by Paul Seaton
We all know the type. More reluctant to commit than the cast of Hangover, more rock-like than granite and nittier than a pre-teen school disco. Tight poker players can be a major hassle. But while they might think ‘tight is right’, we know any style is exploitable. Working out the best way to beat tight players can be time-consuming and complicated. We’ve picked through the rubble to find six commandments you really should abide by.
Understand the Mindset
If you want to take advantage of tight players, first you must understand their motivations. One of the first pieces of advice new players are given is to be careful and play tight. This is because one of the earliest perceptions in poker is that it is an achievement to survive, be patient and climb the ladder in tournament terms. The essence of these pieces of advice is correct; should you survive to the end of a tournament, you are winner by virtue of everyone else failing to survive. However, the notion of surviving as a strategy has, in recent years, been seriously targeted. Gone are the days when absolute rocks are the last to be washed away. These days, poker ‘rocks’ are more likely to crumble around the min-cash point of an MTT or not get there at all. Poker has become an attacking game where players rightly fight for the top money long before they reach it, in order to accumulate a stack. The tight player will be conservative with their hole-cards, sticking to premium hands and strong aces and king, along with the most powerful court cards or suited connectors.
What Are They Holding?
When you take on tighter players, it is infinitely easier to do so if you know what they are holding. So you need to be range-finding from the off. The loosest player will play any two cards. The tightest will obviously pick more premium cards. This means that you should respect re-raises and moves out of position from tight players, but it also gives you more knowledge heading post-flop. Let’s say that we encounter a player we notice has been tight for some time. They open from under-the-gun. They are likely to be strong, so you can fold low suited connectors such as 5c6c if you choose. But if you call, you know that on a low flop, you’re going to be ahead in the hand and can often take down a raised pot there and then. Tight players rely on catching cards to win, while players who are able to mix it up rely on cards and skill. Put yourself in the latter group and monitor when the tight players give up on hands most often. Take advantage on that street.
Take the Opposite Stance
While all tight players have tendencies, working out how best to combat each tight player is still a task you should remain dutiful to. They may be aggressive or passive pre-flop and post-flop. Do they buckle on the turn, or only give up hope in their hand on the river under extreme pressure? If you’re playing online, creating a note on each player is a great way of building up a true personality of the poker player you’re trying to overcome. Live, you will need to utilize your memory to keep a step ahead, but it’s worth doing so. While some loose players can often appear like valuable players to get into pots with, tighter players pay out consistently by entering pots they then go on to fold in. They are without doubt a more reliable source of chips than taking on a loose player for what may be your entire stack when they have two live cards.
Watch Out for Warning Signs
So, you’re now combatting the tight players with their kryptonite – focused attacking play designed to exploit their weaknesses. Tight players, of course, can be successful ones. The best tight poker players will use their image to mix it up and chip back into tournaments and regain the upper hand in cash games. Be sure to watch out for those signs that the tight player you expect to fold actually might have a very good hand. Tight players prefer to play from later positions at the table. If they re-raise you from UTG +1 for example, warning bells should be ringing. If they have already folded to you in a certain position, be sure that you are not too recognizable in any repeated action. Just as you are trying to identify patterns in a tight player’s style, so too are they looking for a way to take advantage of your aggression. Bet sizing and when you make the bet are important. Don’t over-commit chips to a bluff – tight players may not need the same % of the pot slid their way to get them to fold and if they re-raise you could be in a tough position.
The best way to take advantage of a tight poker player is by reading their moves. They are going to be more limited, so target tight-passive players who have demonstrated the ability to fold big pots as these will be more valuable to you and you’ll have to win less of them to succeed in your aims. They might simply check-call often, or check-fold after missing flops consistently. They may also keep calling two streets then panic when a card falls on the river that looks like it would complete a flush draw or straight draw. Being aware of how a tight player is feeling is important. Poker should be played in a spirit of fun, but if you notice a player who looks uncomfortable in a pot, within that context it is fine to want to force them off the pot!
Use Their Style Against Them
You can also use a tight player’s passivity, literally defined as an acceptance of what happens without active response or resistance, against them. Keep it simple in this regard. If they display timidity, show aggression until it is met with resistance. If they river-raise, get out of the way more than you would with others – they’re highly unlikely to be bluffing. The best poker player (you!) will be tight themselves at points, but know when to mix it up and go on the attack. Patience is a virtue many players profess to having, but perhaps never more so is this tested in poker than when trying to extract chips from tight players. By using your strengths across the range of poker skills, you can make sure you end on the right side of them.