Players’ styles can be divided into loose versus tight, and passive versus aggressive. Most poker books and tutorials praise the advantages of playing aggressive poker, and all professional poker players play aggressive poker! However, their exact style may vary from tight-aggressive, like “Action Dan” Harrington, to loose-aggressive, like Tom Dwan.
Under specific situations, as in some high stakes games, a good loose-aggressive play can be very profitable. However, it takes a very skilled player to pull off loose-aggressive play, and it is not recommended for anyone without extensive experience.
Adopting a loose-aggressive style involves playing many marginal hands and requires having good reading skills, analyzing complex situations, and making difficult decisions. Playing tight-aggressive poker is undoubtedly the easiest and shortest path for any player to become profitable and start gaining experience.
The remaining two combinations of styles are generally not considered profitable. Tight-passive players are also called “rocks.” They tend to play few hands, so only their strongest, and prefer to check or call rather than bet or raise.
Loose-passive players play more hands but play them passively. They call too loosely, and can not be bluffed easily out of a pot.
So what is tight aggressive poker?
Aggressive poker means that when you enter the pot, you usually bet or raise. You show strength throughout the hand, continuously applying pressure on your opponents, forcing them to make difficult decisions. Aggressive players prioritize betting or raising to checking or calling and continue applying pressure until someone fights back or demonstrates an unwillingness to fold. They like to raise preflop and often buck up their preflop raise with al least a continuation bet on the flop. Aggressive players will not hesitate to bluff or semi-bluff if they estimate that they are getting enough fold equity to make the play worth it!
The main reason that makes aggressive play profitable is that it gives you two ways of winning. The first is that your opponents may fold to your bet, and you can take down the pot. The second is that, even when they call, you can still win the hand at showdown. Furthermore, by playing aggressively, you are putting continuous pressure on your opponents and force them to make difficult decisions, and possibly make big mistakes!
Tight poker equals playing fewer, so better hands. Tight players understand the value of solid starting hands and choose only those that rate to give them an advantage over their opponents. They rely a lot on their preflop edge to carry them throughout the hand. Tight players dislike dealing with uncertainty and avoid getting into uncomfortable situations, like playing medium-strength hands or playing out of position.
The tight-aggressive style combines the above two playing styles. It means selectively playing a few hands, but being ready to go to war with them!
So why play tight-aggressive poker?
The tight-aggressive style combines the advantages of playing tight with the benefits of playing aggressively. Playing tight equals playing better starting hands on average. So, when you enter the pot, you start with a significant advantage over your opponents. This is extremely important, as you will find yourself more often than not on the winning side at showdown. For example, when you have the same pair with a loose player, you will be holding the best kicker most of the time, and this is enough to grant you the pot!
By playing mostly premium hands, you also avoid difficult decisions. This is because you will flop less marginal hands, like middle pair or top pair bad kicker. Playing marginal hands correctly, requires a lot of experience and analyzing skills. Simply avoiding these challenging situations can help you make fewer costly mistakes.
Furthermore, you can take advantage of your tight image to steal some blinds and make some bluffs or semi-bluffs after the flop. Playing tight and aggressively does not mean playing only the nuts! It involves mixing in just enough marginal hands and bluffs, to keep your opponents guessing. You want your opponents to respect your bets enough to allow you to steal some pots. However, you do not want them to respect your bets too much, preventing you from getting paid every time you have the goods!
adjusting your style to the situation
Even if playing tight-aggressive is the optimal style in most situations, it is not a one-size-fits-all recipe! Depending on the circumstances, you may want to adjust your game. Let’s tale a look at some cases.
If you play in a weak loose-passive table, you may want to play a few more hands and tune down your aggression. By playing more hands, like suited connectors, and even raising less before the flop, you allow yourself to play more hands post-flop against weak opponents and exploit their weaknesses. Also, if your opponents are loose, you get less fold equity. There is no incentive to make sophisticated bluffs or semi-bluffs if your opponents are calling stations!
If you play against weak loose-aggressive players who bet and bluff way too much, you may want to play passively. Play solid hands and let them bluff their money away when you have a powerful hand!
If you play in a weak tight-passive table, where your opponents are “rocks” and fold almost anything but the nuts, you can loosen up and increase your aggression! What you hold becomes less significant, as you will win most hands by making your opponents fold.
What about your table image?
Another factor that influences your optimal style of play is, well… your own playing style! Or at least the image that other players have formed on you. This concept creates the paradox that your optimal style is different from the one you are using. To handle this, when your opponents catch up on your style, you have to change gears.
Playing tight-aggressive poker involves mixing in some bluffs together with your value hands. As per se, your style is balanced enough to keep your opponents guessing. However, if you estimate that you have somehow become predictable, change your playing style. If your opponents’ perception of you shifts to one end, take advantage of it and move to the opposite!
For example, let’s say that you get dealt really bad starting hands for many consecutive rounds and keep folding almost every time. If your opponents start to think that you are playing conservatively, they will not give you any action when you have a hand. So, loosen up, take advantage of your image, and start making some bluffs. On the other hand, if your opponents catch you bluffing a couple of times, tighten up and bet only when you have a strong hand!
In a nutshell
Tight-aggressive poker means playing fewer, so better hands, and playing them aggressively, betting and raising most of the time. Tight-aggressive style is the easiest and quickest way to become a winning player. By adopting a tight-aggressive style, you avoid getting into challenging situations and pressure your opponents into making costly mistakes!
Once you feel ready, you can test your skills with our Basic Poker Strategy Quiz ?