If you’ve studied popular poker literature for long, you’re probably familiar with the idea that tight and aggressive play is the most profitable. The reason why this is the most common advice is because, in general, tight play is more profitable than loose play, and aggressive play is more profitable than passive play.
When you play tight, you enter the pot with stronger hands on average than when you play loose. When you enter the pot with a better starting hand than your opponent, you have a better chance to win. If you play too many hands, the average value of your hands goes down, so you end up playing too many hands against superior starting hands.
The main reason why aggressive play is more profitable than passive play is because, when you bet, you force your opponents to make a decision. Every time an opponent makes a decision, they have a chance to make a mistake. Mistakes made by your opponents are profitable to you.
But sometimes, the best expected value doesn’t come from tight and aggressive play.
Before I dig into three situations where tight and aggressive play is less profitable than other options, I want to point out that these are exceptions. For the most part, tight and aggressive play is better than loose and passive play.
This is especially true for inexperienced poker players. If you’re not familiar with the game of poker, you should focus on learning tight play and learning the proper way to play aggressively. Once you master tight and aggressive play, you’re ready to learn more about the situations discussed below.
1 – Trapping the Maniac
At the lower and middle levels of Casino Holdem, many players marry a high pocket pair and are willing to get all in with it on the flop. When you identify these players, you can often call a raise before the flop when they have a deep stack and get them all in when you flop a strong hand.
Here’s an example of trapping someone who marries big pocket pairs.
I was playing in a low limit Casino Holdem game with a maximum buy in of $300. A player to my right had suffered a couple bad beats, and he was on the verge of steaming. I’d noticed that when he got a big pocket pair, he played aggressively and was willing to get all in after the flop.
He opened with a raise, and I had a pair of eights. I put him on a big hand, and he had a deep stack. I flopped a set, and he bet into me. I instantly fired back a minimum raise, hoping he’d see it as a bluff. He instantly shoved all in, and I won the hand. He had a pair of kings in his hand.
Of course, in this situation, playing aggressively before the flop was not a smart play for me. You don’t raise with pocket eights, so the only decision was to call or fold. This was a mathematical decision based on how deep his stack was and how likely it was that I could get him all in if I flopped a set.
But the thing you shouldn’t miss in this is that I had been watching him play and used what I learned to make a decision. If I’d missed the flop, I’d have just folded to his flop bet and waited for my next opportunity.
This same type of strategy is valuable when you’re playing against a maniac. A maniac bets and raises with a wide range of hands, so it’s hard to put them on a hand. This can be valuable when you have a big hand, because you can let the maniac lead the betting, which disguises the strength of your hand.
You’re playing with a maniac, and everyone at the table knows the maniac is going to raise. You have pocket queens and flat call before the flop. The maniac raises, and one other player calls. You call and flop a set of queens.
You check to the maniac, he bets, and the third player calls. At this point, you can get aggressive, but unless the board is particularly scary for you, the best play is to try to get another bet from the third player. The way to do this is flat call, check to the manic on the river, and let him bet again. Then, you can shove whether the third player calls or folds.
You need to learn how to spot a maniac and learn how to take advantage of them. You also need to understand how to trap correctly and when you need to switch from passive to aggressive play for maximum value.
2 – Exceptionally Tight Tables
One reason why tight play works so well is because most tables are filled with players who play too many hands. By playing tight, you’re doing the opposite of most of your opponents.
When the table is exceptionally tight, you can make more profit by playing more loose than normal. You can take advantage of the tight players and pick up more pots. You can also get away from hands after the flop when a tight opponent bets into you or plays back at you after you bet.
This can be quite profitable at the lower and middle limits, but you have to be careful as you play against better players, especially at higher limits. The higher you go, the fewer players on average see the flop. Many high end games are played two and three handed.
In these games, most of the players are good enough to see that you’re playing looser, so they use this against you. You can play looser at a tight table to make more profit sometimes, but you need to pay attention to the other players to figure out when you need to tighten up again.
It’s also important not to get too loose. I’m talking about seeing 25% to 30% of the flops instead of 15% to 20%. You can’t start seeing 35% to 50% of the flops and hope to make more profit.
3 – Strong Post Flop Play
One of the things that separate weak and average poker players from profitable ones is the ability to play well after the flop. The truth is that anyone can learn how to play reasonably well before the flop. You can learn a set of hands you can play in each position and which hands to raise with and play fairly well before the flop without much trouble.
Most players never learn to play well before the flop, but it’s not difficult if you work at it. This is good news for you. In many games, if you learn good pre-flop play, you can turn a profit.
Even fewer players learn how to play well after the flop. This used to amaze me because most post flop plays can be worked out mathematically.
What all of this has to do with tight aggressive play is that if you’re one of the few players who has a particularly strong post flop game, you can afford to play much looser pre-flop than other players. This is because, with a strong post-flop game, you know how to get away from losing hands and maximize your return on winning hands.
Most poker players are going to have better results when they stick to tight and aggressive play. But when you start mastering your game, you’re going to learn to base your decisions on long term profitability. Sometimes, you need to play loose and/or passive in order to maximize your profits.
If you’re not a profitable poker player yet, stick with tight and aggressive play. You can learn when to be aggressive with experience. Most players play too many hands. Focus on tight play to start, and when you start winning, you can look for specific opportunities to loosen up a small amount.