Poker Strategy -- Winning In A Tight Game With Andrew Brokos
Loose Games Aren't The Only Good Games
I recently folded a pocket pair of kings, putting my opponent squarely on a pair of aces. Technically the fold happened on the flop, but it had nothing to do with the flop. I was just certain enough that aces was the only hand with which my opponent would give the kind of action he gave.
It wasn’t just this one guy. Every player at the table was tight enough that I would have made the same fold without a second thought. I never saw his cards, but I didn’t have to think long before folding, and I’m rather certain it was a correct fold. My only regret, in fact, is that I put as much money into the pot as I did before folding.
To some, it might sound like I was in a bad game. If it was so squeaky tight that I couldn’t get any action with the second nuts, why was I wasting my time there?
This criticism rests on the faulty assumption that only a loose game is a good game. While I prefer to play in such games when I can, they don’t grow on trees, at least not at higher stakes, and the truth is that playing too loose is only one of many mistakes your opponents can make of which you can take advantage.
The game I was in was good – good enough, anyway, considering it was $5-$10 game running in the early afternoon – because it was so passive. People weren’t playing big pots without big hands, but they were playing small and medium-sized pots with weak hands, and they were playing them passively. There was a fair bit of limping, a lot of people calling small raises, but then a lot of folding after the flop.
It wouldn’t be a good game for a one-trick pony who only knows how to wait for big hands and then get paid off by loose players. But if you know how to take advantage of overly tight play, there’s plenty of money to be made just stealing more than your share of those small and medium pots.
I was up nearly $1,000 after three hours in this game, without ever winning more than $200 in a single hand and having gone to showdown only twice in pots of any size. My super-secret big winning play was the continuation bet. I habitually raised limpers, occasionally three-bet late position raisers when I had position on them, and then bet flops. Everyone gave up easily, and I raked in two $50 – $100 pots for every one that I lost.
My other big money maker in this game, which is going to bring us back to that pocket kings hand in just a moment, was being able to make some big folds. That may not sound like a money maker, but money not lost is money won.
The great Tommy Angelo uses the term “reciprocality” to talk about this concept. What matters is not how much you won or lost on a given hand, but how much more you won or lost than your opponent would have had your roles been reversed.
Every poker player will get aces versus kings many times in his career, and every one will get kings versus aces many times. The guy with kings will almost always lose some money to the aces, unless he makes a set or something, in which case the guy with aces will almost always lose money to the kings. Which side of the equation you happen to be on in a given hand is quite irrelevant and will all balance out over time.
However, if you lose less, all those times that you have kings versus aces (or even a few of those times) than your opponents do all the times that they have kings versus your aces, then you’re coming out ahead in the long term. So a game where you can fold kings, especially if you can fold them cheaply, can be a good game indeed.
The hand in question began with two players folding, and then a player opening with a raise to $50. In this game, that was significant. A lot of players, including this guy, open limped at least as many hands as they raised. When they did raise, $30 or $40 was a more normal amount. I put him on a strong hand on this basis alone.
The action folded to me on the button, where I found red kings. I reraised to $140, but believe it or not I think this is close. I would not have reraised queens in this same spot. It’s not that I thought his opening range was that strong. Rather, I suspected that he would four-bet hands stronger than queens, whereas with weaker hands, like jacks or tens, he would either fold or call but play only a small pot postflop. In other words, I wasn’t going to stack him in a three-bet pot if he held jacks on a 9-8-2 flop.
The action folded back to the original raiser, who did not seem at all nervous about my very strong reraise. In fact, he rather quickly made it $450 to go.
I should say at this point that we were rather deep. I had about $3,500 in front of me, and he covered. With $1,000 stacks, I don’t think I could have gotten away from this one. Or maybe I wouldn’t have three-bet in the first place. In this case, though, we were deep enough for me to call his four-bet. My plan was mostly to look for a third king, but also to look for some indication that my hand might be good after all, or perhaps even a green light to bluff my opponent off of his aces, big bluffs being another potential source of value in tight games.
The flop came 9 8 2. My opponent checked. Was this the indication I was hoping for, that kings could be good after all? I bet $400, though in retrospect I don’t know what I was expecting him to call me with. I seriously doubt he would have four-bet queens or jacks preflop in this spot.
He check-raised all-in. It was about $2,650 for me to call into a pot of $1,700. I took several seconds to convince myself there was something else he could have, but there really wasn’t. This was by far the largest pot our table had seen all day, and this particular opponent was tight even among this squeaky bunch. He didn’t have queens, and I held the K so he couldn’t even be on A K. That was that, and I folded.
I don’t believe I would have stacked my opponent had our hands been reversed, but I also don’t believe that he would have gotten off for less than $1,000. That’s partially because I don’t think he would have had the discipline to fold kings to a single bet on the flop (I wouldn’t have gone for a check-raise), and partially because it wouldn’t have been as easy for him to put me on aces.
Because I was playing more aggressively than my opponents, it was harder for them to make big laydowns to me than it was for me to big laydowns to them. That’s what reciprocality is all about. I lost the pot, along with my profits for the day, but I felt like a winner. If any of my opponents had been in my seat, they would have left a loser that day, so by breaking even, I won. ♠
Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He’s a member of Poker Stars Team Online and blogs about poker strategy on ThinkingPoker.net. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.
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