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Poker players come in all sizes and shapes. Their playing traits can be tight, loose (including chasers and calling-stations), passive, aggressive, and deceptive (including bluffing, slow-playing, trapping and check-raising) – and often combinations of these.

Playing at the Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif., the other night, I noticed that the very tight players almost always were losers. Interesting, isn’t it? Let’s explore that observation.

• Tight players play only the stronger starting-hands. They are very discriminating as to which hands they invest their chips. Some rely on the Hold’em Algorithm that facilitates selecting playable starting-hands – depending on the rank of the two holecards, whether they are connectors and/or suited. The more experienced tight player will also consider his position (early, middle or late) and whether the pot has been raised.

• Loose players stay to see the flop with many more combinations of holecards, including hands that they definitely should have mucked because the odds are so much against their improving to the winning hand. Sure, they could get lucky. But, depending on good luck is not the way to become a winning player.

There really is nothing wrong with playing tight – to a point. But, if all he does is play tight, he is destined to be a loser. If Mr. Tight folds almost all of the hands dealt to him, he is bound to be a loser because of the blinds he has to put up each orbit of play.

Furthermore, his opponents will soon be able to “read” his hands as he bets or raises only when he has a super starting-hand or connects with a powerhouse. Sooner or later, that information becomes very obvious to others at the table. Then, when he opens the betting or raises, his opponents know instinctively, he has a strong hand – and they are more likely to fold.

Even amateurs, as well as experienced players, may be aware of this trait and act accordingly. Result: When Mr. Tight does win a hand, there are much fewer chips in the pot; it is much smaller than the hand warrants. What a waste.

The only way such a tight player can possibly come out ahead is to change tables often, before everyone at the table knows how he plays – so tight. (And, some do move about.)

Opponents can also exploit Mr. Tight: Since he sees the flop only with strong holecards, a weak flop is less likely to connect with his hand. As a result, a savvy opponent could easily steal the pot with a bluff bet or raise on the flop (depending on who else might be in the hand).

On the other hand, a tight player who is also aggressive and/or deceptive, can win many pots along the way. Preflop, he usually plays tight to ensure a good starting-hand; but occasionally, he may also play some marginal hands – especially if he is in a late position in a multi-way pot with no raises. We call that the Hold’em Caveat.

After the flop, if he has lots of outs, he becomes aggressive, betting out or raising – even though he still has to improve his hand further to gain the best hand. For example, playing tight he called to see the flop with Ace-Jack suited. Two opponents also stay to see the flop: 8-5-2 including two cards of his suit. He has a four-flush.

Being aggressive, if no one has bet before him, he makes the opening bet. Or, if one opponent opens the betting, our tight-aggressive player boldly raises. It’s really a semi-bluff! Everyone folds, and he takes the pot. Do that often enough, and he could go home a winner.

Bottom line: Don’t be too tight. The ideal playing strategy is to play tight before the flop, and aggressive thereafter. And vary your style unpredictably. That will keep your opponents off balance. Also, be prepared to bluff – especially semi-bluff – when the situation seems right, always using the Esther Bluff tactic to enhance your chance for success.


About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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