Loose, Tight Or In-between

How you play poker has a significant impact on how others play against you. In a rather famous quote, Doyle Brunson said, “If you want action you have to give action.” If the goal of playing poker is to earn a profit then you must create a strategy that invites action yet still allows you to bluff from time to time. Tight players are more likely to be bluffed but are more likely to be able to bluff while loose players are more likely win small pots with loose raises while almost never being bluffed. I suggest that playing on the extremes is less profitable than playing somewhere in the middle.

Playing too Loose

If you have an image that you play almost any two cards, you are in more than 50% of the hands dealt, your opponents will only call you or raise you with premium hands. You are, in effect, constantly bluffing, seeking to intimidate your opponents and your more alert opponents, even the loosest of them, will soon realize that without a premium hand it is better to let you win the small pots while being able to aggressively take big pots away from you. The problem with playing against the ultra loose player is that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while and when they do they crush an aggressive opponent.

If your loose opponent telegraphs his hand through his betting patterns it is even easier to play against him. If, for example, your loose opponent calls with mediocre hands and raises with solid hands pre-flop an observant player will quickly see through this and play accordingly. On the other hand, if your loose opponent doesn’t easily telegraph his hand because he never varies his pre-flop bet, it is better to wait him out and pounce when you have the best hand.

Playing too Tight

Not seeing enough flops also creates an action problem. The tight player plays fewer hands from early position and expands his range through middle and late position but plays fewer than 20% of the hands dealt. The overall range of playable hands in hold’em runs from around 28% to 33% of the 169 possible hands dealt. Playing less than that invites your opponents to bluff you off of anything but the best hands. Conversely, playing too tight allows you to bluff your opponents because they will often believe you and let you win a small pot rather than gamble. In the case of the tight player the picky squirrel only gathers prime acorns leaving the rest to rot.

Tight players may also telegraph the quality of their hand with their bet size but in their case, almost any bet indicates strength so it is unlikely that they will get any action at all.

Finding the Middle

If between 28% and 33% of pre-flop hands in hold’em are playable by solid, conservative standards then playing somewhere between this range is one in which you project an image of being willing to gamble. In short, you are giving action and you can expect action in return.

I actually track quite closely the percentage of hands I am willing to enter and I try to keep my range at around 30%. Because I am willing to enter hands pre-flop with less than premium hands, I must be willing to give up those hands if I don’t hit around 80% of the time. I randomize my bluffs by folding 80% of the hands I don’t hit and continue on 20% of the time. Using the second hand on my watch, I muck between 1 and 48 seconds and play between 49 and 60 seconds. I vary this strategy depending on whether the flop is textured or uncoordinated but then only by 4 seconds. I am more likely to bluff with an uncoordinated board but then only 25% of the time.

By playing with an image that I think of as semi-tight, I invite action. My post-flop play, however, is the key to my success. I play aggressively in no-limit hold’em because solid aggression tends to be rewarded and I am willing to muck hands that simply are not worth continuing on.

What about Limit Hold’em

In limit hold’em you are more likely to maximize your profits by creating a calling image rather than a raising image. In limit hold’em aggression is generally punished because there are more multi-way pots than there are in no-limit. Hand values diminish in multi-way pots and you are more likely to be outdrawn even when you get your money in good on the flop or turn. Keeping a tighter, more passive image works well in limit hold’em.

About the Author:
Roger Fischel began playing poker with his friends in high school. Seven Card Stud and Five Card Draw were the games of choice back then. Over the years, Roger turned to Texas Hold ‘em as his game of choice. During a long career as a teacher, Roger learned the value of sharing what he knows with others as a way to give back to the community in which he shares, thus, Rags to the River Poker was born. Come and visit.

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