Texas Holdem Playing Styles
The common advice spread throughout most Texas holdem poker books and on advice sites online states that the best way to play is tight and aggressive.
This advice has been dispensed so many times that it's repeated without thought.
And it might be true.
But what if you're not exactly sure what tight aggressive means? And do you want to take someone else's word for it or do you want to decide what the best way for you to play is yourself?
The four standard playing pairs are listed below with explanations and examples to help you get a solid understanding of exactly what each means.
While it's true that most good players lean toward a tight aggressive style, the truth is the very best players adjust their playing style based on a number of factors. They play tight and aggressive when it's the most profitable, but they can switch to loose aggressive play when they need to and even tight passive if it's profitable.
If you've done a great deal of study you're probably surprised to see a mention of tight passive play in any situation turning a profit.
But that's the problem with advice sites and books that simply repeat what they've read.
Here's an example of a situation where tight passive play can be profitable. Surprisingly, sometimes in the same situation loose passive play can be profitable.
If you're in a Texas holdem game with a couple maniacs and / or players on extreme tilt all you have to do is get in the pot with a better starting hand than your opponent and let them lead the betting. They'll hang themselves with over aggression and all you have to do is sit back and take their money.
In some of these situations if you start firing back at them it can help them snap out of their poor aggression plays. Of course sometimes it just makes them push harder, but if all the money ends up in the middle either way, why take the chance of breaking them out of their poor play?
Tight aggressive play involves playing a smaller percentage of starting hands than most players and playing in an aggressive manner when you enter a pot.
So often players want to know an exact percentage of hands they should play or that make them tight instead of loose.
The truth is that each game is different and has a different percentage. As a rule of thumb a tight player will play 20% of her hands or less in most games. A loose player will be playing 30% or more of the hands. What you do with the hands between 21 and 29% have more to do with the other players at the table than anything else.
The greater the difference between your playing ability and that of your opponents, where you're play is superior, the more hands you can play profitably. Rarely will you see a situation where you can play too tightly to be profitable. Usually the opposite is the case.
Most players play too many hands to be profitable.
The reason aggressive play is usually the best option for Texas holdem is because every time one of your opponents is forced to make a decision they have an opportunity to make a mistake. Every time one of your opponents makes a mistake it is profitable to you in the long run.
When you check or call and never bet or raise the only way you can win a pot is by showing down the best hand at the end.
If you bet and raise, you can win by showing down the best hand at the end or by forcing all of your opponents to fold.
You still need to play smart and use pot odds and what you now about your opponents to make the correct decisions, but if you can't decide if checking and calling or betting and raising is the best play, lean heavily toward betting and raising.
Constantly put pressure on your opponents and they'll make more mistakes.
When you combine aggressive play with tight starting hand requirements you give yourself the best odds to have a better hand when you enter the pot than your opponents.
Simple math shows that the person who starts the hand with the best hand wins more often than the person who starts with a worse hand.
The main reason that everything you read says that tight aggressive play is the best way to be a winning Texas holdem player is because it's the easiest way to teach someone who isn't very good that can quickly make them a better player.
While there's nothing wrong with this, and being a winning player is the goal, you shouldn't just assume that tight aggressive play is the most profitable way to play.
If you're a great poker player you may find that loose aggressive play is more fun and more profitable.
When you play loose and aggressive you play most hands in an aggressive manner and you enter more pots than most players.
Loose aggressive play is the second most popular style of play for Texas holdem players.The problem with this style of play is you have to be a good overall poker player to play it profitably.
Most players can play aggressively but end up playing too many hands. This happens to be a fun way to play Texas holdem because you end up being involved in more hands but it can lead to long term losses for poor players.
When you play a loose style you end up starting too many hands behind your opponents. This means to turn a profit you have to be able to maximize your profits when your hand improves enough to win and learn how to get out of pots where you're not going to win as cheaply as possible.
At the end of the day poker boils down to maximizing your winning hands and minimizing your losing hands. If you're able to master the skills required to make these adjustments, especially while playing no limit Texas holdem, you can show a strong long term profit playing a loose aggressive style.
If you enter 10 pots and only win two of them, you have to make more in the two pots than you lose in the eight other ones. So if your average loss in the eight pots is $100, you have to win at least $400 in profit in each of the two pots you win to break even.
The best players can win $500 or more in the winning pots while keeping their losses to $100 or less in the eight losing pots.
The aggressive style of play is still the best option in most situations for the same reasons that were stated in the last section.
