What’s up guys? This is an article that I wrote previously, but I just updated it for publication in Bluff magazine.
Most of the expert players you see play poker when you turn on the tv or open up the high stakes tables appear to play a loose style. Many novice and intermediate players consequently believe playing a loose aggressive style is optimal, and they overvalue loose play. Think about a common spot: opening from middle position. If you open 22 or A9s from MP it’s hardly going to effect your results, because those hands are likely to be around breakeven in the typical online game. Thus is it is only a stylistic choice whether or not to open those hands as a default. There are certainly tables where opening those hands from MP is profitable, and there are tables where it would be a mistake. The key to optimizing your profits is being able to tell the difference. You have to know with each situation whether it’s favorable to loosening up a little bit.
The reason why there is a perception that most of the expert players are loose is simple: you notice the loose players far more than the tight players at a table simply because they are playing more hands. In the televised tournaments, many hands that are uneventful are cut out and they make the tables seem looser than they actually are. Plus it’s always fun to see someone try to steal with 27o and run a big bluff on television, so they show those hands. The problem with trying to emulate their styles is twofold. You don’t know whether they are winning a lot at the tables and you don’t know if it’s because of their looser style.
My advice to novice and intermediate players is not to focus on whether something is loose or tight, but to have a reason for each move that you make. Don’t open up T9s from MP because it’s part of your range for that position; open it up because there is a player in the blinds who calls a lot preflop and folds to a lot of flop bets. Don’t call a 3 bet with KQ because it’s overly tight to fold; call because the opponent’s 3-betting range is wide and top pair is likely to win you a good pot. I would recommend for each range that you play, separate it into two sets of ranges: the hands that you always play and the ones that you play if conditions are favorable.
Playing online poker, you only have a limited amount of attention to allocate. If you are trying to maximize your profits, you are often playing a lot of tables. You have a choice whether you want to spend your energy playing extra hands, spending more time on key decisions, or selecting tables. I would recommend prioritizing key decisions and selecting tables over playing more hands. The biggest factor to determine your success is who you’re playing against. There has to be someone losing a lot of money for you to make a lot. With myriad tables online to choose from, proper table selection should require a fair amount of effort. It’s often worth sacrificing marginally profitable hands to spend time joining tables that are going to be more profitable overall.
A lot of novice players worry about being overly tight. The line of reasoning is something like “If I play too tight, then I won’t get paid off when I have a good hand.” This is true to some extent, but they fail to acknowledge the assumptions that they are making about their opponents: That they are noticing how tightly you are playing and that they are able to take that read and fold a medium strength hand when appropriate. For fish these assumptions definitely aren’t true and for many regulars they are only partly true. Against a good player you want to start throwing in more bluffs, especially post flop; but poor players tend to call too much to make this a good idea, regardless of whether you are loose or tight.
Playing loosely versus weak players and tightly versus skilled players is a rule of thumb that I’ve seen recommend online, and I think it’s a fairly solid principle. Since weaker players tend to call down too light, fold too much postflop, or both, for each hand either your steal equity or showdown equity is going to be higher. If you have a hand that’s normally marginal but you are likely to be in position versus a weak player in the hand, then it gains a lot of value. Playing tightly versus skilled players isn’t optimal; it’s more of a defensive strategy. It’s about minimizing one’s leaks rather than exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. With competent opponents, they are going to be adapting to your play just like you are to theirs, so starting off with a tight range gives your opponent less opportunities to make great plays. Although not optimal, playing loosely vs. fish and tight vs. regulars is a good strategy.
Playing a lot of hands is a lot of fun – just ask anyone who plays poker recreationally. No one likes just sitting around folding, poker players want to win pots. I don’t play poker for fun though, I play for a challenge and to make money. If only playing profitable hands and only getting a lot of money in with a strong hands is tight, then I’m guilty as charged.