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Tight/Loose the Yin/Yang of Poker

"Tight is Right." I've said it here before, and I'm sure you've heard it all around the blogosphere and pokersphere. But is it true? Sure it is, to an extent. But how about the flipside, the obviously less melodic "Loose is Wrong". Well, sir, if you think that is the case, you are just plain wrong...or you are playing limit.

The dichotomy between Tight and Loose is an interesting one. As we start playing poker, we are more inclined to be loose, playing KJ like it's a premium hand because both of the cards have faces. 77 is a premium hand because the two cards match!

But soon we learn that 66 is vulnerable to many over pairs after the flop, and KJ is vulnerable to any Ace preflop. By then, you've probably read a book or two and have learned that the top hands are AA through 77, AK and AQ, with varying degrees of strength throughout. For beginners, I've suggested just playing those hands and throwing the rest away. Of course, I also tell them that they have to really pay attention to the flop and act accordingly, but by setting out that simple hand selection guideline, a horrible player can slowly move to adequate while they learn the ropes. Not an optimal strategy overall, but it probably is a winning strategy in some of the loose limit games, and may even work for a cautious rock of a player in the NL games.

Eventually, though, we start to take on our own style. Some players ease into a rock-like existence, relying on patience to give them an edge. This is a smart man who is patient. Just look at GCox, for instance, a player who plays tight and succeeds as a result. It IS a winning style and I don't begrudge anyone who plays that way.

But is it the only way? Clearly not, but I think that we, as skilled players and as poker bloggers, sometimes overvalue the tight is right philosophy. MiamiDon recently posted about the effect of timing on the game. In his post, he mentioned that good players are usually sucked out upon BECAUSE they are good players. They are picking their spots with the best hand and getting it all in there.

MiamiDon is certainly correct, generally speaking. Whenever I'm all-in with a hand and get sucked out upon, I console myself with the fact that I was playing well, so well that I got all of my chips in with the best hand. I guess this almost relates back to an older topic of mine about avoiding coinflips (even weighted ones) in tournaments. In fact, take a look at De-Lucking SNGs, because you'll see that my opinions are often in flux. There, I argued about controlling luck by playing tight in SNGs. I suppose I'm going in a very different direction now.

In De-Lucking, I stated that I am an MTT SNG player. At the time, it was true. Shortly after, my MTT SNG game went into the crapper, and I'm not sure it fully recovered, even after my luckbox blogger freeroll 2nd place. But as a cash game player, I've been doing very well, due in large part to picking my spots. What I have learned is that tight IS right some of the time, but a whole lot of benefit can be had for mixing it up and playing loose.

Let's go back to Miami Don's statement about good players being sucked out upon more so than doing the sucking. It sounds right, and I don't mean at all to fault Don, who I respect a great deal. But from my memory, I recall something that Doyle Brunson said in Super/System. I'll paraphrase: A lot of players think that Doyle is really lucky becasue he often calls or pushes another player all-in and has the worst of it but sucks out. How could this possibly be? Brunson is the Man and for him to get it all in with the worst of it makes no sense at first glance. Brunson explains: By playing aggressively on lots of small pots, he is able to amass chips. He can then gamble a bit more because he is playing with profits. As a result, he may make calls with a flush draw and hit, therefore looking like he sucked out. He did suck out, but it was part of an overall strategy.

I'm no Doyle Brunson, but I can appreciate his philosophy and try to adopt it. It is, after all, a bit closer to my actual personality. I suppose that is what it comes down to. You have to play toward your personality. For GCox, it might meen patience. For me, it is impatience and hyperactivity. We both receive benefits because we have a fundamental understanding of the game and our individual strategies.

I bet, however, that we'd do differently in different environments. Limit play would probably be easier for GCox. After all, he won't find himself in tricky situations if he's patient, whereas I'd be stuck making tough calls knowing that I can't push anyone off of a hand. Likewise, he may have an advantage in some tournaments. Just read De-Lucking SNGs to get an idea of what I mean. His benefit might diminish a bit, however, in deepstack, long tournaments, because I'd have more room to manuever and play loose early on to chip up. In shorter tournaments, I don't have that luxury because a loss early on could see me shortstacked a bit too early. Cash games would likely be a game where "my" style of play might do better, since I'd get more action on my premium hands and potentially pick up more pots with bluffs.

