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
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
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
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
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
The best players can win $500 or more in the winning pots
while keeping their losses to $100 or less in the eight losing
The aggressive style of play is still the best option in most
situations for the same reasons that were stated in the last
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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