Tight passive play is when you play fewer starting hands than your opponents and you play them in a passive manner. You tend to check and call and rarely raise.
Passive play tends to get a bad name when it comes to Texas holdem playing styles for good reason. When you play passively you don't force your opponents to make decisions and you rarely win pots where you don't show down the best hand.
These two things alone generally make passive play the worst choice.
If you're going to play passively you have to play tight in almost every situation. You have to make sure you enter most pots with a better hand than your opponents to make up for the pots you give away by not playing aggressively.
You should only consider tight passive play when the rest of the table is paying loose and they tend to all be betting aggressively.
When you play in a loose and passive manner you play more hands than most players and you check and call in most situations instead of betting and raising.
Loose passive play is the worst choice in almost every situation. When you play loose, you enter the pot with a worse hand than most of your opponents on average and when you play passively you only win when you have the best hand.
This combination makes it almost impossible to play for a long term profit. The only games where loose passive play can show a slight profit are if everyone else is playing tight and aggressive. Even in these games it's a challenge to win.
Unless you're a top level Texas holdem player you should avoid playing a loose passive style at all times. It simply isn't a profitable style.
The Opposite Theory
Many good players use something that can be termed an opposite theory. They start playing a style opposite of the rest of the table.
So if the rest of the table is playing loose they'll play tight or if the rest of the table is playing tight they'll loosen up.
Overall this is a decent way to play, but you need to be careful not to go too far away from aggressive play no matter how the rest of the table is playing.
You've seen a few situations where passive play can be profitable mentioned above, but until you reach a high level of play you need to stick to aggressive play in most situations.
When Passive Play Is Correct
When you're drawing to a better hand and you're not a favorite and the pot odds show a long term profit you should check and call instead of betting aggressively.
The only other situation where passive play can be profitable has already been mentioned. When a few opponents are on tilt and / or are playing like maniacs you can play in a passive manner, but even in this situation aggression is still more profitable.
Limit or No Limit
In limit Texas holdem you need to focus more on tight and aggressive play than any of the other styles. Even if you're the best player in the world you'll show the most profit at the majority of limit tables by only playing your best hands and playing them aggressively.
Limit play is more direct and mathematical than no limit play in many aspects. The amount you can get into the pot on every round is limited and it's hard to trap an opponent for a big score. When your opponents are only losing a set bet on each round as they chase their long shot draw you're still winning but you aren't able to put the maximum amount of pressure on them.
When you're playing no limit you can afford to play more starting hands if you're good enough to know when to get away from losing hands and can extract more profit from your winning hands.
You have to take everything you know into account when deciding how to play each hand and every round of each hand. The more you know about your opponents and how they play the better your chances to play the best style against them.
Most players make the mistake of picking a playing style and sticking with it no matter what. But the best players adjust their style based on everything they know.
One of the most important things to understand when considering your playing style is your position.
- From early position and the blinds you need to stay tight because you'll play the hand out of position.
- From late position you can change to a loose style in many games and show more profit than staying tight.
As your position changes going around the table you can play more hands. It's like a clock starting at the small blind and going around the button.
The Value of Changing Up Your Play
At the lower levels of play most of your opponents aren't paying attention. They don't know if you're a good player or a bad one, if you play tight or loose, or if you're passive or aggressive.
As you start playing better competition some of your opponents will realize your overall playing style. They'll start using it against you if they see that you never change the way you play.
A player sits down at a no limit Texas holdem game and folds every hand for two hours. He finally makes a raise with a hand and one of the other players calls and says she has to see what hand is good enough for the ultra-tight player to make a raise with.
The hands involved aren't important. What's important is that at least one other player at the table is paying enough attention to know that the first player is playing a very tight game.
When the other players, or some of the other players, are good enough to pick up on your playing style you need to change up your play occasionally to avoid being too predictable.
The key is doing it in a way that doesn't cost you too much money in the long run.
If you start playing small suited connectors from early position it changes your play, but it costs too much in the long run to make it worth doing.
Consider playing a medium suited connector once per playing session from early position, or raise with a small pair from middle position once every 20 times you have one.
While plays like this probably won't improve your overall profit on the individual hands, it can more than make up for it by showing your opponents a different playing style to consider.
Don't blindly follow advice just because it seems to be the same everywhere you look. As you can see from what you've learned on this page a single playing style isn't always the most profitable.
If you're still learning how to play Texas holdem stick with a tight and aggressive playing style. But as your play improves start experimenting with different styles in different situations to see which ones show the most profit.