which the late position player calls your raise. At this stage of the hand, you happen to be taking the initiative because you have made the last play of aggression in this round of betting. Much of the play on post-flop betting rounds will focus or be centered around you, as you currently have the initiative. In other words, if you’re checking or calling, you do not have initiative in the hand.
Initiative can occur on each round of betting, from pre-flop to showdown. If nobody should raise the betting in any round, then no one is taking the initiative. The initiative may change from one player to the next on different rounds of betting. It does not always stay with one particular player through the course of the hand, depending on who shows the highest level of aggression. For instance, in our example, the late position player attempted to take the initiative by re-raising you pre-flop, but you snatched it back from him by raising again.
The advantage of having the initiative is that you will be controlling the hand and in the drivers seat, so to speak. You’re showing your opponents that your hand is incredibly strong, which will often make them check to you and allow you to be making the first move. You are also making it harder for your table rivals to put you on a hand or a range of hands, with them often believing, at least pre-flop, that you have a high pocket pair–even if you don’t. By taking the initiative and being in control of the hand, you are forcing your opponents to make tough decisions.
Initiative is a big reason why making continuation bets is effective and affords many opportunities to win uncontested pots that may have landed in the stacks of other players had your betting been more passive. Many players believe that initiative is equivalent in importance to your table position.
Its difficult to pinpoint the exact situations where initiative should be used. That depends on a multitude of factors, including your hole cards, position, chip stack size, and the styles and tendencies of your opponents at the table. However, it is important to note that you will generally be more profitable if you’re more inclined to be taking the initiative by betting and raising instead of passively calling and checking.
I’m certainly not advocating a loose and reckless style that focuses on bullying other players without regard to the above mentioned factors of the strength of your hole cards and position and such. However, there is a lot to be said for the philosophy that aggressive players are winning players. Common sense should be used at all times at the poker table. Just be aware that, more often than not, taking the initiative will allow you to take more pots and be more profitable than being a calling station and permitting other players to take control of the hand.