Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2004.
This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.
Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 19: Should you play tighter or looser? The common wisdom is wrong!
From time to time poker players enjoy passing out little tidbits of advice. One of the first pieces of advice that I was introduced to at the poker table was: “If your opponents are playing too loose, tighten up; if your opponents are playing too tight, loosen up.”
Apparently a lot of players share this belief. It made perfect sense to me, too. When you think about it, it just seems like common sense to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness by going in a different direction than the one he’s taking. Right? Wrong! After discussing it with Mike, I see how this favorite bit of poker wisdom is just plain wrong.
Theoretically, there really is a right way to play poker. When I say “right way,” I don’t mean that each type of poker hand in each type of situation needs to be played the exact same way every time. When you examine poker you come to realize that it is necessary, against skilled opponents, to mix up your play. You need to keep them guessing. Don’t become predictable. Mix your play up by calling sometimes, raising sometimes, or checking-and-raising sometimes with a strong hand. Keep in mind that you have to mix your play in the right amounts. These proportions are what will provide you with a perfect strategy — one that is unpredictable and unbeatable. It doesn’t matter how good your opponents are. If you’re playing in a game with no rake, or table rent, and no dealers to tip, you can expect to eventually be ahead of anyone who plays weaker than that perfect strategy. Of course, if everybody played the same strategy, they’d all pretty much break even. But that doesn’t ever happen, does it? Someone is going to break strategy and play poorly. Besides, most of your opponents are unaware of what a good strategy is.
The right number
Here’s the point. When you keep in mind that there really is such a thing as perfect strategy, you realize there is a right number of hands to play. If you play more than the right number of hands, then you’re playing too loose and you’ll lose against a perfect strategist. However, if you play fewer than the right number of hands, then you’ll be too tight, and you’ll also lose more money to the perfect strategist.
Now, what happens when your opponents play too tight or too loose? What should you do? Should you loosen up or tighten up? Mike has taught me that the thing you should do is loosen up in both cases. Would you like to know the reason? It’s because when your opponents don’t keep to the perfect plan, and they stray for whatever reason, they are giving you the opportunity to make a profit. This allows you to play more hands in search of that profit.
Particularly, when opponents are playing too loosely, you can make more money by playing a little looser also. You don’t need stronger hands against weaker players. Just don’t get as carried away as they do. When your opponents are playing much weaker hands, your semi-weaker hands suddenly become profitable. However, don’t make the mistake of playing these semi-weak hands against opponents who are playing semi-tight hands.
A chance to bluff
Opponents who play too tight aren’t playing enough hands and usually aren’t calling often enough even when they do get involved in hands. This can ideally give you the chance to bluff them or out-bet them on pots. Here is your perfect opportunity to steal with hands you normally might not even get to play. You can bluff them right out of the pots, because they are too tight to do defend themselves.
So against tighter players you will ease up on your standards by bluffing more often. Against looser players you will relax your standards and play more hands than you would have played normally. Against loose opponents, your relaxed hands will have a tendency to be more profitable because you’re still playing tighter than they are.
Therein lies the secret. — DM