by APT Featured Coach Kenna James
In tournaments and higher stakes cash games, oftentimes we need to adjust our regular baseline strategy and play the player. This psychological approach to the game is what gives us a significant edge and can make the difference between cashing a tournament and winning it. Between a break-even player and one who crushes the higher stakes cash games.
Playing the player means to exploit their biases and weaknesses. We do this by using what we know about them to defeat them. For example, if a player has a bias against playing weak starting hands, we will use weak starting hands to defeat them. This will generally leave them in frustration and questioning “how can you play those cards?!” Any opponent who is playing in frustration is already defeated. The end is inevitable, you just must stick around long enough to witness it.
What is a tight player?
First let me define what I mean by a “tight” player. This is someone who’s playing less than their fair share of hands. Which begs the question, what’s your fair share of hands? Well, if you are at an 8 handed table, that would be one out of every 8 hands. On a 6 handed table, playing one of every 6 hands would be your fair share, etc. This commonsense principle escapes overly tight players.
Any player playing LESS than one hand per orbit is relatively tight. If a player is playing only one hand every two rounds, they are a tight player. Some players play only one hand every hour or more! These types of players have a special name – we call them rocks!
The counter-strategy in dealing with a rock in poker is just the same as it would be in life. Avoid them! WHEN they finally get in motion – like someone throwing one at you – get out of the way! Otherwise just ignore them as if they’re not there and move around them – as if it was an empty seat.
Exploiting Tight Players
Let’s look at the common strategy of tight players and build our counter-strategy. When playing against tight players, we first need to understand their mentality, which is; “tight is right.” They incorrectly think that their cards are going to save them. If you’ve played poker for any length of time you’ve learned by now that the deck is not your friend – nor your enemy. It couldn’t care less about you. So, the idea that playing “good” hands or cards will save you is a myth.
They may also think that discipline and patience is their salvation. While these are admirable and important traits to develop in playing poker, overly used will leave one exploitable. Their strategy then is to use their patience and discipline to wait for quality starting cards to play. For example, they may only play 99’s or better or AQ+ in early position. What they don’t see is how limiting this strategy is and how dependent they are on the cards they are dealt. “I was so card dead. No one could win with the cards I was dealt,” is what an overly tight player may say.
Many player’s counter-strategy against this opponent is to try to play tighter and stay ahead of their range. This, in my humble opinion, is a mistake! As I said earlier, use what you know about them to defeat them. In this case their over-dependency on their cards. Does that mean you should be raising them when they come into the pot with a worse hand? Not necessarily, but that wouldn’t be the worst thing you could do. Here’s a few specific more practical things you can do.
1. Give them no action and stay out of their pots. 2. Liberally raise their blinds. 3. When they come into a pot in later position, they are more likely to have a marginal hand and are outside their comfort zone. This is when you would 3-bet them and force them to play out of position with marginal type hands in an inflated pot. This point would force them into confronting their fear (of playing without a premium hand) and into their resistance. Oftentimes this will result in the player making mistakes like over-folding, playing too passive by not 4-betting often enough, check-folding too many flops without range coverage, etc. All mistakes that you can exploit in these tight players.
You can also use advanced techniques like floating and board leveraging against tight players.
We want to let danger cards roll off the deck and then use bet sizing to put our tight opponents into polarizing positions and into ironically speaking, uncomfortable “tight spots.”
So don’t be afraid of tight players, but don’t get into a pre-flop raising war with them either. Be willing to take flops, extend the hand, leverage the board, and use polarizing bet sizes. All of these will allow you to exploit their fear of loss. You’ll also pick up the extra share of hands that they’re throwing away.
Sometimes if I’m against a tight player, I may joke with them saying; “Man, I wish I could play your discards!”.
If you feel you are one of these types of players who plays too tight, don’t despair. Just remember to find the proper balance in your own game, you’re going to have to open up and take some risks. Think of it as an adventure and remember that we are all entitled to our piece of the pie. But if you grew up in a household like mine, you must learn to fight for it. Some take too much, and others take too little. The ones that take too little, we pick up the share they leave behind and profit from it.
In my next blog post I’ll discuss the proper strategy in playing the player who plays too loose and is taking up more than their fair share of the pie and what we can do to defeat them. Until then – enjoy the journey and I hope to play with you on the poker felt someday soon.