Overall, though, the loose strategy will clearly involve more variance, which may be why we don't value it as highly as the tight style. If you are a tight player naturally and try to play loose, you could conceivably loose a series of MTTs, SNGs or cash game buy-ins and be turned off by the style. After all, you know that you do well with tight play. Dems the breaks though, and if you are a loose player, you understand that a losing night does not matter if it's a winning weak or a winning month. Thankfully, I'm at that point, without concern for individual nights. Hell, I've lost $78 one night recently without batting an eye, and this is the same guy that probably didn't even have $200 online one year ago.

There it is. I don't think this came out as eloquently or extensively as I hoped. But let it waft over you and see what you think. Thanks for reading. Now, while you are at it, go take a look at Hank's blog. He has an AMAZING post about commonalities amonst winning higher-stakes limit poker players.

posted by Jordan @ 4:03 PM,

8 Comments:

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Bloody P said...

J-

I think you're right in advising beginners to stick to the basics. But you're also absolutey right by saying everyone develops their own style.

Six months ago I would never even CONSIDER betting out on a flop that was 925 rainbow, and I held AK. I'd check. Now, I'll throw a nice big bet out there and see where I stand. A lot of the time, I'll end up taking down the pot.

People constantly grow and change as poker players. As you grow and learn (and read) more about the game, I think your starting hand requirements loosen a bit and it becomes more about playing the player(s) instead of the board.

I'm no 25o, erm...I mean Waffles, but I've found that loosening up more and playing aggressively post-flop can win you a ton of money.

That's my two cents (literally).

BP

 
At 6:10 PM, Blogger GaryC said...

Yup, we're all in agreement here, there is no one way to skin this cat and everybody happens upon their own "style" by watching, playing and learning. If it ain't broke don't fix it was a saying my dad used alot and since my style has worked for me, I will have to stick with it, although I'm trying to loosen up a bit. I did raise with A-J suited last night. See?

G

 
At 8:11 AM, Blogger Pokerwolf said...

Great post, Jordan! =)

I think the "tight is right" mantra is so overdone because there's so much information out there for beginners and that's what they should do.

In reality, I think a player will slide their playing style all over the place. I know a few people who will call with less -than-quality hands when they're on a "rush", for example. Especially in MTT play.

The most important thing, obviously, is to learn more than one style so when people think they have you figured out, you can switch gears. It never pays to be predictable.

 
At 8:44 AM, Blogger Tom aka 10,000 Days said...

if you can't deviate from playing a tight style, you'll get slaughtered at higher stakes.

I still think playing LAG well generates the most profit, but it's a style a lot of people can't run with because they pick bad spots and donk off a lot of chips to a calling station or walk into a monster hand.

I think beginners should play micro limits of $10 max buy in and play any way they want to get maximum exposure. I wouldn't advocate a Lee Jones style to anyone because people tend to get locked into it and then they lose a lot when they move up. Better to know how to play several ways at the lower levels.

 
At 5:24 PM, Blogger smokkee said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:30 PM, Blogger DP said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:32 PM, Blogger DP said...

"As a result, he may make calls with a flush draw and hit, therefore looking like he sucked out. He did suck out, but it was part of an overall strategy."

The key nuance to Super System (which the book itself does not emphasize enough) is that you should be exerting pressure (hopefully the pressure point of the hand -- and if it's a small pot, you may need to check-raise to achieve this, otherwise it's not worth even trying to take down a small pot on a draw) ON THE FLOP with your big draws or ON THE TURN only with HUGE DRAWS (open ended straight draw and flush draw equivalent). It's a given that you play a flopped two pair/set/straight/quads/BLUFF(when you think they'll fold) the SAME EXACT WAY because if you give action, you'll get action and that's one of the benefits of playing this way.

The key is that when you exert the pressure point of a hand with a draw on the flop (or a huge draw on the turn), you should have already read your opponent as relatively weak, and think that there's a decent chance they'll fold or will give you credit for a big hand and fold.

I've always thought the phrase "Tight is right" is absolutely wrong, FOR ME. That style works for others, but if I don't give myself two chances to win a hand (by betting or raising), I end up being patient and getting stacked when I can't fold an overpair, or something to that effect. You really should not be labelling things -- that's just my opinion, but there are very few professional poker players that would label their style as "tight" or would validate the phrase "tight is right."

 
At 2:08 AM, Blogger DP said...

As Iggy (Guinness and Poker) said in his recent May 22 post,

"Funny, I often hear about winning "styles" of poker. Truth is, the best players often shift styles depending on the situation, or best of all, have no discernable 'style'. They adapt and adjust. In the end, poker is as much of a game of reading your opponents as it is of hand selection. Armed with only one of these weapons, any poker player is sure to meet with defeat."

 

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