Poker mistake: Make tight opponents play looser


Original Poker1 content. Added 2014.


Yesterday, a member of our Poker1 family posted a question in the comments section under the entry Mike Caro poker word is Rock. Because the question underscores a great mistake made by both average and professional players, I’m elevating it and my answer to full P1 entry status.

The question

From Brandon on 2014/09/19 at 17:20

I don’t know where else to ask this question. Often, I try to encourage tight players to loosen up and it rarely works. Sometimes I hammer them with bets until I’m sure they’re fed up enough to play back at me.

Usually, when they play back at me, it’s just because they have a big hand, not because they’re fed up.

Is it a mistake to try loosening up tight players or waiting for them to loosen up on their own? (End of Brandon’s question.)

I hope you’ll pay close attention to my reply. The concept is powerful. And if you ignore it, you’ll be paddling upstream in the poker river, fighting against the flow, and costing yourself much profit.

Everything below in italics is part of my original reply. Everything not in italics has been added to this entry for further clarification. Here it is…

My reply

I first want to make sure casual players know the terminology. “Tight” means a player is very conservative and selective about the hands chosen to enter a pot. “Loose” means the opposite — a player is very liberal with hand selection and often enters pots with substandard cards.

From Mike Caro on 2014/09/19 at 22:29

Hi, Brandon —

Essentially, you’re spending a lot of money targeting tight players in an effort to get them to do something you don’t want them to do. So, yes, it’s a mistake.

When players are too tight, you’re already profiting, because they’re not getting value from other hands they could play with smaller advantages. If you succeed in loosening them up a little, you’ll merely encourage them to play a few more hands that are actually also profitable (though somewhat less so).

That concept doesn’t just apply to attempts to loosen up tight opponents. What you need to understand is that there exist precise and mathematically provable quantities and percentages defining the most profitable way to play poker. This includes the number and strength of hands you should play from various positions in current circumstances, the frequency that you bluff, the times you raise, instead of call, and much more.

It’s often difficult to gauge these correctly, but as you develop a “feel” for the game and hopefully apply what I teach, you’ll get better and better with your estimates during fast-paced poker combat. Now, listen closely. Whenever an opponent strays far from the right numbers — calls too often, plays too many hands, doesn’t play enough hands, bluffs too frequently — a mistake is in progress.

When players make mistakes, they lose money and you automatically make money. In fact, it’s built-in profit. Their mistakes equal your gain.

So you don’t really need to do anything to take advantage if an opponent is playing too tight, except collect the money. You can sometimes encourage opponents to exaggerate their mistakes and earn even more, but I’ll leave that science to what you’ll discover in other entries here at Poker1. The main point is that too-tight play shouldn’t be discouraged. Let’s get back to my reply to Brandon…

What you seem to want to do is move them further along, through the point where they’ve loosened up enough that they’re playing the appropriate number of hands and then beyond that to where they’re playing too many. That probably isn’t going to happen.

What you’re more likely to accomplish is to simply make tight opponents play more profitably by selecting more hands. What you do want to accomplish, instead, is make them suspicious of you so they’ll call more often on later betting rounds (once they’re already in the pot) on the occasions when you hold superior hands. But you do that through image and psychology. You might also play rare weak hands “for show,” but this is primarily targeted at weaker opponents who are more easily manipulated. The carry-over effect it has on tight players being only a side benefit.

My point to Brandon above is that you can still use psychological poker tactics to make tight opponents call your strong hands more often than they should, assuming they’re already involved in the pot. But you shouldn’t encourage them to play more hands, because the hands they’ll add will be overall profitable for them. And those are the exact hands they’re not playing now, resulting in their loss and your gain. Never do anything to discourage that mistake. Here’s the last of my reply…

In short, you should probably stop trying to make tight players enter more pots. By the way, if possible, you should choose seats or move so that they’re seated to your left, where they act after you and have a positional advantage. You can afford to concede favorable position to them because, by playing fewer hands, they’re not taking full advantage of their position, thus saving you money.

So, I ended my reply to Brandon by introducing a completely different concept. Position matters in poker. Any player to your left has an advantage by usually acting after you do. However, the penalty is less if tight players sit to your left, because they fold too many hands to get all the benefits.

Stressing the main point. Players who do anything more or less often than they should in poker are costing themselves money. Let it be. — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mikecaro FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/caro.mike Known as the "Mad Genius of Poker," Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority of poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full biography at Poker1.com.

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  1. In games that I play in, I usually have the opposite problem. Players are so abused that they play much looser than you would hope. This would be fine, but I also find that I usually run really bad. I just don’t get cards often enough to be able to just take people to value town to make it worthwhile. If I truly wait for cards, I just don’t get callers. If I play a bit more loose, I get good calls, cannot protect hands, nor bluff. So what has worked is fake exaggerated tells. Early in the session, while I am getting called, I create some sort of tell. I don’t even have to know what it is, until I have done it the first time. I then recreate that while I got the nuts and they start to fold to the tell. This then gives me the ability to play more hands, bluff and create protection from my hands. This has worked well against amateurs and named pros depending at the level I am playing at, and it creates a comfortable game for “me”.

    I can then change my demeanor, if I do run into a string of high value hands to generate value. This works well in casino’s where my sessions are usually under four hours in length, and that there is some number of players that I am an “unknown”. But even with cases where I am known, it tends to work well against semi thoughtful reactive players, because it’s just “too” obvious. Someday the long term will kick in, and I will be able to act loose, play tight and just get called all the time.

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